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He’d been granted authority by the king of Spain. He led his ship in worship at critical points of the journey. He’d overcome countless obstacles: attempted mutinies, limited supplies, storms, and scurvy. He’d faced and beaten death many times. He’d been extraordinarily successful, finding a rumoured strait that led from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He’d travelled seven thousand miles without interruption, the longest ocean voyage recorded at the time.

Some even believed that he’d met with divine favour. They considered the discovery of the strait a miracle. His ships met steady winds in the Pacific that sped their journey when supplies were dangerously low. In the Philippines, he encouraged locals to burn their idols and turn to Christ. Entire tribes, made up of thousands of people, professed faith. He even saw a local convert and experience healing from life-threatening illness.

Success in leadership can be dangerous to a leader’s soul, especially when that leader feels a sense of calling and blessing by God.

No wonder Magellan felt that he’d been blessed by God. In fact, he felt that his mission had been divinely sanctioned, his leadership unusually blessed. He believed he had succeeded not because he was superior, but because of God’s will, and he expected that pattern to continue.

He began to act erratically. He’d once told tribes that no one would be forced to convert to Christianity, although he might give preferential treatments to those who converted. Later, against the advice of his officers, he decided to war against a tribe that refused to convert. He told the king, Lapu Lapu, that he did not wish to fight, and wanted to be their friend, but “that if they wished otherwise, they should wait to see how our lances wounded.”

In the ensuing battle, Magellan was killed. His death brought mixed emotions to those under his authority. “Although the loss of the Captain General was tragic — no one, not even his detractors, begrudged Magellan his courage — his death brought a palpable sense of relief that the ordeal of sailing under him had at last ended,” writes Laurence Bergreen in his book Over the Edge of the World. Bergreen concludes:

His thirst for glory, under cover of religious zeal, led him fatally astray. In the course of the voyage, Magellan had managed to outwit death many times. He overcame natural hazards ranging from storms to scurvy, and human hazards in the form of mutinies. In the end, the only peril he could not survive was the greatest of all: himself.

Success in leadership can be dangerous to a leader’s soul, especially when that leader feels a sense of calling and blessing by God.

“We all prefer success to failure but, really, success is more dangerous,” writes Jared Wilson. In failure, we learn to rely on God. In success, we start to think that we’re invulnerable, that there’s something special about us.

Praise God for allowing us to be used by him. It’s exhilarating to sense that God is blessing us, and that our work matters.

But let’s also praise God that we don’t always meet with success, because that success may be more dangerous than we realize. And when we experience success, let’s realize the danger we face so that we don’t become proud, we don’t discredit Christ, and that those who follow don’t feel relieved to be finally rid of our leadership.