When you hear the word power in the context of the Bible or God, you probably think of seas parting, dark clouds rolling, lightning striking, the universe—God’s power. But there is another power talked about in the Bible—that God gives to each of us. In fact, it’s a power we’ve had since birth. Though it is not God’s spiritual power, it is a tool that God uses to help us grow, overcome and build righteous character.
This gift is the power to choose. Not even God controls this power (except in Himself, of course). Wow! Could there even be such a thing as that?
This power of choice is so significant that it determines whether you are blessed or cursed. We can choose the way that will result in much happiness, joy and abundance. Or we can choose the way that inevitably leads to heartache, struggle and frustration.
There is cause for every effect. That is a law! God says that whatever we sow, we will eventually reap. Whatever the effect, there was an original cause. We must truly realize the power we have in choosing!
What are you doing with this power? Is the way you use it setting you up for a productive and fruitful career in God’s Family?
The Bible shows clearly that without God’s Holy Spirit working in and leading our lives, we will never attain true happiness and success. We need God’s power—no doubt about it! But this article is not about God’s power. It’s about your power—and what you are doing with it!
Lack of Discipline Hinders Growth
A young man once approached Jesus Christ and asked Him what he ought to do to make it into the Kingdom of God. Christ told the man to sell his possessions—what his heart was most set on—and follow Him (Matthew 19). All he had to do to gain eternal life was to get rid of his attachment to material riches. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it! He simply did not have the will!
Even so, today we live in a society full of people who are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4)—addicted to pleasure—and “incontinent,” or without self-control (verse 3).
What about you?
Think of the one thing you are especially attached to. Maybe it’s entertainment—music, tv, movies, the Internet. Maybe you are girl crazy or boy crazy. Maybe you obsess about your appearance—how you look. Perhaps it’s sugar—or junk food—or alcohol. Maybe it’s the wrong type of friends.
If Christ came up to you and said, “If you will be perfect, I want you to give up that one thing”—could you do it? Do you have the kind of discipline needed to make the right decisions in your life? A truly educated person is self-disciplined.
Here then are some areas we can all work on with respect to this tremendous power we all have at our disposal—the power of choice:
1. Choose to Improve Your Quality of Thought
Just as we can choose what to eat, or what to read, or when to get up, or which dreams to pursue, which job to seek after, which friends to associate with, or which woman or man to marry, so we can also control which images or thoughts our minds dwell on.
The tragedy is, most spend much time and effort determining those other things while they fail to spend the time, energy and hard work necessary to determine and decide what they should and should not be thinking about!
In the 1930s there was a popular book by Ernest Dimnet called The Art of Thinking. He wrote, “As a rule, we can tell which of two men is the more energetic thinker as we can tell in a natatorium who is the swiftest swimmer. As for our estimate of our own mental elasticity, it is a matter of mere honesty requiring only the simplest investigation. If our mind is [deficient], we do not think any more than does a mirror. If we are bored by any topic above those which give food to our small dislikes or even smaller likes, we do not think. If, the moment a book or a newspaper raises a question demanding some supplementary information or reflection, we yawn, fidget, or hurriedly do something else, we abhor thinking. If, when trying to reflect, we at once feel a weariness, a drowsiness or a tendency to repeat mere words, we do not know what thought is” (page 19).
Dimnet goes on to characterize a thinker as one with vision: “The thinker is preeminently a man who sees where others do not. … He seems to be head and shoulders above the crowd, or to be walking on the ridge-way while others trudge at the bottom. … Nothing is more striking than the absence of intellectual independence in most human beings: They conform in opinion, as they do in manners, and are perfectly content with repeating formulas. While they do so, the thinker calmly looks round, giving full play to his mental freedom.”
Do you believe the vision about God’s plan that we teach in True Education? Does the way you lead your life reflect an individual who is locked into this vision? The Bible says that “[w]here there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Proverbs 29:18).
So we definitely need to have vision! But that won’t fill your mind automatically. It’s something we must choose—every day! What choices are you making as to the thoughts you allow to linger in your mind?
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
If something is true, honest, just, pure and lovely, then it is virtuous, or worthy of praise. Do you think on such things? Force yourself to think and concentrate on these things until it becomes habit! Barnes’ commentary says regarding this verse: “Let them be the object of your careful attention and study, so as to practice them. Think what they are; think on the obligation to observe them; think on the influence which they would have on the world around you.” That is a lot to think about! But you will definitely perform at a higher level if you spend more time thinking on these things.
God intended our thoughts to govern our actions. But He won’t force us to do that—we must choose to. You can either set your mind to do so, or you can let your mind drift aimlessly along like a ship without a rudder.
In either case, you are making a choice!
2. Choose to Set Goals
Orison Swett Marden tells this memorable story in his book Every Man a King (1906): “A certain man of no great learning, so runs an old legend, fell heir to a ship. He knew nothing of the sea, nothing of navigation or engineering, but the notion seized him to take a voyage and command his own ship. The ship was gotten under way, the self-appointed captain allowing the crew to go ahead with their usual duties, as the multiplicity of operations confused the amateur navigator. Once headed out to sea, however, the work grew simpler, and the captain had time to observe what was going on. As he strolled on the forward deck, he saw a man turning a big wheel, now this way, now that.
“‘What in the world is that man doing?’ he asked.
“‘That’s the helmsman. He is steering the ship.’
“‘Well, I don’t see any use in his fiddling away there all the time. There’s nothing but water ahead, and I guess the sails can push her forward. When there’s land in sight, or a ship coming head on, there’ll be time enough to do the steering. Put up all the sails and let her go.’
“The order was obeyed, and the few survivors of the wreck that followed had cause to remember the fool captain who thought a ship steered herself.
“You say no such man ever existed, and you are right. That isn’t admitting that no such foolishness exists, however. You wouldn’t be so foolish, would you?
“Think a moment. Are you not in command of something more delicate, more precious, than any ship—your own life, your own mind? How much attention are you giving to the steering of that mind?”
That story teaches us not only about the importance of steering our thoughts but also about steering our life. You can either chart a course and proceed with purpose, or just “put up the sails and let her go.”
Most people choose the latter and then try at the last minute to steer in order to avoid the approaching danger, finding then that it is too late. They are “victims of circumstance,” floating along, not thinking about what they are doing and why they are doing it.
The man who wrote Every Man a King also said, “What a man does in spite of circumstances, rather than because of them, is the measure of his success ability.”
The real key to giving your life a clear direction or course is to set goals. Have you gotten into the habit of making goals, long-term and short-term, and writing those goals down so that you know where you are headed? Or have you found yourself drifting through the last few years?
Will you be able to look back upon a life of growth and accomplishment? Or will your life be empty and frustrated?
The choice really is yours!
Herbert W. Armstrong said in his autobiography that he “often wondered if it is not really better for a young upstart to be conceited, self-confident, cocky—and with it, ambitious, energetic in trying to accomplish something—than to be an ambitionless, spineless, lazy, shiftless fellow utterly lacking in spark, drive, and the zeal to try to accomplish something worthwhile.
“Such ambitious fellows, of course, may not have right goals—they may not know the real purpose of life, or the true way of life, and they may be energetically pressing on only toward more vanity, and ‘a striving after wind,’ as Solomon puts it. But at least they are mentally alive, and not dead! And once circumstances do shake them and bring them to themselves, and humble them and open their minds to the true values, they are already in the habit of exerting enough energy so that, turned at last in the right direction, something is really accomplished.”
The Bible gives us a specific goal we should have above all others. Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these [physical needs] shall be added unto you.” Here it is—that sure-fire way to keep your life simple, happy, successful and productive. This is the primary focus God always intended for man to have.
3. Choose to Be Studious
Mr. Armstrong also recorded in his autobiography the counsel he received from his uncle, a successful businessman: “Education comes from study—from books—from lectures—from contacts—from travel—from thinking about what you see and hear and read—and from experience.
“The reason we have to maintain schools and universities is simply that most people are too lazy—most lack the ambition and persistence, the drive—to procure an education outside of schools and colleges.”
God actually considers our study habits an indication of how noble we are (Acts 17:10-12). Of course, this scripture is talking about Bible study, but it is also referring to a state of mind, or attitude—an eagerness to learn the truth.
Notice what else Mr. Armstrong wrote about being studious. “… I was considerably inspired by one of Orison Swett Marden’s ‘inspirations’ books, titled He Can Who Thinks He Can. What a pity that there seems to be a famine of such books today.
“Returning to Des Moines I continued as a student at North High School. I began to spend extra hours outside of high school at the city library, mostly in the philosophy, biography, and business administration sections. I began to study Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and Epictetus. It was at this time that I first read Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. …
“As a young man I read Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography three times—over a period of a few years. It had a considerable impact and influence on my life. I owe much to having read it. The reading of life experiences of many other men, whether biography or autobiography, have been of great value and inspiration.
“There was the autobiography of Bernard Baruch, biographies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and many others” (ibid).
I challenge our readers to study the first three chapters of Mr. Armstrong’s Autobiography (available at theTrumpet.com under Literature/Library). See where Mr. Armstrong’s reading habits took him. Then, get on a reading program this summer.
Mr. Armstrong had specific goals in his study—in particular, to develop his writing skills. “My uncle directed the training in learning an effective style in writing. Constantly I studied the writing style of Claude Hopkins, president and chief copywriter for the Lord & Thomas Advertising agency. This man reputedly drew a salary of $50,000 a year (big money in those days) writing the advertising copy for Quaker Oats, Pepsodent, Palmolive, Goodyear tires, Blue Jay Corn Plasters, Ovaltine, and others. His rapid style, unique, yet plain, simple and easy-to-read, built multimillion dollar businesses for those firms.
“Also my uncle started me reading Elbert Hubbard, with his two magazines, The Philistine and The Fra—primarily for ideas, writing style, vocabulary. Later I was to become personally acquainted with Elbert Hubbard.”
It is not hard to see the benefits of studying. But as with everything else worthwhile, it is something you must choose to do—and stick with it!
4. Choose to Wait Patiently on God
Remember Matthew 6:33. If we set the right goal, God will fulfill our needs, even our desires (Psalm 37:4). But sometimes we have to wait on God to fulfill those promises.
Galatians 6:7 says that “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Hard work always precedes blessings and rewards. Sometimes, those blessings don’t come for a long, long time. Most people never reach the point of abundant blessings because they don’t have the patience to wait for God to bless the growth.
We will reap what we sow! Whether we plant good seed or bad, it will come back upon us in the form of blessings or curses. It may not come immediately, but it will come. We just need to focus on sowing properly. If we do, the great harvest we reap will come—even if we have to wait for a while!
Think about what happens if any part of that sowing process breaks down. What happens when the ground isn’t prepared? What if you did prepare the soil and then planted a field full of wheat, thinking you had planted lettuce? It’s not going to come up lettuce, no matter how hard you worked! What if you prepared the soil, planted the seed right, but then didn’t protect the sprouts from weeds? What if you didn’t water it?
The principles of sowing and reaping are obvious when it comes to farming. So why shouldn’t it be obvious when it comes to our own lives? Our objective as we plan our lives for the future is to properly prepare and work the soil, know what we are planting, carefully plant each seed, and then nurture those plants as they sprout, protecting them from weeds, watering them, and so on.
Why do we often expect a bountiful harvest when, deep down, we know we never really prepared the soil?
2 Corinthians 9:6 says, “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” This is a promise from God!
God has perfect, righteous character. He is trying to build that character in us! But, as powerful as He is, it is impossible for Him to simply create character by His own power. That is because choice is a central part of the very definition of character. “Such character …,” Mr. Armstrong wrote, “is the ability in a single entity to come to comprehend and distinguish the true values from the false, the right from the wrong, to choose the right and reject the wrong, and, with power of will, to do the right and resist the evil” (Incredible Human Potential, page 65).
Character is the greatest thing God can create— but He can’t do it alone. We must choose it!
Did you know that it is impossible for God to sin? Do you understand why? Mr. Armstrong wrote in The Incredible Human Potential, “WHY is it impossible for God to sin? No greater power exists that will prevent Him—but God has simply by His own power—supreme and above all power—set Himself that He will not!”
God cannot sin because He won’t! Jesus Christ did not sin not because He could not, but because He would not. We are free moral agents. So is God. His character is set so that He will not sin.
The whole purpose behind God giving you the power of choice is to recreate His character—through the wise choices you make—till He can trust you not to sin because you have firmly decided against it. Then He can trust you with the universe! This power will bring you right into God’s Family—the choice is yours!