Fear of Success

By Sandy Mayle
There’s an interesting scene in the classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where the dastardly Mr. Potter offers the impoverished George Baxter a highly lucrative job in his business.  George agonizes over his decision (which to Potter is a no-brainer).  Finally losing patience, Potter exclaims, “Oh, confound it, man, are you afraid of success?”

I’ve thought of that line more than once… because I have been afraid of success.

And no wonder.  If you delve into the Word, a lot of bad stuff tends to happen when success comes.  Heads get turned.  God gets forgotten.  People become full of themselves.  Pride comes… and if you read Scripture with an eye for learning its lessons, you come away with a healthy fear of pride.  God hates it.  Prideful people are just steps away from a fall, from deep humiliation, and eventually from destruction. (Luke 14:7-11, Proverbs 16:18)

So I wrestle with pride.  Sometimes it seems safer to fail, or to just succeed a little, to stick to a lukewarm effort that doesn’t tempt to pride (but is so distasteful to God ~ Revelation 3:16).  It seems easier to keep humble and stay close to God when I’m messing up, when others obviously have it all together in a way I can’t hope to imitate.

But when I’m firing on all cylinders, when ministry efforts are seeing a positive response, when I look pretty good to myself and others ~ appearing productive, godly, wise, strong in faith ~ and am seeing big answers to prayer, then it’s especially hard to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” To “rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NIV); to “be completely humble and gentle” (Ephesians 4:2 NIV); to “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV).

Recently, after a significant spiritual victory, I went on a personal retreat for a couple days.  Seeing the potential for real danger ahead, I came to the Lord about this problem of pride, of self-exaltation.

And I prayed, “Lord, if I stay in step with You, let You live Your life in and through me, stuff’s gonna happen. [Good stuff. God stuff.] It just is. How will I keep from being prideful, especially feeling I’m better than other Christians?”  How would I keep my feet on the ground, my eyes fixed on Christ, my heart wholly committed to His glory?

The Lord’s answer stopped me in my tracks:

“This isn’t you.  It’s Me. You had to go for this to happen.”

Of course!  Victory lies in refusing the fantasy that any of it was accomplished through my power or savvy.  It lies in recognizing and embracing the reality that this God-work was accomplished because I left and God came.  It lies in remembering my dark Gethsemanes and the trip(s) up to Calvary where I died, and my life was hidden with Christ in God.
(Colossians 3:3)  I died!  So the old, dead me hasn’t had anything to do with any current success ~ not a thing!  Christ, Who now lives in me, is accomplishing the Father’s will through me. (Galatians 2:20)

I now have this word from the Lord that I can replay in my mind whenever I experience success and am tempted to overvalue myself:

“This isn’t you.  It’s Me. ‘You’ had to go for this to happen.”

Without Him, this good thing wouldn’t have happened. And with me, it couldn’t have happened.  It’s all Him.

No need for me ~ or you ~ to fear success anymore.  We can give our all to the tasks God gives us, and we can enjoy His accomplishments through us, as long as we recognize Whose fingerprints are all over that success.  We can say with the prophet Isaiah, “All that we have accomplished you have done for us”. (Is. 26:12 NIV)

All the glory ~ all the glory ~ goes to God alone.


Sandy has been a freelance writer for many years and has written for Discipleship Journal, Pray! Magazine, Just Between Us and many other publications.  She and her husband, Dave live in Erie, PA.

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