I hesitate to use the term values in a serious discussion of spirituality. That word has been co-opted by so many different groups that I’m not sure it has meaning anymore. It might be more effective to talk about character. That is, what kind of person do you intend to be? Because the character traits you develop will in fact determine many of the decisions you make. And your character grows out of what you truly value.
How important to you is honesty, or kindness? When you look at the life of Jesus, what do you perceive as the values, or the character traits, that shaped his mission?
As I follow the Gospel accounts of Jesus, I see some values that were prominent for him. For instance, he placed a high value on following through with our actions what we express with our words. For Jesus there was no inconsistency between belief and action. The term we use for that quality is integrity.
Mercy was more important to Jesus than the Law was. In fact, he saw mercy as the true completion of God’s law. The greatest commandments were to love God and one another; and any rule or system we follow should ultimately result in love for God and neighbor. If there’s ever a conflict between love and law, then love and mercy supersede any rule or system.
Trust was another huge issue in Jesus’ repertoire of topics. How many times did he say, “Don’t be afraid.” “Don’t worry.” “Why do you have so little faith?” In Jesus’ mind, God’s love for us was the constant in every equation. It was the reality of all realities.
So if we take only these three qualities—integrity, mercy, and trust—and use them as standards, how will that affect our daily movements and choices?
Well, I can see how integrity can guide the way I use conversation. I try to say about a person only those things I would say directly to the person—which eliminates gossip, meanness, and unfair criticism.
If I embrace mercy as a guiding value, there’s no longer room in my personal system for revenge. This will affect everything from my political views to my attitude toward other drivers on the road.
And if I cultivate trust as if it were one of the most important aspects of my life, then my anxiety will lose a lot of its energy. Which will probably tone down my impatience and check any tendency to run over people with my own agenda.
What values are driving your decisions? I’m not talking about the values you think you should have but about the values you actually embrace from day to day. This is a tough question for me, and it reveals the areas of my life where there is not consistency between what I try to believe and how I behave.
Chris Lowney gives us some effective questions for exploring this in chapter 6 from Heroic Living: “What Kind of Person Will You Be?”:
What are some of the qualities of the people you most admire?
If someone followed you around for a typical week, what values would they say you embody?
What traits do you want to pass on to your children? What values do you want to stand for?
You can read the entire chapter here (if you are reading this via email you can find the chapter link on my blog):