Success can be dangerous.
When success arrives, it’s easy to get full of ourselves. To let our accomplishments go to our head. To think we’re better than we really are. I’m 100% in favor of success—but hidden within it are dangerous forces that if we’re not careful, can ruin our lives, and the lives of those closest to us. Even a cursory reading of Old Testament kings reveals many of them could handle war but couldn’t handle success.
Everyone defines success a bit differently. I’m thinking primarily today about career success, or ministry success. How can we succeed at these pursuits without losing our way? Without destroying ourselves? I think awareness is part of the answer. Specifically, becoming aware of the dangers accompanying success.
Let me share with you three hidden dangers of succeeding:
We lose teach-ability
King Solomon wrote: “Rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man, and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man, and he will add to his learning.” When we think we’ve arrived. . . we haven’t. What we’ve probably done instead is stopped listening. Or quit learning. We begin to talk more than we listen. And we start believing we’ve not only found the secret leadership sauce, but we are the secret leadership sauce. We close the door on coaches, mentors, or anybody truly speaking into our lives. Who is mentoring you right now? Coaching you? Speaking personally into your life? If the answer is nobody. . . beware.
We don’t broad jump into a lack of teach-ability. We inch our way into it when we allow success to swell our heads. How do we measure our level of teach-ability? Solomon gave us one barometer: The way in which we respond to correction: “Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.” How we react to being corrected gives us some insight into our level of teach-ability.
We forget who deserves the credit
The apostle Paul wrote: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So, neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” The most accomplished missionary in the history of Christianity, and the most prolific writer of the New Testament never forgot where his success ultimately came from. His mantra? “All I did was plant; God made it grow.”
My friend Jim Wiegand writes: “The fastest way to see God’s blessings leave what I’m doing is to take credit for what He’s doing. A blessed AND humble leader is one of greatest balancing acts in the world.”
When our church gets bigger, our business flourishes, or our bank account grows, human nature tempts us to assume a posture of misplaced credit. And the more we yield to that nasty part of our humanity, the more our heart fills with pride. Everything good in our lives comes from the gracious hand of God. He’s given us the ability, the personality, the open doors, and the opportunity to succeed. Yes—we have a part to play—planting and watering. But God is the one who brings success.
We put ourselves at serious risk
King Solomon, the richest king in Israel’s history, wrote: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” He should know. Eventually his success got the best of him. And consequently, his life didn’t end well.
History is littered with real life stories of gifted men and women who crashed and burned because they didn’t know how to deal with success. Leaders who started well, but finished poorly. The scary thing is—not one of us is immune from a similar fate. The insidious force of pride often sneaks up on us and before we know it, we’ve become arrogant. Unteachable. Infatuated with our own press clippings. We think: “I know what I’m doing. I don’t need anybody’s help. I’ve got this.” And in doing so, we place our lives at considerable risk.
When success comes, it’s easy to get full of ourselves. Let’s stay humble. Teachable. Open to correction. Let’s work on listening more and talking less. And remember Who the credit belongs to for any achievement we secure.
I’m rooting and praying for you!