Sometimes we face our greatest dangers after we have experienced our greatest triumphs. It was after his success on Mt. Carmel that Elijah was paralyzed with fear. Often after times of great victory, we will lower our guard and find ourselves vulnerable. And, more often than not, the problem is self-confidence.
We know that Peter denied Jesus three times. But what led to it? It all started when Jesus pointed out that one of his disciples would betray him. Peter, thinking he would use this as an opportunity to boast of his devotion to Christ, said to Jesus, “Even if all fall away, I will not” (Mark 14:29 NIV).
So Jesus told him, in effect, “Well, since you brought it up, Peter, before the rooster has crowed twice, you are going to deny three times that you ever knew Me.” Of course Peter did deny Jesus, and it started with self-confidence. The Bible warns that pride goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). You might be surprised at what you are capable of doing.
It is a little like going out to dinner and ordering a dessert to share. I know I will be able to resist if I don’t touch the dessert. But the moment I take a bite, I want it all. As everyone takes their first bites, I resist. Then they say, “Oh, Greg, it is so good. You should try it.” So I eventually agree to have one bite. And then the feeding frenzy has begun. While everyone is enjoying the conversation, their dessert has suddenly disappeared.
We think we can handle it. We think we will know when to stop. I will just have one drink. I will try it just this one time. I’m not vulnerable in this area. Famous last words. The next thing you know, you are on a slippery slope and can’t stop. Don’t think you are above it. Don’t think you won’t fall to it. Any of us has that capacity. And too much self-confidence is usually where it starts.
The Bible records an unlikely defeat Israel suffered due to a surplus of self-confidence. They had just experienced a great victory at Jericho. They had marched around the city day after day. And on the seventh day, in obedience to God, they gave a mighty shout. And, sure enough, right on cue, the great, massive walls of Jericho began to shake and ultimately collapse as Israel went in and took the city. It is one of the greatest stories ever told.
But after Jericho came the little city of Ai. After Jericho, the Israelites essentially said, “Ai? It’s smaller than Jericho – not as many soldiers in it. We don’t even have to send the whole army up there. We will just send a smaller group and just take that city.” But that is not what happened at all.
So why were they victorious at Jericho and defeated at Ai? It is the same reason we are victorious on some days and defeated on others. They were full of self-confidence. Ai was only a small city compared to Jericho, which now lay in smoldering ruins. They could do this in their sleep, or so they thought. They would need only a few thousand men. But their reasoning was based on the supposition that Israel had captured Jericho. But had Israel brought Jericho down by some military plan? No. God had designed it in such a way that they would have to say it was his doing. All they did was march around the city, while God brought its walls down.
Joshua, their leader, had not asked God for a fresh battle plan for Ai. Flushed with the victory at Jericho, he thought Ai would be a walk in the park. But instead it was a waterloo. So Joshua cried out to God, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan!” (Joshua 7:7 NIV). In effect, Joshua was blaming God for his own mistakes and forgetting all that God had done for him and for Israel.
Disobedience is what brought Israel down. Someone had committed a sin and had stolen property that belonged to God. But when there was a crisis, God had their attention.
Maybe crisis has hit in your life recently. Maybe there is something you have done that is displeasing to God and, as a result, you are having problems. Maybe you are thinking that if you just pray and pray some more, it will get fixed.
Certainly, there is a place for praying. But there is also a place for identifying your sin and repenting of it, because the Bible says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18). The word “regard” could be translated from the original language to read “hold on” or “cling to.” If you hold on to sin, God won’t hear you. So there is a time for praying, but there is also a time for dealing with unconfessed sin – sin that is keeping you from fellowship with God.
Is there an area in your life that is displeasing to God? Is there something you have struck a compromise on, something that you are doing that you know is wrong, but you have somehow rationalized it in your mind? If there is, then it needs to be dealt with, because it comes down to this: Men and women outside of the will of God are a menace to themselves and to everyone around them.
Just as one man’s pride-filled decision to sin affected an entire nation, your sin affects others as well. It affects your family. It affects your friends. It affects your church. You are influencing others either for good or for bad. Which one will it be?