The Soul-Corrosion of Success

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?

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2 thoughts on “The Soul-Corrosion of Success

  1. Heather, thanks for “writing my heart” on this topic, as I have been so saddened by this trend in Christian publishing. After reading your wise and wonderful words, I wanted to stand up and say, “Hear, hear!”

    And kudos to Juliana and Robin, as I totally concur with them. I wish we could all go out to lunch together and share a rich conversation! Since that's not possible, I'm glad we can pray for the Christian publishers, agents, editors, and writers. God's promises remain true: he will honor those who honor him.

  2. I am sad that you are not “famous enough” yet. I am sad for what that says about our culture. I'm sad because it means that people won't get an opportunity to hear what you have to say (and I love hearing what you have to say). I'm sad because it ignores all the other things that you've chosen o make a priority in your life that are, in reality, so much more important than “being famous”.

    I don't know how to publish books. I don't fully know what it takes to have a “good life”. I do know this. You are raising amazing daughters. You are reaching lives daily in your classes (how I long to be part of one!). You make your neighborhood better – one walk to school at a time. You are touching lives in sharing your daily flair. If being famous means sacrificing those things…I'm not sure its worth it…these things seem so much more important…

    And yet it's a wrestle…I would love to read more of your books (yup, I read How to Write with Flair! and the devotional you wrote for your daughters). I guess what needs to change is the priorities of the publishing industry…because your priorities seem spot on to me.

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