The American philosopher and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, purportedly said: “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit; reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”
Whatever the original context of Emerson’s statement, the logic behind it makes good sense. An action is often the fruit of a thought, an idea. We may do many things on autopilot, seemingly without much consideration but these are actions that have become ingrained by practice. We call these actions ‘habits’.
Our habits—of thoughts and behaviour—determine our character. A person who constantly places his self-interests above that of others will develop a character lacking in altruism. It is hard for him to be unselfish or be concerned for the welfare of others.
Ever since the day when our common ancestors, Adam and Eve, violated God’s law by eating the forbidden fruit, man has been experts at playing the blame game. We blame circumstances and other people for ourunhappyexperiences. It is always easier, and even comforting to our pride, to point the finger at someone or something else.
The truth is we are all given limited free will by the God who created us all. It takes a sovereign God to bestow on mortal man a degree of free will. It is impossible for a God who isn’t omnipotent and omniscient to do so.
What we need to remember is that with the limited free will comes responsibility. We are responsible for the thoughts we entertain and the actions borne out of these thoughts. These thoughts and actions mold our character, and we will be called upon to give an account.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2Co 5:10).
Things happen to us beyond our control. It is how we respond to these things that builds our character, one brick at a time. The tragic story of Saul remains a sober reminder for God’s people across time.
Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, was elected by God to be the first king of Israel. Saul was not a man without qualities. At the very least, he had the physical attributes of a man who draw attention. The Bible says there was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than Saul. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people (1Sa 9:2).
In the early days of his reign he also proved to be a fierce warrior king who united the people against their enemies (1Sa 11).
Yet in other moments of crisis Saul caved in to his fear. He offered burnt sacrifice, which he was not authorized to do, after he ran out of patience waiting for Samuel. For his careless act, Saul was told he would forfeit his kingdom.
“But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee” (1Sa 13:14).
Saul failed to learn his painful lesson. On another occasion he was commanded to destroy utterly all that belonged to the enemy, but for fear of losing his army’s support, he held back from full obedience. The prophet Samuel brought the fearsome judgment of God upon the feckless king.
“And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou. And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent” (1Sa 15:28-29).
We can be quite certain that Saul’s tragic end began with a thought. In the first incident, when his soldiers began to desert him, Saul admitted fear into his mind and entertained the thought that Samuel had failed him.
In the second incident, he considered his circumstances without God in mind. It was God who gave Saul great victory over Amalek yet Saul feared the people more than he did God. He believed his men would turn against him. He should have known that with God by his side, he would have overcome any adversity.
We look back on Saul and shake our heads at his lack of faith, his fear of men more than of God, and his disobedience. We might even feel some sympathy for a man in his position as leader of an army made up of men more loyal to their tribes than to him.
Yet like Saul, we must realise we are ultimately responsible for what becomes of our character. The thoughts we entertain, the decisions we make, no matter how small; how we respond to our circumstances and people around us, all these go a long way toward what we become.
Paul writes, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal 6:7). We either sow to eternal glory in the presence of God or we sow to an eternity of anguish away from His presence.
The counsel of the apostle rings loud and true for us today:
“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph 4:17-18).