Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips. Proverbs 27, verse 2.
True confession time: I both love and loathe praise. The longer you know me, the more you’ll see this schizophrenic aspect to my nature. There are not enough hours in the day for me to stand in the spotlight, yet when I’m standing there the adulation is uncomfortable to me. I can recite lines or act; that’s something ‘to do’ that occupies my thinking. In a speech competition, I once gave a twenty-minute memorized speech followed by a five-minute extemporaneous response; piece of cake, and I didn’t need a teleprompter. If you need someone to teach a subject (with which I’m familiar), I’m your guy. You’ve witnessed an informative and entertaining class if you’ve witnessed the wonder that is me in front of a group; yes, I know I need to keep working on humility.
Here’s where I get uncomfortable: when people say ‘thank you’ or want to recognize me in front of a group, it makes me uneasy to have people acknowledge things that I have said or done. During my stint in the military, it made me uneasy to receive awards, medals and plaques…even though I secretly craved doing things to earn them. It’s like I want the praise, but I want it on my own terms; hold that thought for a moment. At work, I strive to be acknowledged and rewarded, yet I also live in covert dread of the moment when that actually happens. After all, you never want the boss to know you TOO well. And in my personal life, I constantly made lists or did things to earn favor as if I was saying “look at all I’ve done!” Then, when the inevitable argument came, I turned that around and used that vicious word “but.” It’s hard to walk the walk while talking the talk. We need both, and neither.
What’s hard about this is that it’s a right thing to be motivated to do your best, and even to want to be rewarded for work you do or even the position you earn. Today’s verse seems to obliquely command this, stating that it’s ok to be praised by others. It is a proper thing to merit reward, to earn commendation, and to receive accolades for good and Godly things that we do. What isn’t proper is to do so out of an unhealthy sense of pride, or out of vanity or selfishness. When we do things well, it’s reasonable to want praise for them. What wouldn’t be reasonable is to constantly toot our own horn. We all know people who do that, don’t we? Me, I find that they too seem to think there aren’t enough hours to spend in that old spotlight. Imagine that.
Therefore, the heart of this confession is to acknowledge I’m guilty of some things and misplaced in others. That it’s a sin to get the big head by craving the spotlight, and it’s a sin to feel uneasy about receiving praise if praise is due, but that it isn’t a sin to have others praise you for things you think, say or do when good praise is in order. Perhaps the difference is thankfulness. Wrongful pride tells us to take healthy satisfaction in our work and then turn it into unhealthy pride that demands recognition. Selfishness tells us that we should feel more comfortable in our self-centered blanket of insecurities than we should in receiving the admiration or kudos from another.
But a grateful heart will receive praise for a job well done, saying ‘thank you’ and submitting gratitude to God for the way He blesses us with our abilities. To paraphrase the man on the radio, yours and mine are ‘talents on loan from God.’ What we do well we should be thankful for: for the opportunity to serve, for the emotional and physical equipment to do so, for abilities needed in the moment, and for God blessing us with the life that allows such things. He provides for us; it’s a good thing to feel thankful for that provision. I find that focusing on these thoughts helps me fight off the uneasiness of receiving praise. When the accolades come, as I both anticipate and dread that they will, if I can say “thank you, Lord” quietly or even in voice, I can get through the moment and put it in its proper perspective. In this way, “well done, Dave” can really mean “glory to God.” Imagine that too.
Doing that also helps to combat the selfish aspect of that uneasiness. If you think about it, being uneasy, or submitting to a fear, is a form of selfishness, even idolatry. It’s like I’m saying to God “this fear is bigger than you.” That’s a sin. Last night I was in a men’s group and we talked about this very thing. Our fears are ways of submitting to the subtle, cowardly attacks on our Godly character because the accuser will try to use our fears as a way to make us feel like we’re either in over our head or too big for our head. For me, feeling uneasy in receiving praise is a way of saying to God, “I reject what you’ve given to me.” It’s a way of focusing on those insecurities instead of receiving genuine praise or gratitude from people who may just genuinely give it. Lord please help me help my stupid self.
Yes, I both love and loathe public praise. The vanity of my flesh craves the satisfaction of adulation, but the trepidation of receiving that adulation seems to pin-prick my conscience and grow a healthy wariness into unhealthy sin. The cure for the common uneasiness? Thankfulness: being thankful to Him for what I’ve been given and grateful for the opportunity to use those gifts in some kind of service. Whether it’s praying on my knees or praying through self-talk in the car – or in the spotlight – a word of thanks is a word just in time. It’s the start of keeping my actions in perspective and my eye on the ball.