Fifteen years ago, a client of mine became president of his company. It all came about through a fluke (he was a mid-level manager), good luck, and a couple coincidences. He was very humble about his promotion, “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.”
Within a couple years he began to attribute his advancement to his own hard work and brilliant insights. He said that his promotion had been delayed too long by people who didn’t appreciate him. He fired people who disagreed with his opinions.
He felt his genius was needed everywhere, and he was glad to offer it:
- He convinced the high school athletic committee to change coaches because he knew a better way—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 (not even Pig-Latin).
He once scowled in anger when a friend told him his zipper was unzipped (true story), and he sent his dental hygienist home in tears when she suggested he begin flossing (another true story). The slightest correction was met by him with red-faced fury.
Success turned a wonderful human being into an uncorrectable, insufferable know-it-all.
We Fail the Easiest Test
Several years ago I was a novice blogger when I wrote a blog about Sunday school problems that went mini-viral (for me) with over 500,000 reads.
People began to ask for my writing advice, and I liked it. I enjoyed the spotlight. I began to wonder if my opinions 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 usually hide our pride, but we secretly applaud our 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 advance further and faster than our college classmates;
- 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.
The Sinai Desert and the Land of Milk and Honey
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 ask for mercy, and in our riches we ask for praise.
P. S. I may be slow to respond to comments today. I’m expecting a call from NASA.