*The Sultan and Satan*
An ancient legend from the East tells of a great sultan who was a devout man of God. One morning he overslept. When the Devil saw that the hour of morning prayer was passing, he woke the sultan and urged him to get out of bed and pray.
“Who are you?” asked the startled sultan, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Oh, it’s not important,” replied the shady figure. “The important thing is that I woke you up in time, otherwise you would have missed your prayers for the first time in ten years-and it is very good to pray, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that is true!” replied the sultan smugly. “I wouldn’t dream of missing my prayer time. Not even once! … But wait a minute! I think I recognize you. Yes, I know your face. Of course! You are Satan, and no doubt you have some evil motive for your appearance!”
“I’m not really as bad as you think!” exclaimed the intruder. “After all, I was God’s right-hand angel once.”
“That is all very well,” replied the wise old sultan, “but you are also the Deceiver; that is your business! So I demand in the name of God to know why you want me to get up and pray!”
“Well,” replied the Devil, having grown huffy and impatient with the sultan’s persistence, “if you must know, I’ll tell you. If you had slept and forgotten your prayers, you would have felt very sorry for it afterward and would have been quite penitent. That would have humbled you and brought you close to God. But if you continue on as you have for the last ten years, without missing a single prayer, then you will become so satisfied with yourself that it will be worse for you than if you had missed one prayer and had asked God for forgiveness. God loves your fault mixed with repentance much more than your virtue seasoned with pride!”
Often it is actually good for us to make some mistakes because if we didn’t, we’d most likely become so proud of ourselves and so self-confident that we’d no longer feel we needed any help from God or others. But in reality, when we feel so proud and self-satisfied, it’s because we’re not closer to God, but more full of ourselves.
Many people in the world today are taught that pride is a virtue. But God recognizes pride and self-righteousness for what they really are-sins of the heart! The Bible says that “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” and that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 16:18; James 4:6).
Quite frequently God uses our mistakes to help keep our pride in check, to keep us humble and more dependent on His goodness and strength, rather than our own. The Lord blesses humility. He gives more grace to the humble, and promises to dwell “with him who has a contrite and humble spirit” (1 Peter 5:5; Isaiah 57:15).
It has been said that out of what seems like defeat come some of God’s greatest victories. “But what kind of victory is that?” you may ask. Well, God very often uses humbling experiences to make us better people-more compassionate and understanding of the errors of others, more loving and patient, when otherwise we might not have been so. The Lord wants to use our mistakes to teach us many important lessons that perhaps we wouldn’t be able to learn any other way. So isn’t it encouraging to realize that even our failures can be for our good?
Of course, in order for the Lord to bring this good to pass, we must be honest with ourselves, be willing to confess our mistakes, and attempt to rectify them. The hardest words to say in any language are, “I was wrong!” This takes humility of the kind that only God can give, because it’s human nature to want to appear perfect and faultless, and consequently be unable to confess our mistakes.
But if we want the truth and desire God’s blessing, then we’ll honestly and humbly admit our faults and failings. Then we can take comfort in knowing that we are wiser today than we were yesterday. Contrary to what some folks seem to think, an admission of error is a sign of strength rather than weakness.
Besides, God knows you’re anything but perfect. In fact, He knows you can’t be perfect and never will be. So the crux of the matter is not whether you are perfect or not, but whether you depend on the Lord and His grace, love and mercy. Do you give Him all the glory and credit for anything good that you do? Whenever you accomplish something good, you should say, “Just thank Jesus. Don’t thank me! If I have done anything good, it’s only because the Lord helped me do so.”
A good rule to follow is this: Give God all the glory for anything good you do, and yourself the blame for anything bad. That will help keep you from falling into that horrible trap of self-righteous pride, which is the basis of virtually all sin.
So whenever you make a mistake and are then tempted to get down and discouraged, just remember the sultan’s lesson: God loves your fault mixed with repentance more than your virtue seasoned with pride!