Kill Pride Before It Kills You
At some point today, someone will probably
compliment or praise something you do or say.
If not today, it will happen tomorrow, or
sometime next week. How will you respond? How
do you typically respond?
How we respond to praise from others,
especially over time, reveals how highly we
really think of ourselves. I’m not talking
about every specific email or conversation or
social-media update, but about the trends in
our emails and conversations and social media.
Is our default reaction — our gut heart-level
response — to give God credit and glory for
our gifts and achievements at work, at home,
and in ministry? Or, are we more likely to
privately savor that moment for ourselves, to
turn the praise over and over slowly in our
minds, like a piece of caramel in our mouths?
Every compliment or commendation we receive
comes charged with potential for worship. When
we quietly, even politely, enjoy affirmation
or praise without even thinking to acknowledge
God, we’re not only missing an opportunity to
worship him (and to call others to worship
him), but also robbing God of the glory he
deserves for every gift we receive and
everything we achieve.
Dying for Praise
Do you know how the apostle James, brother of
James was one of the very first disciples, one
of Jesus’s closest friends, and he was the
first apostle to be killed for his faith.
Known as “Sons of Thunder,” James and his
brother were fishermen before Jesus called
them into the ministry. He watched Jesus raise
a 12-year-old girl from the dead (Luke 8:51).
He stood with Jesus on the Mount of
Transfiguration (Luke 9:28). He went with
Jesus to the garden of Gethsemane the night
Jesus was betrayed (Luke 22:39).
And then King Herod had him killed with the
sword simply to entertain angry Jews (Acts
Herod hated the apostles, but mainly he seemed
to simply love himself. He killed James, and
then, “when he saw that it pleased the Jews,
he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts
12:3). He couldn’t murder Peter that day
because of the Jewish Passover celebration.
But he planned to execute him publicly within
the week (Acts 12:4).
An angel came and rescued Peter from captivity
(bound with chains, a soldier sleeping on each
side, and two more guards by the door). When
Herod came the next day to kill Peter, and
realized he was gone, he killed the sentries
instead (Acts 12:19). Murder. Attempted
murder. And more murders.
Living for Praise
What does that have to do with how you receive
praise? In the next verse, Herod turns his
anger against the people in Tyre and Sidon, so
they plead for peace and mercy. “On an
appointed day Herod put on his royal robes,
took his seat upon the throne, and delivered
an oration to them” (Acts 12:21). The people
shouted, “The voice of a god, and not of a
man!” (Acts 12:22). He killed for praise. He
dressed for praise. He performed for praise.
And he received his reward.
Luke writes, “Immediately an angel of the Lord
struck him down, because he did not give God
the glory, and he was eaten by worms and
breathed his last” (Acts 12:23)
God did not strike Herod down when he murdered
James, or when he imprisoned Peter in order to
murder him, or when he executed the innocent
prison sentries. No, God’s final hammer fell
when Herod took pleasure in being exalted by
people — when he plagiarized the power and
authority of God, presenting himself as wise
in his own wisdom, as strong in his own
strength, as great in his own greatness.
Living for Christ
Two chapters later in Acts, the apostle Paul
gets a similar treatment. After he healed a
crippled man in Jesus’s name, “When the crowds
saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their
voices, saying in Lycaonian, ‘The gods have
come down to us in the likeness of men!’”
(Acts 14:11). How does Paul respond to their
praise? “We also are men, of like nature with
you, and we bring you good news, that you
should turn from these vain things to a living
God, who made the heaven and the earth and the
sea and all that is in them” (Acts 14:15).
Instead of soaking up the attention and
basking in the glory, Paul and Barnabas
grieved over it (Acts 14:14). And they used
their new platform to rehearse all that God
had done (Acts 14:15–17). Whenever people are
under the impression that we have done
something impressive, we have a golden
opportunity to teach them we never do anything
impressive or meaningful in our own wisdom or
strength or ability. We can say with Paul, “By
the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace
toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I
worked harder than any of them, though it was
not I, but the grace of God that is with me”
(1 Corinthians 15:10).
How to Receive Praise
True humility does not refuse affirmation. It
refuses to keep it for ourselves. Paul’s
letters are full of warm affirmation:
To the Romans: “I thank my God through Jesus
Christ for all of you, because your faith is
proclaimed in all the world” (Romans 1:8).
To the Philippians: “I thank my God in all my
remembrance of you, always in every prayer of
mine for you all making my prayer with joy,
because of your partnership in the gospel”
To the Thessalonians: “We give thanks to God
always for all of you, constantly mentioning
you in our prayers, remembering before our God
and Father your work of faith and labor of
love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord
Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:2–3).
Paul loves to praise the grace at work in
other believers, often getting very personal
and specific (Romans 16:3; Philippians 2:19–
23; Philippians 2:25–30; and more). But he’s
always praising grace in people, not people
apart from grace. And he’s always pushing the
praise through the person to God.
When someone affirms something you have done —
at home, at work, in ministry — you don’t need
to rebuke them for not mentioning God. God
means for the joy we have in others’ gifts to
spill over into the joy of acknowledging and
affirming those gifts — just not the kind of
acknowledging and affirming that ends with us.
Receive the praise with grace and humility,
and then joyfully give the praise away to God.
Find a fresh way to say that you and your work
are a product of grace.
Don’t try to make your admirer feel bad for
giving you credit. Affirm his kindness, give
him the satisfaction of receiving his praise,
and help him see, with you, just how much God
deserves the glory for all your skill and
effort and success — and for theirs.