By Shell Perris
6 minute read.
I remember being given a tape cassette 20 years ago entitled “Never let your gifting take you where your character can’t keep you.” It was a sermon preached by the then pastor of Life Church in Bradford, Paul Scanlon, and it was a message that changed my life.
Pastor Scanlon’s sermon spoke of the importance of one’s character always being at least one step ahead of one’s gifting – failure in this area would only ever result in broken relationships, damaged reputations, collapsed ministries and messed-up people.
Over the years, I have listened to that tape time and time again and, on the occasions where my character has been overtaken by gifting, realised just how valuable a message it is.
Attitude is always more important than ability. Integrity is of far greater worth than success. Honesty, reliability, authenticity and righteousness outweigh popularity and talent any day of the week.
It’s about what you stand with not what you stand on that really matters. You may stand on the biggest stage in the world and tell yourself you’ve made it, but if you’re not standing there with solid values, concrete principles and the strength of God’s word, the chances are you’ll fall.
Spiderman popularised the saying, “With great power comes great responsibility”. A similar verse is found in Luke 12:48: “To whom much is given… much will be required.” [Luke 12:48 – NKJV] In other words, the bigger the gift, responsibility or calling, the more integrity is needed!
So, how can we live with integrity and stay true to who God has made us to be?
1. Remain teachable
I have come across so many people who fail to be teachable and, believe me, you don’t want to be around them for very long! Being teachable is one of the greatest qualities you can carry. Teachable people tend to:
- have soft, pliable hearts that can be easily moulded and shaped by God
- have a good understanding of their strengths and weaknesses
- welcome constructive critique that leads to improvement
- ask honest questions of themselves
- face up to the brutal facts
- show high levels of resilience
- learn from their mistakes and have a willingness to learn from others
- care for the feelings of those around them and show empathy
- spot arrogance in others from a mile off
People who are not teachable tend to be self-centred, believing that their way is the only way and finding it very difficult to put themselves in the shoes of others. Whilst being teachable is one of the greatest qualities one can possess, arrogance is one of the worst. I would go as far as saying that it is almost impossible to live a life of integrity if arrogance has taken root within you. However, the antidote to arrogance is humility:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
[Colossians 3:12 – NIV]
If you read the first 17 verses of Colossians 3 a beautiful picture is painted of what it is to practice integrity and there are some ‘top tips’ on how to live with integrity too.
2) Surround yourselves with great people who are not afraid to bring challenge
Make sure that you have great people around you – and then make sure that one or two of those great people have permission to ask you any question at any time and lovingly point out anything in you that is not in line with God’s way of living.
If the only people that you are surrounded by are ‘YES’ people – people who just go along with what you’re saying because they don’t want to rock the boat or bring challenge – then you may be robbed from reaching a higher level of integrity in your life.
Challenge is good! That’s how we learn; it’s how we deepen our relationship with God and with others. Wrestling with those big questions or those reoccurring doubts brings us into a deeper understanding of who God is and how much he loves us.
Great people have this wonderful ability to bring a healthy balance of truth and grace; challenge and encouragement; reality and inspiration. It’s a difficult balance to get right sometimes but great people, who live with integrity themselves, are good at positively measuring whether a dose of truth or an outpouring of grace is needed in a particular situation.
I love the story in John 4 about the woman at the well. Jesus knows that integrity is missing from her life. She’s had multiple relations with men that are not her husband and she’s likely been outcast from society. Yet Jesus knows that this woman needs to be served some grace with a side order of truth, not the other way round. Jesus could have gone in ‘all-guns-blazing’ with the truth, but she didn’t need that. She needed acceptance and acknowledgement. She was craving the kind of love that only Jesus could offer, the kind of love that wasn’t based on sexual encounters or physical attraction but was pure and from the original source of love himself. Jesus knew that. How? Because he was a living, walking, breathing example of what it means to have and live with integrity.
Some say that it’s the books you read and the people you hang around with that have the greatest influence on your life. So, if you want to live a life of integrity, make sure that the people you surround yourself with model integrity well.
3) Make Psalm 139 verses 23 and 24 your daily prayer.
I think this is one of the most challenging and ‘hard-to-live-out’ pieces of scripture you’ll ever find!
“God, examine me and know my heart. Test me and know my thoughts. See if there is anything bad in me. Lead me in the way you set out long ago.”
[Psalm 139-23-24 – ICB]
I mean, this kind of prayer requires integrity in all its fullness because when you pray this kind of prayer, God doesn’t sit back and do nothing – he gets right to it! In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of God’s favourite prayers to hear and answer!
When God appears to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7 and says, “… if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land”, it’s as if it’s a plea from God – “If only my people would live with integrity.. then I will hear from heaven and do incredible things in them and through them.”
2 Chronicles goes on to say:
“For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth so that He may support those whose heart is completely His.”
[2 Chronicles 16:9 – AMP]
May I suggest that a heart that completely belongs to God is found in one whose life displays integrity at every possible opportunity.
4) Leave no stone unturned
This is the painful bit!
If you are not quick to acknowledge and dampen those unhelpful thoughts or immoral desires that we all have at some point or another (let’s not pretend we don’t!), what begins as a temptation will take root and become a sin that entangles and smothers you from the inside out.
“The only temptations that you have are the temptations that all people have. But you can trust God. He will not let you be tempted more than you can stand. But when you are tempted, God will also give you a way to escape that temptation. Then you will be able to stand it.”
[1 Corinthians 10:13 – ICB]
The only way to deal with those hidden thoughts, feelings and motives is to expose them and bring them into the light.
Find someone who you believe to be trustworthy and talk to them about it. Get a mentor who you can meet up with every month or so to chat about life – the good bits, the bad bits and the darn right ugly bits.
This is not about condemnation. This is not about guilt. This is not about shame. This is about living with integrity, living in the light and living for Jesus.
As followers of Jesus, we are not called to an easy, cost-free life. We’re called to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. We’re called to make choices that aren’t always well-liked.
Integrity requires courage to forfeit popularity or esteem when the world offers you a way that defies God’s way. Integrity requires a level of empathy where judgement is replaced with a God-given understanding of a particular feeling or situation. Integrity requires the humility to know when it’s time for you to stop and God to take over. Integrity requires a level of sacrifice that makes no room for self-centeredness but puts God’s agenda before anything else. Integrity requires a strength that is not dependant on how you feel but is rooted in who God says you are. Integrity requires the kind of vulnerability that compels you to let go without knowing where the journey will take you.
“My son, pay attention to my words and be willing to learn; Open your ears to my sayings. Do not let them escape from your sight; Keep them in the centre of your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing and health to all their flesh. Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you a deceitful (lying, misleading) mouth, and put devious lips far from you. Let your eyes look directly ahead [toward the path of moral courage] and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you [toward the path of integrity]. Consider well and watch carefully the path of your feet, and all your ways will be steadfast and sure. Do not turn away to the right nor to the left [where evil may lurk]; Turn your foot from [the path of] evil.”
[Proverbs 4:20-27 – AMP]
If we want to be the best version of who God has made us to be, and if we want to accomplish all the things God has set out for us to accomplish, we have got to choose that higher level of integrity. We must plant ourselves on solid ground with solid values so that our gifting never takes us where our character cannot keep us.