We live in a time when character is in decline and greatness remains rare or wrongly defined.
Many of the “great” people of our time are famous simply because of their entertainment wealth or following. They live sad, debauched and immoral lives but are put on pedestals by those who adore them.
Not so George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Their lives truly helped change the world for good.
Some thoughts on character and greatness.
Character and Greatness
I’m writing on President’s Day after just completing a prayer walk around Vassualt Park near the Faith International University campus. I used the time to contemplate the true greatness of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
One founded our nation–the other preserved it from destruction.
I wish today was still remembered as Washington’s/Lincoln’s birthday-which we celebrated in tandem for decades. While preparing to write on the subject of their character and greatness as leaders, I ran across this article by Arthur Milikh.
WHY WE SHOULD CELEBRATE WASHINGTON’S BIRTHDAY, NOT PRESIDENT’S DAY
“America’s greatest statesmen did not think that national holidays were merely about family dinners, watching fireworks, or getting a three-day weekend.”
“These occasions, to the contrary, were needed to encourage all citizens to together raise their gaze above the enthrallment of their private lives, so as to see or imagine something greater than themselves and worthy of their admiration.”
“Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, first conceived by our Founders, are illustrative.”
“Thanksgiving, as George Washington writes in his Thanksgiving Day proclamation, should instill in citizens gratitude to our nation and our creator, thereby asking citizens for a moment to acknowledge our frailty, our dependence on higher powers, and the imperfection of our understanding.”
“Thanksgiving, therefore, is a holiday that restrains democratic self-satisfaction and pride.”
“The Fourth of July, by contrast, celebrates courage and manliness, the kind required to defeat a great empire and to form a community devoted to political liberty. It reminds citizens of public spiritedness on behalf of our ideals, and that our ideals require of us sacrifice and courage.”
“Thus, these two holidays celebrate starkly contrasting spirits—that of subordination and that of assertion, both healthy aspects of the republican character.”
“What we today call ‘Presidents Day’ is in fact Washington’s birthday. Just as a republican people must on occasion be reminded of the need for manly assertiveness and modest gratitude, so too must they be reminded of examples of human greatness.”
“First instituted as a federal holiday in 1879, this day ought to celebrate Washington, not an abstraction called ‘presidents.’ There is no meaning in celebrating ‘presidents’ generally, and for this reason, the holiday today has no real content, being viewed as merely another day off work.”
“To confuse James Buchanan for Washington is to conflate copper and gold.”
“During Washington’s life, he deservedly became one of the most famous men in the world. His remarkable courage and prudence had, despite great odds and at great peril, carried to victory our thirteen colonies against the most powerful empire on earth. The weight of this task fell upon his shoulders.”
“In times of peace, moreover, Washington’s self-possession and equanimity—by contrast to the brilliant but somewhat impulsive advisers surrounding him—meant that the country’s fate could be responsibly entrusted to him. The example of his control over his passions, his judgment, and devotion to the common good made him the new model of republican greatness, which until recently filled the American imagination for generations.”
“Indeed, so clear were his virtues that both Federalists and Anti-Federalists reached unanimous agreement about Washington’s worthiness to be president, despite their immense disagreements on almost everything else.”
“Today, examples of human greatness are needed perhaps more than ever. In the hurly-burly of the crass and silly images in popular culture, film, and music, such examples are absent.”
“In our books and textbooks, individual greatness is often tacitly denied by teaching that vast cosmic forces—like economic forces, or technological advancement—rather than individuals, cause events. And when individuals are the cause, they are often characterized merely as oppressors.”
“Revering Washington and living with his example is not just a matter of arbitrary, antiquarian taste. In fact, reverence for human greatness, as Tocqueville observes, is among the things most needed in democracy.”
“In this context, human greatness means maintaining moral and intellectual independence despite the tyranny of the majority over the individual. Such independence is the source of statesmanship and the kind of steadiness of character required for it.”
“It is inconceivable that a man like Washington would go along with arbitrary new tastes or ideas. But without such examples as his remembered on a specially assigned day for all Americans to consider, we have few occasions to learn from his example.”
Richard Lim has also written a great piece on George Washington entitled “How Washington’s Sterling Character Set An Example for the Ages.”
And ditto Abraham Lincoln.
The same loss of appreciating greatness would happen if we named Martin Luther King’s holiday “African-American Leaders Day.”
We should recognize true heroes because of their character that changed the world. And we should strive to develop those same Christ-like virtues because:
CHARACTER IS DESTINY.
The key to your future, career, relationships, and accomplishments is growing the character of Christ in your life. Christ-likeness is the ultimate secret to fulfilling God’s assignments.
That’s why I stress the primacy of character in all I do.
Using your gifts is also important. Many of these are DNA driven and others come by spiritual impartation. I view them as a “glove” that people see on the outside.
But the glove is lifeless and empty without the “hand” filling it. That hand can take your gifts and form a fist to hit somebody (bad character), or it can reach out to help a person in need (good character).
It’s what’s inside that counts.
Jesus came to earth and demonstrated the fullness of the character of God. On the outside, he was just an ordinary Jewish man. But his perfect attitudes and actions (character) made him the savior of the world and a powerful example to follow.
Much of the New Testament centers around growing godly character. Some teachings come in lists such as the fruit of Spirit found in Galatians 5, attributes of love in 1 Corinthians 13, and the seven pillars of discipleship taught in 2 Peter 1. In fact, all training on good behavior in the Bible can properly be categorized as aspects of godly character.
Try this useful exercise. If you were to intentionally grow THREE primary character qualities necessary for this stage in your life, which ones would you choose? I would focus on faith (one of my natural strengths), humility (my main weakness due to pride), and hard work (a key ingredient in all success).
Which three qualities would YOU choose?
We know the character triad that Paul picked: “Faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
CHARACTER IS DESTINY.
Think deeply about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln this week. What virtues or God-qualities propelled them to greatness? One died quietly after catching a cold at 67 (the age I turn this year). The other was felled by an assassin’s bullet at 56.
Both Jesus Christ and John the Baptist died in their early thirties–yet achieved greatness through godly character.
Follow their example.