You know how some people can’t take a compliment? You tell them “great job,” but they deflect the praise or explain it away. Some more pious folks will immediately point to God and say that it’s all of God.
No it’s not.
Sure, we are to cast down our golden crowns before God in recognition that any glory, any honor, any accomplishment, any accolade ultimately belongs to Him. But that’s after the crown of recognition has already been placed on our heads.
Our crown of accomplishment belongs at the feet of God. He is the one who gave us ability and opportunity. He is the one who brought success to our endeavor. Isaiah writes, “All we have accomplished, you have done for us.” (Is. 26:12). Paul presses us to question ourselves: “What do we have that we have not received? And if we have received it, how can we boast as though we had not?” (1 Cor. 4:7)
But there is a sense in which we want to retain personal responsibility. Sure, Christ is the one who strengthens me. He is the one in whom I can all things. But I am the one doing those things. I chose to undertake them and to put out the effort to do them well. Like a proper grip on a golf club or a tennis racquet, there’s a particular way we are to hold our achievements.
I write this because I’m having a hard time taking a compliment lately. Actually, I’m having a hard time being encouraged. It’s clear God wants to encourage me because He’s made it so obvious.
Let me give three recent examples. I conducted a Finding Forgiveness Seminar at a local church. The seminar went very well. The feedback I received told me that the teaching on forgiveness and the Spirit’s work that I and others had prayed for had hit its mark. I should be greatly encouraged.
I’m teaching a class on processing personal upheaval using my book, The Prayer of Jehoshaphat: Seeing Beyond Life’s Storms. The class has been remarkably well received. One participant who is a professional counselor approached me to say how much the book has helped him in his ministry to others in crisis. I was gratified. My head told me I should be encouraged but my spirit refused to cooperate.
I wrote a blog on hell. Someone friended me on Facebook to say this: “My main reason for IMing you is to tell you that I thought your article on hell was outstanding. It seemed to strike a biblical balance in a concise essay—not easy to do with the subject matter. I look forward to reading more of your output. A spiritual encouragement to me.” I responded that it was always an encouragement to hear of God using my writing. And I meant it. But I received the encouragement like a piece of chewed gum that has already given up its flavor.
God has designed encouragement as a good thing. He calls us to encourage one another. In fact, that encouragement contributes to a healthy church body and ongoing ministry.
Something’s not right for encouragement to be ineffectual.
Perhaps there are those times when you refuse to be encouraged or comforted or complimented. It’s complicated why that might be and I’m sure it’s different for all of us, perhaps relating even to depression or the weight of life. No doubt, our spiritual enemy has some role.
But if encouragement is from God and serves His design, and comes to us with His purpose, we need to maximize its intended effect. We want to embrace what we did that fostered the encouragement. Surely, it honors God when we use our gifts and don’t neglect the opportunities He gives us.
It seems appropriate that we should delight in the pride of accomplishment, as long as that pride does not make us a rival to God but instead revels in what we have received from His hand as stewards.
Water runs off a hard, crusty sponge. But if you immerse that sponge in water, squeeze it a bit and allow it soak up the water, that sponge becomes soft and useful.
Perhaps the way for us to receive encouragement to our profit and God’s purpose is to meditate on it, to soak up the praise, not toward a swelled head but a swelled heart in delight of God. We process it with God in prayer rather than dismiss it for whatever reason. In other words, it is as we give glory to God for what we have done that we receive our deepest satisfaction, to the hydration of our parched souls.