Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Dan. 4:37)
The world sets us up for a fall. We're told that we're defined by our self-sufficiency, that successful people call their own shots and make things happen for themselves. It is particularly the case for men; providing for ourselves and others is one of the things we take pride in. We're pushed to climb the ladder and make a name for ourselves. If we do what we're supposed to, we build a secure foundation to carry us to the end. Not needing anyone's help is something we shoot for.
These are the reasons why losing your job or your home can demolish your self-esteem and lead to depression. It's a sign of failure, in our eyes and in the eyes of those around us. Losing control over your life is a man's biggest nightmare. Falling from a pinnacle of success, wealth, financial freedom and self-sufficiency is what we avoid at all cost. When it happens we call it hardship, a tragedy, or disaster. The last thing any of us think is that losing everything could be the very thing we need.
Not so many years ago, I had confidence in my ability to do whatever I wanted. I felt like I had it all worked out. I was in charge of my life and didn't need anyone's help. I was able to give myself the things I needed, and I had no worry about the future. It was all about me—the things I invested myself in, the goals I pursued, the things I spent money on. Things were looking great. Up until the moment they fell apart.
It was the start of a difficult time that has turned out to be the greatest gift God could give me. The path I was on, the way I viewed myself, and the goals I was living for—none of them meant anything. I was wasting my life, trusting in my strength instead of experiencing his power. I was empty and off-track, filled with pride and on course to crash and burn. By his grace, I was halted and forced to look up.
It's the same gift that Nebuchadnezzar received in Daniel 4. As the most powerful man in the world of his time, Nebuchadnezzar was at the center of everything. His kingdom was massive; the nations all around were either conquered or subservient. He had wealth beyond measure and the power of life and death over his subjects. His will went unquestioned. I think it would be hard for anyone in that position not to think it was all about him. But it's the same reason we all fall into the trap—life seems to be under our control. We take things for granted and pursue our dreams. We don't look up.
Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that troubled him. He sent for Daniel to interpret it, as he had successfully on other occasions. The message was simple: God was going to judge him unless he looked up and acknowledged the one who was truly sovereign. Daniel warned him that he might avoid judgment if he changed his prideful ways. "Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue" (Dan. 4:27). Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan, apparently ignored him. A year later, an insanity came on him that turned him into a mindless beast. He went from the highest position on earth to drinking water from the ground. The extremity of his plight was intentional; it wasn't punishment to fit a crime, but a lesson in what happens when we put ourselves at the center of everything. We set ourselves up for a fall.
We were not created to be at the center. When we put ourselves there, we can't experience the life we're meant to have. Pride is a trap; it keeps you rooted in your failures and separates you from real love. It's a kind of idolatry, the idea that everything is about you; we're told by the world that it's the way we find happiness and meaning. But we were created to look up and acknowledge our heavenly Father. As his children, we receive his strength when our hearts align with his purposes and not our own plans. We experience joy and peace when we yield to his will and abandon our own. We find value and meaning in our lives when he is at the center and not us.
Looking at financial hardship or a personal disaster as God's grace can be difficult, but we need to consider it when it happens. The suffering we experience in life has a point; the question is if we'll learn from it or if we'll continue on our way, stubbornly heading in a direction that will cause us to lose everything that matters. Jesus asked what good it would be for someone to gain the whole world but lose his soul (Matt 16:26). It wouldn't be good, and that's the point. God wants us to experience the life we're meant to have, even if that means we lose the things we're trusting in. He's stopping us out of his love for us, so that we'll find our way to the life he planned for us.
I thank God for the hardship that led me back to him, and the joy I have now because he loved me too much to let me go my own way.
Humility means freedom from worry and the control of possessions. Humility bonds us to other people and allows us to seek forgiveness for our mistakes. Humility permits us to see past ourselves and find our way to him. That's the place we need to be.
We all face difficulties. Seek the Lord in the middle of them. Put him at the center and accept the true life he offers you.