Posted by: Mike Willoughby | March 2, 2011

A Roller Coaster Life for Character

“Brother, that’s what they call a character building experience!”

Those were the words of my friend, Jim as the buzzer sounded at the end of the Junior Varsity football game.  My son, Matthew and Jim’s son, Tim both played the entire game.  Our guys had played an especially tough physical team and the final score was a whole lot to zero.  Jim and I were at the end of the field watching the game from the fence and we were both extremely proud of our sons and their teammates because they hung in there and kept fighting.  They kept their heads up the whole game even though it was out of hand by halftime.  It might have been a character building experience, but it looked like an old fashioned whipping to me!

Nevertheless, it made me think.  We frequently associate challenging times with character building – don’t we?  We seem to naturally know that how we respond to adversity says a lot about our character.  As illustrated by Jim’s statement, we seem to understand adversity equals character building experience!  That is why were so proud of our boys on game day.  They showed character in the face of adversity and they are better young men today for having weathered the storm. 

Many great figures from history know first-hand how character development can be a product of weathering life’s great storms.  One of the reasons I love history is because of the great lessons we can learn from paying attention to the good and the bad things people and societies have done in the past.  I especially enjoy studying great leaders of history and how they were shaped by their experiences.  One of my favorite world leaders to was Winston Churchill.  Churchill was the World War II British Prime Minister that led his country through the dark days of the war and turned Great Britain’s greatest time of trial into the country’s finest hour.

During the First World War, Churchill was a leader in the British government and he had tremendous influence on the handling of the war.  However the disastrous campaign of Gallipoli resulted in over 300,000 soldiers killed or wounded on all sides and the reaction to the defeat forced Churchill from politics.  After World War I he had a very minor and ineffectual role in British politics for the next twenty years.  Churchill referred to this time of his life as “the wilderness years.” 

He struggled with depression and self-doubt over the failures of the war and at one point early in the 1930’s, Churchill commented that “his political life was ended.”  However, as Hitler began to rearm Germany, Churchill was one of the lone voices to warn the British people about the mounting danger.  After the start of World War II the British people lost confidence in Prime Minister Chamberlain and Winston Churchill was called out of virtual retirement to lead Great Britain through the trials to come. 

The formerly disgraced military leader prepared by the dark days of over twenty years of trials and setbacks forced to develop patience, perseverance and a long-term perspective had developed the political character required to lead his people through the darkest of times.  Winston Churchill, seasoned by the roller coaster events of his early life was uniquely prepared lead the country.

I know from some of Churchill’s writings that he understood the value of his times of testing including the failures in war and the “wilderness years.” 

Churchill said,

“Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.”    

He also said,

“Before you can inspire with emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself.  Before you can move their tears, your own must flow.  To convince them, you must yourself believe.”

Clearly, Churchill understood how character is developed and the value of character building experiences. 

King David also learned this same valuable lesson and appreciated the benefit of the trials he had endured.  Read Psalm 66:8-12 to see how David viewed his times of trial including the events of his own “wilderness years.”

Praise our God, O peoples, 
     let the sound of his praise be heard; 
he has preserved our lives 
     and kept our feet from slipping. 
For you, O God, tested us
     you refined us like silver. 
You brought us into prison 
     and laid burdens on our backs. 
You let men ride over our heads; 
     we went through fire and water
     but you brought us to a place of abundance.

David gave God the credit for preservation, but look what else the Psalm says God did.  He tested, He refined, He imprisoned, He laid burdens, He let men assault and allowed fire and water before bringing David into a place of abundance. 

Listen to David!  Refining hurts!  It’s hot and painful but look at the results – purity and beauty from the removal of dirt and impurities.  In the process of this refinement, God created a king out of the shepherd boy.  God wanted a king for His people that would have strength of character to lead them through good times and bad.  That doesn’t happen overnight.  Extensive character building is required and the refining God will do in preparing His leaders can be as uncomfortable as it is necessary.

Remember our series reference passage from Romans 5:3-5:

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Paul reminds us that trials and challenges in the life of a believer lead to a progression of positive change.  The storms of life provide the opportunity to learn patience, perseverance and endurance.  Perseverance and endurance leads to opportunities to improve one’s character.  Next week we’ll look at a couple of examples of Bible heroes who turn the storms of life into character building experiences.  Maybe you’ll find something in common with their experiences that will help you weather some of your own storms of life.

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!

Previous Intersections Articles

A Roller Coaster Life for Dependence A Roller Coaster Life for Dependence A Roller Coaster Life by Design


  1. I have to 🙂

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