As humans, we convince ourselves of how powerful we are. Presidents can move armies. In the last century, we corralled the atom and walked on the moon. Medicine eradicated diseases such as smallpox and polio.

We believe in our importance.

Yet, for all of the hubris of “we can do anything,” we should reconsider.

As people, we should take a lesson from Canute.

Canute was a Danish king who ruled England in the 11th century.

Those in his court flattered him to gain his favor. Upon his entry into a room, they would proclaim, “You are the greatest man who ever lived.” Or “No one has your might, and you are the Monarch to rule all.”

Canute knew better. One day, he stopped it.

He and his entourage were walking at the seashore. He stopped and asked, “So, you say I am the greatest man who ever lived, and I have all power?” All nodded in agreement.

“Then bring me my chair.” As Canute instructed, a servant brought his chair and placed it near the sea.

“Move it closer.” Once the feet of the chair were in the water, he said, “that is where I want it.”

He sat down. “Do you see the tide come in?” asked Canute. “Will it stop if I command it to?”

“Yes, your highness, for you are most powerful.”

Canute gave the order. “Surf, stop your pounding.” But the water lapped at his feet.

Once again, Canute spoke, “Ocean, turn back.” The water came higher, curling around his feet and soaking his robe.

Then Canute turned to his subjects. “My friends, I do not have as much power as you believe. Perhaps you will remember there is One all-powerful King who rules the sea and holds the oceans in the hollow of his hands. I suggest you reserve your praises for him.”

His subjects bowed their heads in shame. Canute removed his crown and never wore it again.

The apostle Paul recognized the potential for arrogance in anyone, including Christians. So he wrote the Romans:

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3, ESV)

It is not a command to denigrate self. Neither does it pander to the “you are special” mentality of our modern age. Instead, it seeks rational thinking.

Realistically, who do you think you are?

Joseph came to this conclusion while in prison. As a young man, he dreamed of power and position, ruling over his family. But slavery and prison brought him a clear vision.

In Genesis 41, he had a unique ability—to interpret dreams. Yet, when summoned to Pharaoh’s court, he refused the honor. Instead, he told the Pharaoh, “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” (Genesis 41:16-16)

Before you break your arm, patting yourself on the back for any accomplishment, acknowledge the source of your ability.

Then your judgment will stay clear.