Your spiritual growth — absolutely vital for entrance into God's Kingdom — is measured in large part by the vital Christian quality of gratitude.
"What a beautiful day!" I exclaimed. " Look at that clear blue sky and those snowcapped mountains on the horizon!" I was in France, conversing with a Church member as we stood on the balcony of a hotel room facing the Alps. "Yes, indeed," he answered without the slightest hesitation. "It certainly is a magnificent day. It is breathtaking." All of a sudden, I felt embarrassed, rather ashamed of myself. My companion, a war veteran, was blind. But somehow, in my enthusiasm, I had forgotten it. "Please don't feel badly about it," he assured me, sensing my embarrassment. "Even though I am unable to see, I can smell and hear. I can touch and feel what you sometimes only see with your — eyes! I'm not so terribly handicapped after all, am I?" No, he wasn't. He wasn't handicapped much at all. Actually, he could see more than I. There was no trace of sadness on his face, not a single word of complaint on his lips, no bitterness whatsoever in the tone of his voice. He was a grateful person - grateful to be alive, grateful to have friends and, above all, most grateful to be in God's Church. What a pity most people don't know how to count their blessings — how to appreciate what they have, how to be thankful and grateful.
"Think on these things"
Does your mind dwell on all the things that you as a Christian have to be positive about, or do you have trouble thinking of things to be thankful for? As the apostle Paul said, "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" (Phil. 4:8). Did you notice that there is not a single unhappy thought in these instructions? No complaints. No gripes. No negative attitudes. This truly is a commandment of God, but how many of us in God's Church today respect it? A lack of gratitude can prevent us from putting this teaching into practice. Have you learned to be grateful? Are your prayers to God filled with praise and thanksgiving, or do you continually bother Him with requests and complaints? Examine your heart next time you get on your knees to talk to Him in secret. One of the most frequently quoted verses in the Bible, even by those who don't consider God's Word to be inspired, is Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Do you actually believe that all things are working together for your go09 ? You should if you fulfill the clearly stated conditions: You must love God and you must be called according to His purpose. This promise definitely applies to you. Consider the story of the 10 lepers who begged Christ to have mercy on them. What happened after they were healed? Only one of them, "when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks" (Luke 17:15-16, Revised Standard, Version). And he was a Samaritan, not even an Israelite. Strange, isn't it? Whether gentiles or Israelites, where were the other nine? Weren't they also healed? That's the very question Christ asked, saying, "Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" (verse 18).
What made King David a man after God's own heart? Was it perhaps his courage? His willingness to repent of his sins? His earnest desire to search God's ways? Undoubtedly all of these were contributing factors, but one of David's greatest qualities Was his gratitude toward God. Amidst sorrows, trials and persecutions, he constantly praised God; he always sang psalms. of thanksgiving and appreciation. Notice Psalm 100: "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his "people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations." How uplifting! Do you, as a Christian, actually feel this way? Do you share these sentiments? Are you grateful to God for everything? Be honest! What are your thoughts most of the time? When you get up in the morning? During your conversations each day? What's your attitude at work with the people around you? What thoughts do you generally entertain when you are alone? If you are truly converted, the thoughts of Psalm 100 should be on your lips and in your heart, whatever the circumstances.
Christ a man of joy
Suppose you were asked to count your blessings one by one? How would you go about it? What would be on top of your list? Your wife? Your husband? Your children? The health you may enjoy? The job you have? The country you live in? Would you think of God's love for you as your greatest blessing? Are you grateful for your calling — for being in His Church with the tremendous opportunities it offers you to serve? Some aren't. They don't quite appreciate their calling. But how about you? Life is not always easy — for anyone. You may be having serious problems today — trying moments that are hard to understand, and for which you don't honestly feel that you can be grateful. But can you name any man of God who didn't encounter hardships and persecutions? Of course not. Life challenges us with circumstances that contribute to our growth. Did Jesus have an easy life on earth? Easier than yours? You know better: "For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin" (Heb. 12:3-4). Yet Jesus was a man of joy. He told us to share His joy with Him. Trials, tribulations and persecutions are necessary in building Christian character. On one occasion when Christ told a man that to be a true Christian meant to be willing to literally give up everything and follow Him, His own disciples were upset. They thought the conditions were much too harsh to allow anyone to be saved. But Christ told them: "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands" — look what comes next — "with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30, RSV). A Christian, therefore, is not only promised blessings, but also persecutions. That's part of your calling — part of your joy. Are you willing to accept your share of the covenant — and to meet life's challenges? Unfortunately, when persecutions come, some weaken and forget to be thankful. They forget their blessings and begin to count their sorrows. Actually, all of us in God's Church, whatever our condition, are very blessed. All of us — whatever our problems — have more reasons to be thankful to God than any other human beings on earth. James wrote: "My brethren, count it" all joy when you fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (Jas. 1:2-4). Do you really understand this teaching? You have to "count it all joy" not only when things go right, but also when they go wrong. Anyone can be happy and joyful when life is full of smiles. But only a true Christian can express gratitude when undergoing trials.
The apostle Paul perhaps suffered more than any other disciple of Christ. Yet his epistles are filled with thanksgiving and gratitude. He exhorts us to "Rejoice evermore" (I Thess. 5:16). You cannot possibly rejoice if you keep complaining and counting your miseries. And you cannot be. in the right attitude if you forget the will of God. "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God," stated Paul (verse 18, RSV). Rejoicing, prayer and giving thanks are commanded by God. Like King David, Paul too was a man after God's own heart. He too was courageous, obedient, repentant and wanted to learn God's way. And he had learned, as all of us must, to be happy in whatever state he was (Phil. 4:11). Here was Paul's secret. He knew that God's Spirit in him strengthened him in all of his trials and actually enabled him to do "all things" in the fulfillment of his mission. If you have this type of attitude, then no matter what happens to you — whether you be sick or in good health, poor or rich — you can always get on your knees and praise God, saying: "Thank you, God, for your blessings. Thank you for your love and mercy. Thank you for your patience with me."
No temptation too great
You probably have read Herbert W. Armstrong's autobiography. You have learned the way God dealt with him and brought him down to his knees. After reading his story and seeing what he went through, would you say that Mr. Armstrong's life has been an easy one? Hasn't he suffered much hardship and adverse circumstances? But God has blessed him for enduring. Notice how much Mr. Armstrong's heart, despite all his trials, has continuously been filled with gratitude toward God. God tells us He will never allow any temptation to test us beyond our endurance. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (I Cor. 10:13). Growth in gratitude is a sign of spiritual growth. The moment you stop being grateful you put yourself on Satan's wavelength and become vulnerable to his attacks. Satan wants you to complain, because that's one sure way of making you turn away from God.
Decide to be thankful
Here is a challenge for you: Make up your mind that for 12 consecutive hours, you won't complain. Don't allow any gripes or murmurs to enter your words or your thoughts, no matter what happens. Say to yourself, "All things work together for my good." You may be surprised at the result and the sudden fantastic change in your life. In all probability, you may find this challenge rather hard to meet, because complaining could very well be a part of your daily life — a routine you follow, consciously or not. But try it — force yourself to try it. Set your mind, your eyes, your thoughts on the ultimate goal — on the purpose of your existence, on the opportunities you will have in God's Kingdom to help and serve. Discard from your mind any thoughts that may be a hindrance to your resolution. Like my friend who was blind, feel what you cannot see and be joyful and thankful for what you have. If you don't succeed the first time, try it again until you succeed. And then make a habit of it. God Himself will give you all the help you need. The promise He made to the ancient Israelites also applies to you: "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today... The Lord will fight for, you, and you have only to be still" (Ex. 14:13-14, RSV). What more encouragement do you need? God will fight for you if you stop complaining and only express gratitude. Then you will fully grasp the deep meaning of Paul's words, "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18).