There is a Chinese proverb that says, “If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.” I heard a similar Chinese proverb, quoted by my mother, that says something like that, but the emphasis is more on shaping one’s character—that it takes a very long time! I am sure we all can agree on it. Changed character produces prosperity or better well-being, but to change character requires not only a long time but also much effort.
We might assume that the effort to change character must come from the outside—from somebody else—but the truth is no, it must come from within, from us. And that is what makes it so hard to change our flawed character. The problem is not that we cannot change our character but rather that we do not want to change because we think nothing is wrong with our character. It is other people who need a major make-over in their characters.
God is in the business of changing us, not preserving us. He is not interested in keeping us the way we are. We, who decided to follow Jesus, have signed up in God’s program of character renovation. It is then up to us, to make this a short or a long program. If we obey Him and are willing to look at ourselves, we can make the program shorter—less than a hundred years. On the contrary, if we resist looking at ourselves and choose to disregard His directions, we will be in it for the long haul—a hundred years. The choice is ours.
Nelson Henderson, a 19th Scottish rugby player, says, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” I cannot agree more. Let’s supplant that word “trees” with “characters.” Growing good characters takes time and it is good, not only for us but also for others, especially for others.