Recently, I wrote a tribute to a gentleman and friend who died in Texas at age eighty. It got me thinking about the kind of man I want to be “when I grow up.” I have reorganized my tribute into this list of five character traits to illustrate that the goals we prize along the way are not necessarily the ones we will value in the end.
Once upon a time, when I was hardly a man and even less a pastor, an elder statesman treated me with the respect of someone far in advance of what my years had earned. The older I get, the more I appreciate those simple gestures of encouragement that can only be given by one who has become rather self-forgetful.
Someone said, “Even if you are regarded as a shepherd among sheep, take care–sometimes sheep bite.” I have noticed that some people, particularly men, remain competitive even with their pastor. Too few learn to find solace within themselves through the discipline of these ancient words, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). The distance of perennial competition is the main reason why “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation” (Thoreau).
Yet every now and then, I meet someone who has broken that spirit of competition in himself. He is not less confident or masculine as a result. On the contrary, such men exude a quiet strength that is more sure and stable than the showy competitive kind. This type of strength the Psalmist describes as a tree, planted by streams of water. (Ps. 1) A tree like that bears the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
Men strive to conquer kingdoms and corporations. Few conquer themselves–or, allow themselves to be conquered by a Will greater than their own. In the presence of someone whose life is centered upon God privately, you rarely sense a defensive spirit publicly. Self-defense has been replaced with genuine warmth and sincere interest. Generosity is the result of a life reoriented away from oneself, and towards the One who has made him.
Only a few people gain the kind of humility which comes perhaps only through years of simply knowing God and being known by Him. This kind of humility does not think less of oneself, but instead simply thinks of oneself, less.