Author, scholar, and Bible translator J.B. Phillips, in his autobiography, The Price of Success, explains a particular type of soul-corrosion that comes with success. He writes:
I was not nearly so aware of the dangers of success. The subtle corrosion of character, the unconscious changing of values and the secret monstrous growth of a vastly inflated idea of myself seeped slowly into me. Vaguely I was aware of this and, like some frightful parody of St. Augustine, I prayed, “Lord make me humble–but not yet.”
I can still savor the sweet and gorgeous taste of it all–the warm admiration, the sense of power, of overwhelming ability, of boundless energy and never failing enthusiasm. I still do not regret it; in a sense it was inevitable, for I was still very young for my age. But it is very plain to me now why my one man kingdom of power and glory had to stop.
These sobering thoughts remind me to step back for a moment. Pastor Phil Davis talks about Christians driven to achieve and produce (like me!). He says, “It is a good quality, but it has a dangerous side. In our flurry of achievement, we need to ask ourselves: Is this sanctified ambition, or is it my own need for accomplishment and achievement?”
My prayer this week is for sanctified ambition. Success seems like a good thing. Success seems like the right thing. Success even seems like a fruitful thing. But apart from God’s sanctifying hand in it, it quickly becomes worship of self, a one man kingdom of power and glory. The subtle corrosion will begin.
The trend in Christian publishing and speaking–both things I love–require fame. Publishers who write to me have noted that I’m not famous enough yet. Once I am–by proof of followers of blogs and tweets and other social media measurements–then I’ve earned the right to sell books. Once this happens for any of us, the monstrous machine begins to churn: we’re known; we’re successful; we’re powerful.
Oh, Lord! Save me from it! Who can escape the soul-corrosion in such a time as this? We’re not strong enough. I’m not strong enough for fame. Who is?