"I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together." ~ Psalm 34:1-3
A former church member shared with me recently that he never forgot the way I used to react when someone would compliment my preaching. He heard me say, “Praise the Lord” or “It’s just His Word” when people would say nice things as they exited the church on Sunday morning. He thought it was odd. He would test me occasionally, saying something nice about my work just to see what I was going to say. After awhile it was clear to him that I was deflecting the praise.
He had caught me in the act of passing along praise to the Lord, a discipline formed in my earliest years of ministry. Why do I do that? Am I trying to cast myself as a humble person? Am I trying to call attention to my own humility? No. But it has been a helpful way of battling the temptation to take praise and keep it for myself. It doesn’t belong to me. It’s not mine.
Those of us who have a public ministry rarely talk about this issue of what we do with praise when it comes our way. But we need to… I used to feel awkward and embarrassed when someone would say nice things about my preaching. Intuitively I sensed that I needed to treat what they were saying with care. I liked what they were saying, but I realized that there was a problem with liking it too much. I felt some pride and a sense of satisfaction. I wanted to take the credit, but I knew I shouldn’t.
At the same time, I knew the persons speaking to me were simply being kind and encouraging (and we all need encouragement). I did not need to respond to their praise in a way that was hurtful or offensive. They meant no harm. I needed to know how to respond to them, but more importantly, I needed a way to respond to my own thoughts and feelings.
"And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'? But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'" ~ Luke 17:7-10
Jesus tells us to say this out loud: I am an unprofitable servant. It was simply my duty. I was doing what He told me to do.
You are a saint. You are a gifted person. You did a great job. And when you do something well, people will compliment you and praise you and call attention to the excellence of your work. For example, it is often the custom in the entertainment world to give flowers to the director or the leading performers in a play or Broadway production. It is a way of giving them the credit they deserve for their work behind the scenes.
But when I preach or do ministry and receive praise, Jesus wants me to remember this: those “flowers” being thrown my way don’t belong to me. I need to figuratively pick them up and cast them before the One who deserves all the credit for anything good that I’ve done.
Beware of the delusion of pride. It can cause you to think of yourself more highly then you should, forgetting that all that you are and all that you have comes from him. Your talent, your abilities, and your strengths are all gifts from God. In addition, when you are serving God, you are doing so because of what he has accomplished in you. You were a sinner and now you are forgiven. You were an outcast and now you are His child. You were lost and now you are found. Everything you are has been made possible because of the mercy of God. And everything you are doing ought to be done as an act of obedience to your Lord and Master.
The enemy wants you to take the credit for yourself. That is what he would do and what he has always done. He hates true worship because it is focused on God and not upon him. And he will do whatever he can to get you to take what belongs to God for yourself.
Paul knew how easy it would be to become attached to the praises of others. The great danger of feeding emotionally on the approval of others is that you stop seeking the approval of the Father. Paul writes in Galatians 1:10, “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” A common house slave had no rights! He exists only to do the will of his Master and his Lord. Paul called himself a “bondservant” and nothing more. It was his most popular way of describing himself. Do you think of yourself as a bondservant? Do you think of yourself as nothing more than the property of your Lord? Do you exist to do His will, or your own will?
Paul wanted others to think of him as the Lord’s servant. He said, “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ…” (1 Corinthians 4:1) In declaring himself a “servant of Christ,” Paul chose the word for “under-oarsman” — a reference to slaves on ancient galleys who had to row the boat. This word describes a slave who worked at the lowest level of the ship. It was not a position of glamour, but of forced labor. Paul is saying if you want to think of me in a certain way think of me like this: I am simply a servant of Christ. Do not focus on how well I row the boat. Focus on the one I am doing it for.
So when the flowers come in the form of praise and compliments on the work that you have done, always remember that those “flowers” do not belong to you. The “flowers” belong to Jesus!