More people have crashed their lives because of this than any other single thing. In fact, this has ruined more men and women than the devil, extramarital affairs, the economy, and drugs/alcohol combined.
Do not misunderstand. God desires for you to succeed. But success is dangerous. Success is fertile ground in which pride can grow. For every person who can handle success, there are a hundred who can handle failure. Failure has a way of reminding us of our true condition—that we are woefully inadequate. Success, on the other hand, can make us think inflated things about ourselves.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses warns the people of Israel who are about to enter the Promised Land against getting proud when they start experiencing success: “When you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud. . . . You may say, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me’” (8:12-14, 17).
Pride lurks behind every advancement we make. With every victory we achieve, pride is waiting to claim, “Look what you did! Aren’t you special!” Theologian John Stott comments, “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.”
Pride was a regular nemesis in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. On no less than two recorded occasions, the Twelve argued among themselves as to whom was the greatest. Apparently being part of the inner circle got to their heads. Having power to heal, exorcise demons, and proclaim the gospel made each feel as if he was a “cut” above the rest.
Jesus sternly rebuked them by saying, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (see Mt. 18:1-4).
“Become like little children.” In the Greek, the same word can be translated “babies.”
When my boys were babies, they had no qualms about crying out to their mother or me for help. Their cries came naturally and sometimes hourly (How I remember the 3:00 am shift!). They were needy. Their existence depended on our ongoing intervention. As the boys grew up, however, they became more and more adept at doing for themselves what they once depended on me or their mother to do for them (I am not complaining. I do not want to be tying my 20-year-old’s shoes.). Their successes fostered a spirit of independence.
While this is good in normal childhood development, this is not good in the kingdom of God. As his children, we are to “grow down”—not “up.” We are to become increasingly dependent. But success makes this a challenge.
To combat your propensity toward becoming proud, I suggest the following strategies:
Dwell on the Cross
Immerse yourself in the passion of Christ—the story of his betrayal and death at Calvary. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote: “There is only one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross.”
Purpose that your first thought of the day will be an expression of your dependence on God. Each morning, before my feet ever hit the ground, I pray, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” More, throughout your day whisper prayers under your breath: “God, I need you! Help me. Save me!”
Pride does not grow well in the soil of gratefulness. Giving thanks holds in check a spirit of entitlement while at the same time reminding us of who our real source is.
Do not forget to thank God for the “bad” as well. Problems and troubles are special gifts of God designed to help us let go of self-confidence and learn to trust in him (see 2 Cor. 1:8-9).
Of course, trying to humble yourself is like trying to grow ten feet tall. Without God’s intervention, we will remain captivated by our own egos. All we can do is put ourselves in the place where God can do the work and kill our pride and develop humility in us.
Give Glory to God
Whatever successes you experience in your family and ministry and vocation, learn to immediately transfer the glory to God. Because King Herod failed to immediately give glory to God when the people praised him, he was eaten by worms (see Acts 12:19-23).
Our problem is that as we mature and tackle greater challenges and enjoy the accompanying victories, we can become increasingly blind to our true condition, and pride can creep in.
Remember: No matter how much you accomplish and how smart you become, no matter how many possessions you acquire and how effective your leadership becomes, you are still a baby.