When Herbert Armstrong was young and first getting into business, the world was a big pie and he wanted it all!
He wanted to make a difference in the world. He wanted to rub shoulders with highly influential people—leaders in business, industry, and politics. He wanted to live a life surrounded by quality things that only a lot of money can buy.
And he was determined to make it happen. “In my foolish conceit of those days,” he later said, “I was cocksure that I was headed for outstanding success” (Autobiography).
Hustler that he was, Mr. Armstrong did find outstanding material success.
But it didn’t last. God took it away from him!
Not long after he was married, all of Mr. Armstrong’s business ventures crumbled to pieces. “The hand of God was taking away every activity on which my heart had been set—the business success before whose shrine I had worshipped. This zeal to become important in the business world had become an idol. God was destroying the idol” (ibid., p. 306).
God is a jealous God! “Seek ye first the Kingdom!” says the scripture. As Mr. Armstrong said, anything else someone seeks as more important than the Kingdom is an idol. And when God wanted to use Mr. Armstrong, He violently smashed his idol. He will do the same thing to you and me, if we ever let anything come before Him! That is a promise. Read Isaiah 2:17-18.
Mr. Armstrong had been too set on material things, too much a respecter of persons. And as he learned, the more steeped in the thinking of the world we are, the harder it is to reeducate our minds in the ways of God. This painful, arduous process begins, mostly, with giving up everything we think is important. All the desires of our heart must be superceded by the things of God!
But is that the whole story?
Many people think so. Many would have you believe so.
There are people who look at the way of life that God offers and only see a bunch of Thou-Shalt-Nots. Unwilling to sacrifice any of their own desires, they put the whole matter on the shelf. Put plainly, they balk at the idea of being governed. I remember once someone told me he couldn’t believe in a God who wouldn’t allow him to eat shellfish.
How tragically shortsighted.
Revealing Himself in scripture, God is a parent who, for our benefit, puts limits on His children and what we can get into. But at the same time, He also reveals Himself as a parent who desperately, passionately wants to give His children everything. I wonder whether the man hung up on shellfish could believe in that God.
The same God who issues all the boundaries and limits inspired the psalmist David to write this: “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Psalm 37:4). Jesus had this to say: “But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee” (John 11:22).
Mr. Armstrong, after having been truly humbled by God’s powerful hand, decided then to give Himself over in service to Him—to follow God unconditionally, putting obedience over personal desires and ambitions. He sacrificed everything for God’s sake.
In many ways, this is where the real story begins.
What happened in Mr. Armstrong’s life then? He had a change of heart!
Of his youthful materialism Mr. Armstrong said, “Living without this former ‘god’ was no longer painful, once I gave it up. I had found the true God instead. I had found the overflowing joy of receiving new understanding of God’s truth out of the Bible. I now plunged into the study of the Bible with an energetic zeal surpassing any efforts I had expended in the quest of material success. I found a new happiness and joy in the fellowship of those humble and lowly folk that was infinitely greater than any enjoyment experienced before. Mrs. Armstrong and I were now seeking first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness. We learned that happiness does not consist of material acquisitions” (ibid).
What was actually happening was, God was changing the desires of Mr. Armstrong’s heart! The presence of the Holy Spirit within him was dictating a new set of priorities, interests, aspirations, and dreams. He was no longer interested in winning the favor of influential men—his desire was to please God. He no longer placed material wealth above all else—and he demonstrated through 28 years of poverty in service to God’s Work that he continued to seek first the Kingdom.
In giving Mr. Armstrong the abundant joy and happiness of his new life, God was actually fulfilling all the new desires of his heart.
But—is that the whole story? We will see that it is not!
After Mr. Armstrong had proven his determination to keep God and His Kingdom as his unshakable, ultimate priority, what then happened in his life?
Remember those youthful desires he’d had—to make an impact, to associate with powerful men, to live a quality, regal life? Well—God remembered them too!
Looking into his later years, we see that Mr. Armstrong, serving as God’s end-time Elijah, made a big difference in the world—in spiritual terms, history will prove him to be the most influential man in modern times.
We see that Mr. Armstrong, in fulfilling the Matthew 24:14 commission, had the chance to travel the world over, speaking directly with some of the most influential people on earth—leaders of nations. More “important” and influential, certainly, than anyone he would have been in contact with as an advertising man.
We see that Mr. Armstrong, in building the Work of God, established a standard of quality rivaling the best in the world. Look at the exquisite construction of the Ambassador Auditorium. Of the colleges he founded. Quality—with no expense spared—was Mr. Armstrong’s highest aim.
And this all with God’s full support and blessing!
Mr. Armstrong’s heart had been turned to God, and God knew it. And God, in turn, made his life a virtual playground of excitement. God was able to use all of those talents and proclivities which Mr. Armstrong had once directed toward selfish ends. And now that Mr. Armstrong was truly “seeking first the Kingdom of God,” God was able to fulfill the second part of that scripture: “and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
Think about it! What are the most ardent desires of your heart? Do you want them so much that you’d let them come between you and God?
Or—do you love God enough, and patiently demonstrate proof of that love enough that, like Mr. Armstrong, you open the door for God to be able to bless you—even now, in this short life—with the happy fulfillment of those desires!