Twenty-five years ago, a client of mine became president of his company. It happened through a fluke (he was a mid-level manager), good luck, and a couple coincidences. He was very humble about his promotion. He said, “It was just God’s grace. I hadn’t wanted it, I didn’t deserve it, and I never tried for it. God just dropped it on my lap.”
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But a couple years later he began to attribute his promotion to his hard work and brilliant insights. He complained that his advancement had been delayed too long by bosses who didn’t appreciate him. He fired anyone who disagreed with him.
He felt his genius was needed everywhere, and he was glad to offer it:
- He convinced the high school to change coaches because he knew a better way to coach—though he had never played an organized sport in his life.
- He became head elder at his church and bullied them into adopting a “better” Bible translation—though he had never studied Greek or Hebrew. Or Pig-Latin.
He once scowled in anger when a friend told him his zipper was unzipped (I witnessed it), and he sent his dental hygienist home in tears when she suggested he begin flossing. The slightest correction was met by him with red-faced fury.
Success turned a wonderful human being into an uncorrectable, wrathful know-it-all.
We All Fail the Easiest Test
Several years ago I was a novice writer when I wrote an article about Sunday school problems that went mini-viral (for me) with over half a million reads.
People began to ask for my writing advice. And I liked it. I enjoyed the spotlight. I began to wonder if my guidance might possibly save the world. Frankly, I was surprised—and a bit disappointed—that NASA hadn’t called me for advice about their solid-fuel rockets.
I had, after all, written a pretty successful blog about Sunday school.
We are pretty good at hiding our pride on the outside, but inwardly we secretly applaud our own brilliance when:
- Our kids behave better than our neighbor’s kids;
- We don’t worry about the future like our other friends who constantly fret;
- We don’t talk about ourselves unceasingly like so many others;
- Our bodies are thinner and more fit than our colleagues.
Of the two tests of God—adversity and achievement, or failure and success—we handle difficulties better than victories. Hardships drive us to God whereas accomplishments drive us to self-congratulations. Success goes to our heads and has a party. Failure goes to our hearts and gives a chance at humility.
The Empty Desert and The Rich Vineyard
When the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, after forty years of adversity, Moses offered them his final advice:
Remember how the Lord has led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling and training you; because the Lord is bringing you to a good land, filled with olive oil and honey. You’ll eat plenty and lack nothing.
But be careful, or you will forget the Lord your God. Otherwise, when you have built beautiful houses, and your cattle and oxen multiply, and your silver and gold increase, then you will become arrogant.
You may say to yourselves, ‘I have become wealthy by my own strength and by my own ability.’ But remember the Lord your God, because he is the one who gives you your abilities (Deut. 8:2-18, selected verses).
In our poverty we look to God for mercy, and in our riches we look to ourselves.
P.S. My articles are now available in a podcast format. In it, I read the article and add commentary: why I wrote it, interesting comments from readers, and other reflections.
The podcast name is, Beliefs of the Heart: Reflections. You can find it in your favorite podcast app (search for “Beliefs of the Heart Reflections”), or click on the image above and click “more” to pick an app from there.
Really enjoy your articles. You have a very down to earth, relatable way of writing. I often feel convicted and encouraged by your words, and I usually learn something! Thank you for your honesty, humility, humor and for speaking the truth boldly. I appreciate your heart, and am grateful for God’s gifting you to bless others with your writing.
Thanks! You are encouraging.
I have often wondered why God blessed Israel (and us in America) so extravagantly, when He knows that the more we are blessed, the less credit He gets for it.
I can only conclude that He must bless us to give us a taste of what awaits us when we are faithful and trusting. Then, He allows us to become spoiled and arrogant so He can show us how truly needy we are.
It’s a vicious circle that humanity is doomed to navigate. It’s good to know a perfect beginning awaits those who learn from it.
I like your idea of the current blessing being a foretaste of the future blessings.
It’s funny: when things go well in our lives, we take credit, and when things go badly, we blame everyone else.
How would our lives be different if we really believed circumstances are not random, and that God is always up to something (good) in our lives?
How true it is — thanks for the observation. Blessed are those who [are poor in spirit =know their need of God}.
The “blessed” life (if Scripture is true) is knowing God; which means knowing our NEED of God; which means our poverty of spirit.
One of my deepest desires in life has been to sing well enough to be on a worship team or in church dramas or solos, but it just wasn’t in God’s plan for me. Part of me is saddened that my talent doesn’t match my enthusiasm and desire, but the other part of me knows that I would have trouble managing the pride that would accompany that kind of success. In a way, I think it has been God’s grace to give me a love of singing untainted by self-appreciation and praise from others. It’s just me and my flawed voice pouring out my heart in praise. I think He knows me so well…
I am really moved by two of your sentences. The humility of this:
And the joy of this: