Gone Fishin’

Let another praise you and not your own mouth; 

a stranger and not your own lips. 

Proverbs 27:2

Modesty is the only sure bait when you are fishing for praise. -Lord Byron

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all. -1 Thessalonians 5:14

If you fish for compliments and angle for praise, this post is for you. If you love an angler, it’s for you, too.

Did you find that gift I left?  I asked Liz, sheepish. 

It had been three months since I delivered the gift, a family read aloud. Our boys had loved the Easter adventure and I hoped Liz’s kids would too. But I hadn’t heard from my friend. Had they started reading it, or even found it?
We know as Christians we’re to give expecting nothing in return. We know if we give to be seen by men, we have received our reward in full. We know that the Father sees the hidden gifts, and that our reward is heaven.
We know. We get it. And sometimes we’re weak.

My last post was a tribute to praise. It was in praise of the pleasure we feel when we aim to please another and do. It was also a call to heed Proverbs 31:30 because A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 

But it was a guarded, wary praise because love of human praise can enslave. Praise can turn idol. What we worship becomes our God. Inordinate desire for praise leads us to sacrifice at that altar. 

Even with those distinctions, a niggling question remains: 

Is it ever okay to fish for a compliment?

The subject still strikes a nerve. Last month, our ladies’ life group split right down the middle. Never, said some. How will you know unless you ask, said others. You’ve received your reward, came the reply. What about “Help the weak”? another asked. 

Where do you fall? Do you ever find yourself biting your tongue and wondering, Didn’t they noticeDoes he have a clue how hard I worked to put that meal together? Does she know what I gave up to watch the kids? 
We itch and sometimes we can’t resist scratching. So we fish for compliments and angle for thanks. I’ve been there, and truth be told, I return from time to time. Ask my husband and Liz-if you must.
Some of us shake our heads, and roll our eyes at the vanity, the weakness. We’re not so needy as to fish in those waters. We’re strong and confident and our praise is in heaven.

Not so fast, you eye-rollers. C.S. Lewis lets us in on a little secret about the anglers among us:  

The vain person wants praise, applause, admiration, too much and is always angling for it. It is a fault, but a child-like and even (in an odd way) a humble fault. It shows that you are not yet completely contented with your own admiration. You value other people enough to want them to look at you (Mere Christianity, Book III, ch. 8).

Weakness is not sin. In Greek, weak– asthenēs is also translated sick, infirm, feeble. It’s used in Matthew 25 when Jesus was asked, When did we see you sick, or in prison or thirsty? It’s used in Acts 5 when the sick were brought that Peter might heal them and in Romans 5, When we were still without strength in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 

A friend and fellow blogger wrote about her struggle, her weakness to wean from man’s praise as she adjusted to stay at home status: 

The grades, awards, and stellar performance appraisals at work fed me. They told me I was worth something, that I contributed meaningfully. As SAHMs [Stay At Home Moms], we don’t get this regular feedback. Well, we get feedback, but it generally doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves. We get tantrums and turned up noses at dinner. 

So what do we do in the interim? …When I really need someone to tell me I’m doing a good job, I ask for it. People cannot read my mind. When I need reinforcement, I ask, “Did you like dinner? Did you notice I scrubbed the floors? How do they look?” Yes, this is fishing, but it helps. When I’m feeling desperate, it gives me the pat on the back I need to feel like my day was worth something.

But, as I mature, my dependence on these kudos wains.

I love her honesty. My friend Jess admits her fishing is a desperate measure, borne of weakness. But she’s maturing in Christ. She’s growing in faith. And growth means less dependence on man’s praise.

Both weaning and growth are gradual. But, we can help each other grow up in the faith. We are called to present each other mature in Christ. To that end, I offer these tips.

For fellow anglers:

1. Pray.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24) Ask the Spirit to convict you if your fishing is borne of pride or greed for praise.  

2. Then wait. 
The Lord is good to those who wait for him (Lamentations 3:25). Wait and wait until it hurts; longer than you thought you possibly wait. Then, baited in humility, go fish. Realize you might not catch. She might not like the gift, he might not care for your cooking. Be meek, ready to “take no.” 

3. Remember.
If you catch your compliment, you’ve had your reward. If you get the praise now, you forfeit the righteous reward later. And even if you do land a big one, remember, It is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the LORD commends (2 Corinthians 10:18).

Non-anglers, you’re not off the hook. You’ve got some responsibility, too. Sanctification is a community project.

For you who love us anglers:

1. Help the weak, be patient with all (1 Thessalonians 5:14). 
Take the bait. How well-chosen words can nourish a weak soul. One son needed a little extra praise to get over his double-digit borrowing hump. He got bigger ‘atta boy’s and more feedback than the stronger student. Go out of your way to praise the good done in fear of God and love for man. 

2. Strengthen his hand in God
That’s what Jonathan did when David needed encouragement. Try to tie your praise to God’s promised blessings for those who keep his way. It might sound like, That is good of you to open your house. Your hospitality pleases God (Hebrews 13:16).

3. Help the weak, be patient with all. 
Resist the bait. Sometimes silence may be better help. If you discern that’s a better help. If you discern flattery on your part, or greed for praise on his part, help by withholding. Jesus did. Martha, Martha, you are concerned over many things, he said. But Mary has chosen the better.  

*     *     *     *     *
Yes, we press on into maturity. We wean ourselves from man’s praise so that one day we’ll receive that eternal weight of glory, that far outweighs them all. We lift up the drooping hands and strengthen our weak knees. 

We train and deny ourselves, we wait until it hurts.Then in weakness, we fish if we must. Our God knows our frame; he remembers we are dust. So he sent one who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. 

When a weak angler comes fishing on our shores, let’s stop shaking our heads and offer some help. A little slap on the back can go a long way. This side of glory we are His hands.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 

-Paul, to the Colossians



In (Wary) Praise Of Praise

Praise is inner health made audible. -C.S. Lewis

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, 

but a man is tested by the praise he receives.   

Proverbs 27:21

Why be wary of praise?

I recently put the bow on a big birthday. I pray this post is more than a rationale for posting birthday pictures and soaking in others’ kind comments. That day, paired with Facebook’s fast feedback forced the issue.

Decades ago, well-meaning friends would chide, Learn how to take a compliment. Don’t shrug it off. Little did they know. Blind to the depths of my heart, they didn’t see how my coming of age meant coming to terms with man’s praise.

But I’m onto it now. By what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:19b). Since I’m aware that pride dogs me, I’m wary of praise. I’m on guard, and sometimes it means I still don’t take a compliment well; I shrug it off. Battling isn’t always graceful.

We all crave praise to some degree. It’s built into us. The proverb says a man is tested by the praise he receives. It feels good to be affirmed. Mark Twain quipped he could last two months on a good compliment. But some of us can barely last two minutes.

If the praise buzz fades and you crash, beware. Likes and retweets and man’s praise are a short-lived highs when your hooked. If you’re slave to them, you’ll need another fix the second they stop. You feel unsteady, un-affirmed, and insecure without more pings and new notices. You’re addicted. 

If you’re a slave to praise and a lover of likes, be very wary. Be wary of places where wise, witty words get likes, and #humorous hashtags get tweets, and clever crafts get pins. Alcoholics avoid bars. If your right eye causes you to sin, Jesus warned. Maybe it means a fast from Facebook.

When a frenzy of likes finds us feeding there at that trough, high on human praise we must fight. It’s still with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. We call to mind, Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord. And, God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. And, The Lord regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar. 

Human praise can feed pride and leave us craving. But pleasure in being praised need not be a guilty pleasure.

When is pleasure in praise pure?

So how can we tell if our joy in being praised has crossed the line and turned to pride? 

C.S. Lewis parsed pride and praise in a most helpful way. Pleasure in being praised is not necessarily  pride:

Before leaving this subject [of Pride]: I must guard against some possible misunderstandings: (1) Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says ‘Well done,’ are pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The more you delight in yourself and the less you delight in the praise, the worse you are becoming. When you delight wholly in yourself and do not care about the praise at all, you have reached the bottom. (Mere Christianity; Book 3, Chapter 8)

But pleasure in being praised is a good thing, provided we revel in knowing we have pleased another. To seek another’s joy is a good thing, and gettintan atta’ girl when you’ve hit that mark is a fitting reward. Paul urged, Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up (Romans 15:2). Rather than sinful pride, what we feel when we are praised for pleasing is proud response, 

What, in the end, is maturing in the faith but learning more and more to find our joy and pleasure in pleasing Another? Whether we are at home or away, we make it our goal to please Him (2 Corinthians 4:9).  

The pure pleasure we find in pleasing God is intended by Him. It’s not “sub-biblical motivation for holiness,” Kevin DeYoung writes. It’s akin to a parent saying, “God is our Father and when you listen to what Mommy and Daddy say and you try to do what they want you to do, it makes God really happy. He gets a smile on his face when he sees you trying to do the right thing.”  

Why praise the woman (or man) who fears the Lord? 

1.  Praising the good in others glorifies God. Praising goodness in others exalts the God who gave them the good gifts.

Way back, St. Augustine observed, “He loves thee too little who loves anything together with Thee which he loves not for Thy sake” (Confessions, X 40). When we praise a good thing- a son sharing a much loved Lego, a husband seeing patients gratis, or any man or women who fears the Lord-we’re delighting in what delights the heart of God. 

2. Praising the good in others encourages them in the Lord. Let’s be like Jonathan who went to David and strengthened his hand in the Lord (1 Samuel 23:16).

When we praise one who fears the Lord, we give them strength. To keep fighting the good fight; to stay patient in singleness, joblessness or barrenness. To keep casting cares to God, speaking truth in love, forgiving all over again. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30). 

3. Praising the good in others fuels our joy in Jesus. It feels good. Praise is not merely the expression of joy, Lewis wrote, but the consummation it. 

It happens when we drag your spouse out to see a spectacular sunset, or post the picture of it. How many times have the floodgates of thankful joy opened wide when I stop to jot a note of thanks! God uses our giving thanks and offering praise to release us from self-absorption and pride and discouragement. Praising others produces joy in the praise-giver and its receiver.

*      *      *      *      *   
I’m still a sucker for birthday wishes. I live long on a good compliment. I love kudos and bravos and plain old ‘atta girls. I do. But I will not be enslaved by them. Neither man’s praise nor Facebook likes will be my highest joy and my very great reward.

Church, we’re betrothed to One, and it’s his praise we seek.

His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” 
Matthew 25:23


Cross Training: Why I Kissed Ice Cream Good-Bye

Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. 

We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means. 

-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Gabe gave in the day Aunt Danielle took him to Dairy Queen. 

Everybody else was having something, and they were making me really, really anxious, 
he explained with a shrug. 

I wanted ice cream really, really bad. So I just had a banana split.

So ended a seven year old’s self-imposed Lenten fast. He fell midway through week two.

My countdown continues: 42 hours left, give or take. Then Easter feast breaks Lenten fast. Cappuccino Fudge meets Resurrection Morn. 

Why bother with Lent? Why give up a good thing? Why wage an optional war? 

It’s not hard to find good answers.  Read five broad benefits of observing Lent at this Gospel Coalition blog post. Or my two reasons here. You might be surprised. 

Why do I fast? In a word, training. In four, Christ-exalting soul strength. Each time I skip a soft-serve and pass on pie a la mode, my soul gets a wee bit stronger. Train yourself to be godlyPaul told TimothyI from a little thing like ice cream and am strengthened for bigger battles against greed and pride, anger and envy.

Lent is testing ground; a time for spiritual cross-training. It’s a battlefield of sorts. Fasting shows what controls me, what comforts me. It exposes what I really live by: ice cream and coffee, Facebook and fitness? Or every word that comes from the mouth of God? 

Christian fasting-giving up a good gift for a time- is not about Stoic pride, or proving my love for God. It is about training in godliness. It’s working my soul in a new way to build spiritual fitness. It’s resisting what would lure my heart away from my all- glorious, all-satisfying God.

Fasting is a cross training to increase the strength of my soul, so, I will not be mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). That is why I gave up ice cream.

If I can’t deny myself ice cream for six weeks, how can I resist the more habit-forming, tempting tastes of pride and envy, of anger and impatience?

A heaping bowl after dinner and steaming cups in the morning and push notices on my iPad-Each of those would have me for breakfast. When my comfort and joy hinges on the bowl, or the cup or more Facebook likes, I’m done. I’m captive.

All are innocent pleasures. Caffeine and ice cream, Facebook and fitness are gifts from God. And all can move subtly to become an end in themselves. To enslave.

Ice cream has that power?

It does. Or did. And so does coffee in the morning and posting that elusive “40 likes” photo. A sub-seven minute mile can do it, too.

But I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing his suffering, becoming like him in death. Starting with these little denial deaths. Paul said he counted everything rubbish that he could know Christ. Little food fasts make me strong for big soul fights, because in them I know Christ better.

But there’s one more big reason to fast.

How God is glorified and Christ is exalted in a little Lenten fast. 

C. S. Lewis hinted at it. Only those who try to resist temptation knows how strong it is, he wrote. And Christ is the only one who never yielded to temptation. 

The author of Hebrews’ said it straight out: Jesus was like us in every respect, and because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (2:14-15). He can sympathize with our weakness, because in every respect he has been tempted as we are, yet was without sin. 

And here is how Christ is exalted. It’s when we confidently draw near to the throne of grace, to receive mercy-forgiveness when we fall and find grace-power to keep from falling-to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).

He gives mercy and grace. I call, tempted and weak. Christ answers, sympathetic and strong. I called, you answered, and you came to my rescue. That’s Hillsong’s version.

David’s last line is a tad different. I called, you answered; my strength of soul you increased (Psalm 138:3). And, Call to me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you and you will glorify me (Psalm 50:15)

That exchange- I call, God answers- is soul-strengthening, Christ-exalting cross training. 

But what does look like in real life

For me, it looks like closing the freezer without sneaking a bite from the pint in the back. And refusing to pop open my iPad at 10:30 at night to see if someone liked my post. At Arby’s last week it was Thank you Jesus as the rest of the family shared a Jamocha milkshake. 

Cross training looks different, but always sounds similar. We don’t call uncle; we call Jesus. Help me stand, help me resist the itch. Remind me of your good truth.  

  • It might be countering your itch for human praise with this reminder: Let another praise you and not your own lips. 
  • Or dueling with envy the minute he starts to whisper, You ought to have a four bedroom, sunny-side house. Nope: Godliness with contentment is great gain.
  • Or striking with the sword of the Spirit when despair over a failed friendship falls. Why so downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God. He’s the lifter of your face. 
  • Or wielding the Word to kill worry when the infection spreads to your kids. Cast your cares upon him, for he cares for you. And, Commit your way to the Lord. 
  • Or trading gratitude for grumbling, when we feel entitled to better this, or more that. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

That’s how God gets glory when we cross train. The One who was tempted in every way, who is right now interceding for us, His strength is exalted when we work my soul muscles. When those muscles ache, when temptation’s strong don’t cry uncle. Cry Jesus.

Then we really know the truth we talk: no temptation can seize us beyond what we can bear. God truly is faithful to provide a way out so we can stand up under it. That strengthens spiritual muscles.

Yes, we are a Resurrection People; Christ is Risen indeed! My sin is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. We stand forgiven at the cross. But our battles aren’t over yet. 

Jesus suffered and died so I won’t have to suffer is NOT its message. It’s He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).

The cross isn’t just past. The word of the cross, Paul wrote, is to us who are being saved the power of God. John Piper contends that the cross of Christ is not merely a past place of substitution. It’s also a present place of daily execution.  

It’s not just history. It’s a present way of life for the Christian. It’s Colossians 3:5, Put to death what is earthly in you. It’s Roman’s 6:11, Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ. And, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 

But fasting and denying are not an end in themselves. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:23-24). Lenten fast always leads to Easter feast.

In heaven there will be no self-denial because none of our desires will tend toward sin. We’ll be with the Bridegroom and we won’t fast. Till then we struggle with desires. So we deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. 
*       *       *       *       *

The ancient hymn, Audi benigne Conditor describes the bonds between our bodies and souls. Anthony Esolen’s translation beautifully expresses how God is glorified when we bring both into subjection. When we cross train in the present power of the cross. 

(You might sing it to the tune of the Old 100th, Praise God from Whom all Blessing Flow.)

Our sins are grave indeed, but we,
Are far too frail to bear the blame;
Spare us, and bring the remedy,
Unto the glory of Thy Name. 

So while we make our bodies lean,
Prune back our spirit’s pride within,
That hungering hearts made strong and clean,
Shall leave untouched the food of sin.

Grant, O Thou blessed Trinity;
Grant, O unchanging Unity;
That this our fast of forty days,
May work our profit and Thy praise! Amen!

Our profit, his praise. Weak made strong by the power of the cross. Christianity is not a settle-in-and-live-at-peace-with-your-sin-within religion. It’s I consider everything as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. 

Easter comes, then goes. But let’s not lose the present power of the cross when we tuck the plastic eggs away Sunday night. Let’s live its message daily. The cross is not just a symbol of the weight of our sin and guilt. It’s the present power of God to fight our sin within.

This side of glory, we live in the shadow of the cross. If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live, (Romans 8:13). All life, not just Lent, is Christ-exalting cross-training.

That’s why I kissed ice cream good-bye.  Until Easter. 

Rats in the Cellar

A Monday post-mortem on a Friday night fight. 

We were broadsided. Both of us. A burst of unseemly anger on his part with catty kickback on mine. Provoked by a by a kind question from a friend. I deferred my answer to Jim, he was caught unaware, and the fight was on. On the heels of a delightful dinner party, the three friends who lingered caught a whiff of some mighty dank laundry. 
It came fast. Just imagine the split-second when Kitty stops soaking up your kind strokes and goes berserk. Claws extend and teeth are bared; a friendly purr suddenly turns attack. All of a sudden.
God’s grace is always enough. Jim and I have more proof now. We’ve repented and mended. Forgiveness was sought and received from the friends who witnessed our scuffle. We hope we’re the wiser for it. 
In the 72 hours since, we’ve run a little post-mortem. In doing so, we’ve realized how the being caught off our guard-the element of surprise-played a big role in our big ugly.  

But the surprise breach of a delicate topic wasn’t the problem at all. It only revealed what was alive in cellar of our souls. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Our little quarrel clinic Friday night-our sinful acts- only revealed the sinful heart that’s usually hidden away. 

Surprise is great revealer of the heart. C.S. Lewis ran his own post-mortems after he sulked, or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed

The excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected: I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself.

That was it. As Jim and I examined our Friday night fight, we both included that piece. We were caught unaware: Jim by the subject itself, a bit of a touchy-topic, and me, by his airing of what I thought was a private matter. And so our sinfulness, not just our sin, was exposed.

Lewis continues his analysis, the anatomy-if you will-of unkind acts and angry words:

…Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? 

If there are rats in the cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light. 

There you have it. The rats of self-pity and pride, resentment and anger are always there in the cellar of my soul. Suddenness and surprise just revealed them. They’re there hiding until I kill them off.

Paul and Peter and James knew about prowling pests. Be watchful, they all warned. Be sober-minded, be watchful. Be watchful and resist. Resist the prowling devil, firm in your faith, Peter wrote. Resist him and he will flee from you, James wrote.

But it’s not so much the devil outside. It’s the rats inside. I do not do the good I want, Paul wrote to the Romansbut the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me. But, if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live (8:13). Until I kill them off, by the Spirit, they’re there, dwelling in me.

What to do, what to do?  How do we kill those rats in the cellar? 

The Sunday school answers are still right: Draw near to God in prayer and in His Word. Abide in Him, obey His Words. Be watchful and alert. Repent the second you see your sin
And one more thing: Welcome trials of various-even unexpected-kinds. For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, James wrote. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Trial

 Blogger Lisa Spence observes,

How I react to the trial reflects what I really care about. This is an ugly truth, but one worth considering with great soberness. Whether it is a sudden devastation or a lingering irritation, what I value will be exposed by my reactions and most often this will require confession and repentance as I work through the sin and idols that are exposed.  

Trials give us a sneak peek into the cellar of our souls. They remind us that we must be keep fighting, because sin is crouching at the door, desiring to have usWe must rule over it. As John Owen put it, Be killing sin or it will be killing you. We can welcome trials when we see them as a mercy; an exposing of idols and sin that would be killing us.

For us, a Friday night fight revealed the rats. 

Maybe for you it was just a tactless text from a friend, or getting cut off in traffic. Or coming home from a long Monday at work or spending a hectic Tuesday at home only to find a note long buried in a backpack,  Life-sized anteater model due Wednesday. Or maybe coming home, instead, to a clinic call with not so positive lab results. 

God is faithful whatever the temptation. He’ll provide a way of escape so we can stand up under them. 

In between tests, be watchful. And when they come, count it all joy.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 
Let all you do be done in love.
1 Corinthians 16:12-13