When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. – Deuteronomy 8:10-18
God knows the Israelites well. He knows that they have difficulty remembering when times are good and their herds and flocks are large. What changes in our minds and spirits when we experience abundance? According to this passage we begin to get puffed up about our own abilities and forget where those abilities came from; “my power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me”.
Our ego is an interesting thing. I came out of high school and entered college with an ego the size of a Mack Truck. As an early Christian this is one of the first things God began to work on and He still has work to do in me today. God began the ego deflation process with a job working as a pizza delivery person. Now there is nothing wrong with this job and it actually payed pretty well, but in a college town pizza delivery people get about as much respect as a tax collector. It was a humbling experience for me.
The next stage of the deflation process was when my roommate and I decided to move in with a student confined to a wheelchair with Muscular Dystrophy. This was partly due to our desire to care for this student, but it also had something to do with the fact that he lived in a really cool corner room (still some growing to do :). We became full-time room mates and part-time caregivers. Seeing the physical and emotional challenges of this student did much to let the air out of my ego in a short time. I learned much that year about how to maintain a proper posture and perspective toward God and my ego. I also had to rely on God for wisdom and patience in caring for this special needs roommate.
A vast and dreadful wilderness and a thirsty and waterless land. God does not pull any punches in describing what it was that He led the Israelites through to get to the Promised Land. These Desert People were given water and manna from the very hands of God in their wanderings in the desert yet when they acquired stability and abundance they tended to forget. We can encounter the same thing in our lives when we pass through desert times and emerge to find a comfortable place of abundance.
A number of years ago my wife and I were “drafted” to start a youth group for our church. We did not really know what we were doing and the first year we had one faithful member of our youth group. We continued to pray and seek God’s wisdom and eventually the group grew to the point where we hired a youth pastor, or maybe we were just so bad at it the church thought we needed help :). Either way our “herd and flock had grown large”. It was a real temptation to believe that the youth group success was due to our own abilities rather than God’s. This must be a temptation for pastors of large and successful churches too. How does one keep from losing perspective in the face of success?
I think doing what I ended up doing in college may be a good strategy. Intentionally placing ourselves in humbling situations which require our dependence on God can help keep our egos in check. It also helps to give trusted friends and fellow Christians the permission to “take us down a notch” if our ego gets inflated.
Prayer: God help me to be thankful in abundance and quick to recognize the source of our abundance.