Dear Brethren and Friends, Our predecessor in this Work, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, was often beset by trials as he began to build the Work and Ambassador College. Many times, his faith was severely tested and at times he almost gave up. He told me about this, personally, many times, and wrote about it in a number of places in his autobiography.
“On one occasion,” Mr. Armstrong wrote, “I almost snapped. I weakened to the extent that I actually prayed, one night, that God would let me die through the night, and relieve me from the almost unbearable agony. But next morning, I was deeply repentant for that, and prayed earnestly for God’s forgiveness. Twice I did give up, on going to bed at night. But next morning was another day, and I bounced back, repentant for having given up—if only momentarily” (The Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, Volume 2, pp. 228–229).
All this occurred because of the “$30,000 headache” that had come down upon Mr. Armstrong when he was unable to come up with the payment for the Ambassador College property. (Remember, $30,000 back then was almost like $300,000 today!) He was faced with the possibility of actually having to close Ambassador College. At one point, Mr. Armstrong was so overcome with this constant harassment that, he wrote,
“I humbly asked God to consider that I was human, with human weaknesses, and please to give me six months’ rest from the terrible ordeal.
He did. And during the respite I finally learned how to relax in faith, and shift the weighty burden of it over onto Christ! And, at least up to the time of this writing, God has enabled me not only to trust Him for the final outcome, but let faith remove the strain and anxiety.
When troubles or emergencies arise, we should be tremendously concerned! We should not take these things lightly or nonchalantly. We should be ‘on our toes’ to do whatever is our part, but trusting God in relaxed faith to guide us and to do His part which we cannot do for ourselves. We should be freed from destructive strain and worry.
This lesson of faith does not come easily. Sometimes it is achieved only through punishing experience. We need to learn that God does not do all things for us. He does many things in, and through us. We have our part to do. But there are some things we cannot do, and which we must rely on Him to do, wholly, for us. It takes wisdom to know which is which” (ibid.).
Brethren, as we today enter into the very last of the “end-times,” many trials will no doubt come upon us. There will be “setbacks” in the Work, just as there were in the time of Mr. Armstrong. We will have to always keep our mind on the Big Picture and learn to look to God and to relax in faith and know that if we truly trust in Him, He will deliver us in His time and His way. The Apostle James was inspired to tell us: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2–3). So we must go through various trials in order to build patience and, over time, gradually increase our total faith in the living God.
We must be totally aware of what God tells us: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; heis a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6–8). Yet in the trials that we have today in the Work and in the Living Church of God and all branches of God’s Church—it may be easy to “give up” if things do not seem to be “going well” at any particular time. We may take it as some unusual “punishment” from God. Was God “punishing” Mr. Armstrong every time there was a financial downturn or some trial? I doubt it. And I am sure that those who knew Mr. Armstrong doubt this as well. There may have been times when God was trying to get his attention because of some problem. Other times, God let natural events take their course—as a general economic downturn of the entire economy sometimes affected God’s Work.
Always See the BIG PICTURE
But in these “times of trial,” again, as I have said repeatedly, we must always keep our minds on the Big Picture. We must know, and know that we know, that God is real—that He is our Father, and that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)! As the Apostle Paul went on to say in this passage, “So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (v. 6).
Since I came to Ambassador College in the late summer of 1949, I can look back on almost 64 years of deep experience in the Church and Work of God. I say “deep experience” because—no credit to me—I was somehow thrown into close contact with Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong and the other leaders of the Work through my close friendship with Mr. Armstrong’s elder son, Richard David Armstrong, and my extremely close association with Herman L. Hoeh—who was my first roommate, for my entire first year, at Ambassador College. It gave me an unusual insight into the workings of the entire Work—since it was very small at that time, and since I was able to spend thousands of hours with Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong and Dick and Ted personally. I have seen how—despite our human weaknesses—God delivered Mr. Armstrong and the Work over and over, often miraculously. He was a man of deep faith. He would trust God in a way that very few human beings have done in modern times. Therefore, unusual supernatural healings and other blessings often occurred through his prayers.
Later, as the Work grew, Mr. Armstrong told several of us older evangelists a number of times, “Fellows, I know that we are not getting as many miracles and healings as we used to. Part of this is because the Work has grown so much that most of my time is taken up with administrative things—trips, meetings, etc. And I have not had or taken the time to devote to earnest prayer and study and fasting as I used to do.” This was a lesson I have never forgotten. For things have happened to me, personally, which I know that God has at least “allowed.” He may not have directly caused my stroke, my weak eyes or my lack of good hearing or any other ailments that come with older age. Yet, over the years, He has “allowed” sicknesses, trials, lack of income and many other sorts of trials to come on His Church, on His Work and upon all of us, individually. God tells us through His Son Jesus Christ directly: “the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:30–31).
So God knows the details of all the hairs of our heads! That is hard to understand sometimes, unless you realize that even puny men—who have invented computers—are able to keep track of billions of pieces of information! If our puny minds are able to do this, then what can the great God do? It should become obvious. He is able to keep track of all these things and watch over every facet of our lives, every facet of His Church and Work and “monitor” even our “attitudes” as He wishes! For He is working directly with those of us He has called, and is fashioning and molding us to become like He is.
Learn to Genuinely TRUST God
The word of God tells us, “The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works” (Psalm 33:13–15). A little later in this wonderful Psalm, David tells us, “Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name” (vv. 20–21). Dear brethren, most of us in the Church “believe” in God. But have we really “trusted” in His holy name? I hope each of you will ask yourselves that question. I ask myself that question with increasing frequency as I get older and as I come to a more thorough realization of how much I need to totally trust in the God who gives me life and breath. For, as I have indicated, we are entering the very last days when unusual trials and tests are predicted to come upon us. As the Apostle Peter explained, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12–13).
We should grow in faith enough to be able to “rejoice” in these trials, once we learn to totally trust in God as our direct Father and the “Rock” of our salvation! God must become totally “real” to each one of us. We must learn to “walk with God” by being in a spirit of prayer all day long. We must be regularly studying, meditating on and drinking in of the word of God so that the reality of His approach, His mind and His person becomes deeply implanted in all our thoughts and actions. Jesus said, “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (John 6:57). If you and I truly “feed” on Christ—if we constantly drink in and meditate on the word of God so that God our Father and Jesus our High Priest become closer to us and more real to us, then we will learn to abound in faith! More healings will occur in the Church of God. More miracles will occur, and more blessings and power will become evident in the Work we are doing to prepare for the end of this age and prepare God’s people for the coming Kingdom of God.
Yet, even this does not mean that all these trials will cease. They did not cease for Jesus Himself when He was crucified at the end of His perfect life. They did not cease for the Church of God in the early apostolic days. Remember, Herod had James—brother of John—beheaded during that time, and Peter suffered also under Herod’s persecution. “Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover” (Acts 12:1–4).
All this happened in spite of the fact that the Church was growing and that the brethren, overall, had great faith and increasing power in doing the Work of that age. Peter must have been especially aware of that since, as we just read, he was to be the next victim of Herod’s persecution, yet God delivered him! We read: “Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, ‘Arise quickly!’ And his chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, ‘Gird yourself and tie on your sandals’; and so he did. And he said to him, ‘Put on your garment and follow me.’ So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people” (vv. 5–11).
Do we have the faith that God can deliver us from our most terrible trials? Looking back, Peter could write with great feeling from his own experience how we Christians “are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:5–7).
Indeed, God wants to know how “genuine” our faith really is. So He will allow many trials and tests to come upon us for our own good. He will occasionally, no doubt, bring these trials upon us directly, as King David often acknowledged. Other times He will simply “allow” the vicissitudes of our lives and of the world around us to affect us in a way to “shake” us and make us realize, more deeply than ever, how much we need God and the help of our Father in heaven. So, even if we catch ourselves “slacking off,” we know that if we repent, and then deeply meditate and cry out to God for understanding and help, we will gain the understanding we need and we will receive God’s answer to the degree we trust in Him and walk with Him.
Be Humble and Obedient to God
Obviously, regarding this latter point, we must do our part by surrendering to let Christ live in us. Certainly, we will never do this perfectly. But we must do this as an overall way of life. As God inspired the beloved Apostle John to tell us, “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:20–22).
As we “walk with God”—daily and hourly meditating, praying and sincerely seeking for Christ to live within us through His Holy Spirit—we will gain “confidence,” as John’s writing indicates. Then, more and more, He will hear our prayers and we will receive His answer “because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”
Dear brethren, a number of times many brethren felt that Mr. Armstrong was not doing “those things that are pleasing in His sight” and began to withhold their tithes or even leave the Church. One of those times was when Mr. Armstrong changed how we counted Pentecost and how we handled the situations of divorce and remarriage. Many of you older brethren may remember this. So these things certainly did bring a “trial” on the Church—mainly because at least a few dozen or a few score brethren were not able to see the “Big Picture” regarding the fact that Mr. Armstrong was still preaching the Truth of God and doing the Work of God. These changes were not changing the basic approach to keeping the Ten Commandments or the law of God, but were simply “growing in grace and in knowledge” in how to handle Pentecost and divorce and remarriage.
Nevertheless, many ministers at that time, including Raymond C. Cole and others, left the Church because of some of the changes Mr. Armstrong had made. The income would go down temporarily in some cases. But God always saw us through. This was not because we were “perfect,” but because we definitely did hang on to the Truth—even growing in understanding of how to apply certain principles and how to do the Work with genuine faith.
Those brethren who fell away because of these changes were not blessed. Those ministers who followed Raymond Cole, and later those who followed Ken Westby and the great “rebellion” on the East Coast and other defections, mostly split up among themselves and virtually “disappeared” as far as having any impact on the world as a whole or doing the real Work of God.
We who remained did not always fully understand these changes at first. Yet the faithful brethren had to be willing to think through where the Work was still being done and where faithful men were still teaching the basic way of God and being used by God to preach “the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” around the world (Acts 8:12). Therefore, brethren, your “faith” does not rest upon your immediately agreeing with every scintilla of each little new nuance God may show us in some aspect of our understanding the overall basic flow of prophecy. Certainly, if we in this Work turn away from the basic things such as the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath, the Holy Days, etc. then you should be able to see through that and leave—as I had to do when Joseph Tkach completely abandoned the basic foundations of the Truth we had come to understand. That is different.
But your faith rests on God’s word, and on His promises to those who—in spite of human weaknesses—“keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” Again, dear brethren, try to see the “Big Picture” in all of this and not be “picky” and always looking for the “loose brick” or some excuse to fall away or to do your own thing. Those occasional men—especially men—who are always anxious to “be important” and “start their own church” will always be out there looking for an excuse to find some followers and make themselves feel important. God will judge them for dividing and confusing His Church and weakening the effect of the Work, and for putting “stumbling blocks” before the brethren whom they confuse or take away from the Church that is really doing His Work!
Moreover, for those of us who are sincerely trying to “walk with God” and let Christ truly live in us—humbly and submissively—we can truly grow in both faith and in understanding. We must grow. For even Jesus’ own disciples—when He was right there among them—lacked the living faith they should have had to trust God for healing, for the expulsion of demons, etc. When a young man’s father was literally crying out for the disciples to rebuke an unclean spirit that was attacking his son, Jesus’ disciples were unable to do so! Jesus said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to me” (Mark 9:19). Immediately, Jesus confronted the situation. He talked earnestly to the father who wanted to have faith but admitted, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (v. 24).
Truly, God does have mercy on all of us in these cases. And we need to believe that, brethren. So Jesus, seeing the “hurt” of these people and the seriousness of the situation commanded the evil spirit to come out. And: “Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him” (v. 26). When the disciples—no doubt very humbled by this—asked, “Why could we not cast it out?” Jesus said, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting” (vv. 28–29).
Again, brethren, we need to truly seek God and cry out to God with our whole being when severe trials like this occur, when demon attacks become severe, when serious illness is about to take someone’s life or when unusual trials come along in the Work of God—which they have and which they will from time to time. We must not give up faith! We must know that as we walk with God, however imperfectly, He will intervene if we learn to put our trust in Him. For God looks down with great favor on those who do not just “believe” in Him, but who trust in Him. For God’s word absolutely promises that, in times of trial, “the Lord shall help them and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in Him” (Psalm 37:40). This type of expression occurs again and again all through the Psalms—as many of you know. Please learn to study the Psalms, regularly. Drink in of the “mind of God” in this way so that you will learn to think like Christ, feel like Christ and have absolute trust in God as Jesus Christ and the faithful disciples did.
Then, with increasing frequency, God will hear our prayers. He will heal our brethren more often and more powerfully. He will bless and empower the Work more effectively as we near the end and as we must have a greater impact on this world before it is too late. We are still in the process, right now, of being “tried and tested.” Mr. Armstrong went through the same type of trials and tests for decades. He knew that this was part of God’s Plan to teach us lessons of humility, of patience and of genuine faith as part of the very character of God, which He wants to develop in every one of us as His future born-again sons. A little after writing some of the earlier paragraphs which I quoted, Mr. Herbert Armstrong talked about the period of 1950 when God had taken away most of the terrible trials and things began to go a little easier for a little while:
“Although we had gotten over what I called ‘the first hump’ by January, 1949, the upward climb of this work of God was still ‘tough going.’ It was not easy. Jesus Christ never promised ‘easy going.’
Through 1950 I do not remember any crises so severe that the very existence of the work hung in the balance. I had, at last, learned the lesson of relaxed faith. I no longer let the problems we met put me under such an ordeal as I had gone through previously.
Now I was able to cast the burdens on the living Christ, meanwhile leaping to action to pray intensively for guidance, and to energetically do whatever was in my own power to do—but in a faith that was relaxed and confident, trusting God with the results” (The Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, Volume 2, pp. 256–257).
Brethren I hope all of us—as a Church—can learn these lessons of faith. I pray that each one of us will learn to cry out to God so that we can have genuine faith in God and truly trust in God’s promises in a way most of us have not yet learned to do. Then, we can know and know that we know that God will hear our prayers and empower us as never before in His service near the end of this age. May God speed that day!
In Christian love,