Summary: If you want your sanity restored and to shine brightly in a dark world, don't be proud of your own achievements; instead, humble yourself before Almighty God. "Christ sends none away empty but those who are full of themselves" (Donald Gray Barnhouse)
Chan Gailey, who at various times coached for the Pittsburg Steelers, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Kansas City Chiefs told a story some time ago about the time he was head coach of Alabama’s Troy State and they were playing for the National Championship. The week before the big game, he was headed to the practice field when a secretary called him back to take a phone call.
Somewhat irritated, Gailey told her to take a message because he was on his way to practice.
She responded, “But it's Sports Illustrated.”
“I'll be right there,” he said.
As he made his way to the building, he began to think about the upcoming article. It would be great publicity for a small school like Troy State to be in Sports Illustrated. As he got closer, he realized that a three-page article would not be sufficient to tell the whole story. Coming even closer to his office, he started thinking that he might be on the cover. “Should I pose or go with an action shot,” he wondered. His head was spinning with all of the possibilities.
When he picked up the phone and said hello, the person asked, “Is this Chan Gailey?”
“Yes, it is,” he replied confidently.
“This is Sports Illustrated, and we're calling to let you know that your subscription is running out. Are you interested in renewing?”
Coach Gailey concluded the story by saying, “You are either humble or you will be humbled.” (Chan Gailey speaking at a dinner in Dalton, Georgia, 4-20-04; www.PreachingToday.com)
How very true that is! And that’s cause for great concern as I think about our own American culture these days. Just a couple of years ago, New York Times columnist David Brooks commented on our tendency to be overconfident. “We're an overconfident species,” he said, calling it a “magnification of the self,” which he says is especially rampant in the United States.
For example: Although American students do not perform well on global math tests, they are among the world leaders in having self-confidence about their math abilities. 94 percent of college professors believe they have above-average teaching skills. 70 percent of high school students surveyed claim they have above-average leadership skills, and only 2 percent are below average. The number of high school seniors who believed that they were “a very important person”: in the 1950s – 12 percent; today – 80 percent (or more).
“In short,” Brooks concludes, “there's abundant evidence to suggest that we have shifted a bit from a culture that emphasized self-effacement – I'm not better than anybody else, but nobody is better than me – to a culture that emphasizes self-expansion.” (David Brooks, “The Modesty Manifesto,” The New York Times, 3-21-11; www.PreachingToday.com)
What would God say to such a culture, and how can we avoid the humiliation that’s sure to come if we continue down the same path for very much longer?
Well, if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to the book of Daniel, Daniel 4, Daniel 4, where we have the musings of a man who had literally gone mad with pride. Nebuchadnezzar was at one time the most powerful man in the word and it all went to his head, but God taught him some things through that experience that he shares with us in this chapter.
Daniel 4:1-3 King Nebuchadnezzar, to the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth: May you prosper greatly! It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. How great are his signs, how might his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation. (NIV)
Wow! What honor he pays to God. But how did he get there? How did he get from building a statue of gold 90 feet tall in honor of himself to honoring the One he calls “the Most High God?” Well, let’s read on.
Daniel 4:4-5 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me. So I commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me.
Nebuchadnezzar’s journey to faith started with fear. In fact, Nebuchadnezzar was extremely afraid because of a dream. The Aramaic words he uses speak of extreme terror, of shrinking back or even of running away in fear. Think about it: the most powerful man on earth afraid of a nightmare in the middle of the night. He may seem like a big man on the outside to the rest of the world, but he is a terrified little boy on the inside.