Thursday, June 5, 2014

On Handling Praise: Christian Pride and Prejudice

Proverbs 27:1-2: "Never boast about tomorrow. You don't know what will happen between now and then. Let other people praise you - even strangers; never do it yourself."
Proverbs 27:21: "Fire tests gold and silver; a person's reputation can also be tested."

The Bible often tells us how to deal with correction and how to accept difficult or challenging situations - from slavery to misogyny to spiritual rebukes. But, what does the Bible say about praise, accolades and compliments? How do you respond when someone compliments you? 

Unless you are just weird, everyone feels more self-value and has a swell of pride when they are praised or complimented. Some people absolutely love receiving praise because it lifts their spirits and makes them feel valuable. Others are uncomfortable with it. They look down at their feet or offer reasons why they really don't deserve such praise. Both of those situations are dangerous - one because basing  your self-worth on others' opinions is a trap you need to escape. And the other is equally as bad because denying your worth and devaluing your gifts can be detrimental in allowing you to use and operate those gifts. If you continually have self-doubt, you'll be stuck in a cycle of never stepping up to operate in your talent or gift.
For Christians, there's another dilemma. We're called to be humble, so what are we to do when others say good things about us? Because pride is always waiting to raise its ugly head, we need to be careful not to let praise puff us up. Some believers think that accepting a compliment is a sign of pride, so they make a big show of giving all the glory to God. That's fine, if it's really what's in their hearts, but too often it becomes a rote "Christian" response that's geared to impressing others, or just habit. I know someone that for every compliment, they immediately pass the credit or glory to God. And I believe their sincerity, so I am careful to judge their intent. It is not my place, nor my intent to say it's insincere, because their reputation proceeds this action in so many other areas. Conversely, I see "saints" that live like "devils" that make a show of singing and shouting and bestow all credit to God, even though they are the ones complimenting themselves. It's a fine line to walk.
My advice is simply to say, "Thank you very much." Then whisper a prayer in your heart to the Lord, thanking Him for the blessing, recognizing that anything worthy of praise ultimately comes from Him. If you felt encouraged, let the person know how the comment blessed you. I love it when ridiculously talented people are humble. And I like sharing praise for them. Lanny Wolfe can break your heart with songwriting, so can David Huff. Courtney Ballestero can sing the phone book, but you'd miss out on some powerful theological thoughts if you only listened to her singing. Kellye Huff is just a girl I went to school with, until you realize that she's touched untold hundreds of thousands of people over the years through her talent. Stacey Douglas has the keenest sense of humor and best fashion sense I know, but you'll miss her heart if you focus on her love of fine leather goods. Rachel is a talented painter, but her unique insight into capturing each and every moment are what make me love her. My friend James Wood can make me research a new point of view in ways most cannot. And he doesn't always see his worth. Eddie Outlaw reaches hundreds of people for a myriad of causes, but always shines the light on group efforts. My mother, LaNita Roland is the best pianist I've ever heard, but you are missing her entire testimony if you only focus on music. Her walk with God and the faith she passed down to me is the real legacy, not her talent. If you receive praise for an achievement that was really a group effort, be sure to redirect the compliment to all those who were involved. A blessing is always more enjoyable when it's shared.
Our character is tested by the praise that comes to us. Every compliment that bounces into our ears should quickly rebound up to Christ. If we hold onto it, the poison of pride will begin to infect our hearts. But if we pass the praise to God, humility takes up residence in our souls and we are pleasing to God, and more palatable for our fellow humans, too. 

#JustBeingMichael ツ

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