Personal and professional success may ultimately be more dangerous to the human soul than trials and temptations. For if failure in life leads to self-examination and dependance on God, success can lead to personal blind spots and independence from God. When things are going well, egos can grow and self-confidence can rise. Think about your own life. When your finances, relationships, career, and happiness are trending up, do you go to God with thanksgiving for His blessings? Or do you consider the success your own?
How can we be successful in life (as all of us wish to be) without falling into the spiritual pitfalls that come with success? The only long-term remedy is humility, which only comes from remembering the greatness of God in comparison to my contributions. Ultimately, God is the author of every success in your life. He gave you the skills and the resources and the relationships to do well in this life. And in the end, He will be the One we give an account to for how we used His gifts. The Bible constantly warns us of the danger of forgeting God in the midst of our prosperity. Both material and spiritual growth can result in our forgetfulness toward God. And as we forget the Lord, we become boastful in our own ingenuity and resourcefulness.
In the end, God will not share His glory with another. And so, if you or I continue to walk in the pride of life, taking credit for God’s work in and through our lives, God will humble us. He must. Because He is a consuming fire, jealous of our worship and praise, alone worthy of our adoration. With this long view in mind, how do we stay humble in the midst of success? A few personal thoughts:
1- We study and meditate on the character of God – specifically His holiness. While the Bible definitely teaches the nearness of God, it also reminds us of the otherness of God. He is not like us. When our view of God is too small, our view of ourselves will be too high, resulting in us taking credit for the work of God. I think we start with a focused effort to know God in the fullness of His revelation to us. We talk about ourselves and think about ourselves all the time. Why not spend some more time thinking about and meditating on the Trinity?
2- We press into God, expressing our dependence on Him, instead of pulling away from God. Daily, consistent prayer reminds us that God alone gives us breath and life and the ability to succeed. Success can lead us to pull away from God and walk independently of His Spirit. This is the most dangerous temptation in the midst of success – that we would forget our need for God. Without a forceful, intentional strategy to press into God, we will walk in our own strength and take pride in our own efforts.
3- We confess our sin and need for grace. Nothing will quench the work of the Holy Spirit like impurity and a lack of repentance. Success can deceive us into thinking that we don’t need God’s grace – that our blessings are a sign that God is giving us what we deserve. But this is wrong biblically. Success is a not a sign of what we deserve, but an evidence of the depths of God’s mercy and forgiveness. It should lead us to draw even closer to the Lord and confess and repent more faithfully.
Listen to Jeremiah in 9:23-24: “This is what the Lord says: the wise man must not boast in his wisdom; the strong man must not boast in his strength; the wealthy man must not boast in his wealth. 24 But the one who boasts should boast in this, that he understands and knows Me— that I am Yahweh, showing faithful love, justice, and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things. This is the Lord’s declaration.”
Similarly, listen to Paul in Galatians 6:14: “But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.”
If you have stopped being amazed in the presence of God, if you have stopped praying faithfully, and if you have stopped confessing and repenting regularly, then your success is drying up your soul. Those that God uses most are those who combine strong leadership and biblical faithfulness with personal humility and spiritual dependence. May God grant us the grace to guard our hearts from success.