The story of Bernie Madoff is a sad one. He was addicted to adulation—and money was his way of earning that praise. Throughout his life he elbowed and clawed his way to the top of the mountain . . . only to discover its peak was slippery and crowded.
Madoff masterminded a twenty-year-long shell game, the largest financial crime in U.S. history. At seventy-one years of age, he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life as prisoner number 61727-054 in a Federal Correction Complex. If only he had known this promise: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NKJV).
Madoff’s story exemplifies the passage. But if you want to see an even more dramatic picture of the downfall of pride, read the story of Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar overthrew Jerusalem in 605 BC. Among his captives were four young men: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men represented the humble heart God desires, and through their lives God gave King Nebuchadnezzar opportunities to humble himself and enjoy God’s blessings.
In one instance, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow before a statue in the king’s honor. They were thrown into a furnace heated to seven times its normal temperature, but came out unsinged (see Daniel 3). The king was amazed. He even praised God. But he did not humble himself before God.
Another time, when the kingdom was enjoying prosperity, the king had a dream. His fortune-tellers could not explain it, but Daniel could. Daniel listened to the dream and was astonished and troubled by what he heard. Nebuchadnezzar, the uncontested ruler of the world, was about to lose it all! Nebuchadnezzar thought he was in charge. He believed he ran his world . . . perhaps the whole world.
God had sent Nebuchadnezzar three messages—three opportunities to humble himself—but each time he refused to listen. Finally, Nebuchadnezzar had to spend seven long years learning his lesson. He eventually got the point (see Daniel 4:36–37).
Do you see a person wise in his or her own eyes? God has strong words for this condition: “The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 16:5). Why the firm language? Because pride not only prevents reconciliation with God but also prevents reconciliation with people. How many marriages have collapsed beneath the weight of pride? How many apologies have gone unoffered due to lack of humility? How many wars have sprouted from the seeds of arrogance?
Pride comes at a high price. Don’t pay it. Choose instead to stand on God’s offer of grace. To the degree God hates arrogance, He loves humility. And isn’t it easy to see why? Humility is happy to do what pride will not. The humble heart is quick to acknowledge the need for God, eager to confess sin, willing to kneel before heaven’s mighty hand.
God gives grace to the humble because the humble are hungry for grace. Wonderful freedom is found in the forest of humility. So you might as well admit your failures and enjoy the day. Humility creates relief. It is healthy because humility is honest. “Those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Daniel 4:37), but those who walk in humility, God is able to use.
And that’s the memo.
By Max Lucado