Brethren, many of us will die before Christ returns. We all have to think about death. As people say, “There’s nothing more certain than death and taxes.” When you die, or when I die, and our casket is lowered into the earth, how is God going to judge us? Think brethren: How is God going to judge you? What has your life turned out to be?
Important Questions to Ask
In the 1950s, at Ambassador College, I began teaching a speech class in advanced homiletics. In the first lecture of the course, I would immediately ask these young potential leaders and ministers the question: “What is the main quality or characteristic that God is looking for in a true leader or servant?” The same question applies to each of us. What is the main thing God is looking for in each of His children, as a future ruler and a king and priest under Christ? It’s not how good a speaker you are, or how much knowledge you have. It’s certainly not how good looking you are, or how charming your personality is. It’s none of these things. Rather, you need to ask yourself, “What kind of character do I have? Am I truly surrendered to God, and do I really mean it?” Are we showing God that we’re surrendered to live by His every word, and that He can trust us forever? Are we showing God that we will be loyal, clean and pure by the way we live our lives? We must be demonstrating that we’re not here to “get” or to “show off,” but rather to serve others and work hard to be productive in our lives. A big question we must all ask ourselves is, “What do we do when no one else is around to see us?”
In Luke 6:46, Christ asked the question, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” Christ is not your Lord unless you do what He says. He makes that very clear in the Bible, that we are to actually obey Him. The word Lord means “boss,” and it means “master.” Yet, many in this world’s churches talk about “How good it is to know the Lord this morning,” all while observing the wrong day, even though many of them know better. They can read what the Bible clearly says, and they should know better about a lot of things. Others in modern seminaries have been confused, and often teach that God is not a real Being, and that the Bible is a collection of myths and allegories. They’re teaching people the wrong way of life. We must know what we mean when we call Christ our “Lord,” and that it involves actively keeping His Sabbaths and commandments.
Whom Will God Bless?
Isaiah 66:2 gives us a clear understanding of the sort of person for whom God is looking, and on whom He will look favorably: “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit….” This means the one whose attitude is humble—who is willing to be taught and to learn! This refers to one who is willing to repent, to turn around and go the other way—an individual who is teachable and willing to listen. To be contrite is to be genuinely sorry. The scripture continues, “…and who trembles at My word.” This person will have a profound respect for the Bible as the inspired word of the Great God of Creation, and will be willing to live by every word of God. That’s the person God is looking for, the one who is developing this kind of character.
What is character? True character is that moral or spiritual force that impels us to integrity. It is exercising the power of the Holy Spirit so that you resist the wrong, and do what is right. Character is based on the Ten Commandments, which are the revelation of God’s character. These commandments show us in detail how to love God and our fellow man and are expanded in the statutes. By yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit in us, we’re able to resist doing wrong and choose what’s right.
Both Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 give us descriptions of Lucifer. He was a brilliant and radiantly beautiful spirit being of great integrity, originally. But he turned from being one whose name, Lucifer, means “light bringer” and “shining star of the dawn,” to being Satan, which means adversary. Why did he turn? He began to think he was just as powerful and just as good as God, and could invent his own idea of what was right and wrong. This is the very idea he gave to Adam and Eve at the beginning, and they began to invent their own ideas of right and wrong. Satan convinced them that God doesn’t really mean what He says, and that they wouldn’t surely die—and he convinced them to accept, or experiment with, a mixture of good and evil. The world is not all bad, and every idea of Catholic and Protestant “Christianity” is not all bad. That’s what fools people, because they can see some good in many religions. However, the end result, just like mixing a little poison into otherwise good food, is going to end in death. This is what Satan the Devil has been feeding the human race ever since. We, however, must have enough of the fear of God not to take of this mixture of good and evil. Satan is a very powerfully persuasive being, with awesome knowledge. Does he know the Bible? Of course he does, and he quoted the Bible to Jesus Christ in the fourth chapter of Matthew. But it’s never a question of how much you know. It’s a question of what you do with what you know, how you live, and what you stand for.
It’s a Matter of Character
As God looks down on each one of us, what do we stand for? What is our basic character? Can the great Creator who gives us life and breath trust us? Do we always keep His Sabbaths, or do we find various excuses not to do so once in a while? Do we make excuses to watch some rotten program on television on Friday night, or to skip church services when we don’t feel perfect? Do we find excuses to get mad at others, to actually hate them so that we will not forgive them? Some may make excuses to lie or to exaggerate, in order to make themselves look good and to make another person look bad so they can “get ahead.” Others make excuses to be mad at the Church, and even fight the ministry and undermine the Work of God because their feelings got hurt, or they don’t yet fully understand doctrinal matters. God is watching every one of us to see how we respond in these ways.
I’ve seen so many—including many ministers and leaders, who seemed good on the surface—fall away from the Truth. When we look around and see various people who seem to look good on the surface, and are charming and clever, but try to put down the Church or the ministry, we should remember the example of Samuel choosing the future king of Israel from among the sons of Jesse. God told him to pass by all of the seemingly capable, strong and good-looking young men. Eventually, God showed Samuel that He had chosen David, the youngest and smallest of the brothers, who spent his time out in the field with his sheep, tending them. God wasn’t looking at appearances; He was looking on the heart and at the character of David. Character includes being willing to do what’s right, no matter what others around you are doing. It includes having a good work ethic, being zealous in prayer and study, and being morally clean and pure in the way you live. Another important part of our character, brethren, is being filled daily with the humility and the fear of God, so that we will stand for God and stand for Jesus Christ every day of our Christian lives!
The Importance of Prayer
Daily contact with God through prayer to our great Creator is indispensable to our character development. I learned when I first came to Ambassador College at the age of 19 that prayer was vitally important. In order to pray the first thing in the morning, I had to get up very early, and use a dusty broom closet to pray in privacy. This life lesson of putting prayer first in my day, which I’ve continued for all these years, can also help each one of you—that is to always pray before you eat, or read the newspaper, or do anything else that would get your mind off of God and onto worldly things. Don’t let anything else like that interrupt you. By setting this standard, you’re making contact with God your first priority. Begin by hallowing God’s name, praising Him and thanking Him for His mercies and abundant blessings. I have often, as Mr. Armstrong did, spent a third of my prayer time praising and thanking God. Thank Him in detail for things such as your life, your home and family, your calling and being part of this end-time Work, and the peace you have in your country. Then, confess your sins and ask God fervently to help you to repent and to “clean you up and scrub you out.” Later, you can ask God for the things you need, such as love, joy, peace, faith, knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Also ask God for His power to help you overcome yourself, this world, and Satan the Devil. Talk to God as your Father and ask Him for your own personal needs, and to bless your family and friends, and to bless the Work we’re doing with His power. Ask Him to intervene and shake the nations to help them to begin to wake up and know God is there—and ask Him to help us to reach out to them with His truth.
Talk to God fervently as you ask for His help with all these things. Remember that Christ said in Matthew 6:33 that we should “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Seek through your prayers for more of His Spirit, seek for His power, love, joy, peace, wisdom and self-control. We need these aspects of God’s character within us, so ask God to fashion and mold you, to send Jesus to live more fully within you, so you can represent Him better and be a “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13–14).
Develop Right Habits
We need to develop right habits to have the closeness to God that we must have to be in His family. While developing character is not only a matter of habit, habit is a good tool to use along with the help of God’s Spirit. If you brethren all around the world develop these habits, they can literally help you forever. We’ve already discussed building a habit of praying early in the morning, as the Son of God did (Mark 1:35). We should consider praying three times a day, as King David and Daniel did.
Also, build a habit of drinking in of God’s word through Bible study—this is how you “feed” on Christ. The Bible describes God’s character, and you will come to know Him through studying His word. God’s character is specifically described in the Ten Commandments. Do you love God with all your heart and strength and mind? Do you have no other gods before the true God, and make no idols or image of God? Are you reverent with God’s name, and do you try not to even be around people who are cussing and using God’s name in vain? Do you remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy? God made it holy, and He asks you and me to remember this special time that reminds us of who He is. He is the Creator who gives us our life and breath.
The fifth Commandment tells us to honor your father and mother, that you may live long on the earth. Even as an adult, you still honor the office that God has given them, and that honor goes right back to God Himself, who is the ultimate Father. You shall not kill, and as Jesus magnified it, you’re not even to hate and let an attitude of bitterness and resentment stay in your mind. That attitude could lead you to hurt or potentially even kill another person. Don’t let that attitude gain control of your mind. You’re also not to commit adultery or even have thoughts of lust stay in your mind. As soon as your mind starts down that path, turn away and ask God to help get your thoughts on something else, quickly. Take this seriously, because lust can keep you out of the Kingdom of God. Don’t bear false witness; if God can’t trust what you say, can He trust you in His Kingdom? Satan is a liar, and God hates lies. He has commanded us to forsake lying. People should be able to believe what you say, and you should stand behind your word. Finally, don’t covet and let your mind be on getting something from others, whether it’s their husband or wife or their property. Be a giver and not a getter; that is part of the character of God.
Meditation and Fasting
Along with developing the vital habits of daily, early-morning prayer and Bible study, you need to also develop the habit of meditating. When you’re finished studying God’s word, learn to stop and meditate on what you’ve been reading. It’s helpful to have a habit of occasionally going outside, perhaps on the Sabbath, and looking up at the clouds or the trees and thinking deeply about God as the awesome Creator. Think about why He called you specifically at this time, and not someone else. Meditate on how far you’ve come in your Christian life, and how you can do even better.
Meditate on God’s Law, and how you can better let His Law rule in your life as a Christian and a follower of Christ. Use the tool of fasting, and develop the habit of fasting regularly. If you’re in good health, you may try to fast once every month. If you’re older and have health problems, you may only fast three to five times a year—but be consistent in your fasting. Use that time for extra prayer, and extra Bible study and meditation. Cry out to God during your fast to work with you, shape you, and mold you to make you more like He is.
Walk with God
Additionally, brethren, we must develop the habit of walking with God all day long. Mr. Armstrong told me a number of times that if he found himself in a really bad situation, he would often pray 30 to 60 times a day. He would pray to God all throughout the day, asking God to help him, to correct him, and to strengthen and teach him. Talk to God often during the day, and picture having your hand in His and walking with Him. Remember, too, a key verse that I’ve often given you is Galatians 2:20 (KJV). “I am crucified with Christ”—the old self has to die; “nevertheless I live”—because we are not physically dead; “yet not I”—the ego or the old selfish and vain self. The key part of this verse is next: “but Christ liveth in me”! Does Christ live in you? He will then help you develop true character, because it will be God putting Christ’s character in you through the Holy Spirit. “…And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Then we will be able to live by the “faith of the Son of God,” to have that total trust in God that comes from Him through the Holy Spirit. That is how we will develop real character, by Christ living within us—and these tools and habits can help us toward that goal.
When the Great Tribulation begins, if you have the character of God, you will be able to stand up and do what He says, despite threats or being thrown into jail. You will say, “I will trust God, He is real, and I’m going to obey the God of the Bible.” You are going to be the winners. The ones who take the easy way out and follow the Beast and the False Prophet are going into the Lake of Fire. If you have God’s character and trust God, you will live forever, and God will be able to say to you, as He did to Abraham, “now I know”—He will know that He can trust you forever. Can God say that about you? I hope He can. We all want life, we want to live forever. So we must yield to God, cry out to God, walk and talk with God, and ask Christ to live His life in us.
Beseech God to develop in us the very character of Jesus Christ, that we may fully exemplify Christ and God in what we think and say and do. We won’t be perfect in this life, but we must grow in grace and knowledge, and grow into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Build God’s character brethren. There are tremendous rewards!