Croagh Patrick & Confession 46

Therefore I should give unceasing thanks to God, for He has often been forgiving of my carelessness and stupidity.  

The Confession of St. Patrick, #46

Last year, I explained why St. Patrick is my homeboy. He still is. And I’m still smitten by the Irish and in love with the people whose speech sounds like a song. And every St. Patrick’s Day every Irishman (and woman) goes out to find another Irishman to make a speech to, said Shane Leslie. 

Here am I. 

Because I can’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day without thinking of Croagh Patrick and I can’t think of Croagh Patrick without thinking of what happened on that holiest of Irish mountains. But my memories climbing “Patrick’s Stack” are a wee bit tainted by a real tragedy.

Which should come as no surprise, Irish daughter of Eve such as I am. W.B. Yeats said the Irish had an abiding sense of tragedy which sustains them through temporary periods of joy.

I share that sense. But I’m not Irish Catholic and I don’t share their long iceberg of guilt. I go back with Patrick and rest in God’s forgiveness. More on that in a minute. 

Back to the tragedy. The one in blue there on the left might have been flanked by two at St. Patrick’s summit. But the third sister didn’t arrive because of selfish, stupid me.  

What happened at Ireland’s Holy Mountain will stay on that mountain. Suffice it to say, it did not involve a shove of treachery on the high mountain scree. 

But there could have been three. There were two because I stole a mountaintop memory from one.

And godly grief produced repentance that lead to salvation without regret. Mostly. Salvation and forgiveness and grace for sure. 

But still a twinge of regret. Because when we met, as the sun set behind the sacred mountain, her blue eyes were wet. And I knew we couldn’t re-do

Dingle Peninsula and Gallarus Oratory and so many more roads to travel in two last days. Then home. And it’s not an easy pilgrimage to repeat, being from across the sea. 

I couldn’t get over or under or around the truth that my stupid sin got in her way. So, as much as I wanted a do-over, a pilgrimage for all three, grace had to be enough

And it was. It always is. 

So don’t worry. Don’t be Irish that way, you know, worried that you don’t have something to worry about. Sister three assured me she can laugh about it now. Which is quite her gift to me

A day will come when joy prevails, even over regret and tears and tragedy. It will all be swallowed up in victory. The Lamb will reign and in his presence will be fullness of joy. Complete and utter joy, untainted by carelessness and selfishness and just plain stupidity. 

St. Patrick’s day is bittersweet. And that’s okay. Because bitter reminds me of my Lord’s scars, wounds borne for sinners such as I, and sweet for God’s forgiving grace. It’s the air we sisters breathe.

When I asked the sister who didn’t summit if I could post this today, she said, Sure-just don’t be too heavy. Make ’em laugh. There’s grace.” 
I don’t know if I’ve succeeded with that. But onward and upward. Joyfully pressing on through Croagh Patrick and beyond.
I pray I tread as Patrick trod, by grace and with unceasing thanks to God who has been forgiving of my selfishness and stupidity.  
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

Psalm 130:3-4


Praise Due

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life…

Proverbs 10:11a

Why were we created? Answer: We were made to praise. Sam Crabtree says, It’s why we have tongues and lips. We are a speaking species, and speech is for the purpose of lauding the laud-worthy. 
Just because some would make gods of their stomachs doesn’t mean we don’t feed folks. And just because some would be enslaved by man’s praise, doesn’t mean we don’t affirm.

My last blog post left some lingering questions, like: Don’t we feed off praise? Don’t we need to be affirmed? Shouldn’t we praise people? One reader bared her soul and asked, What if you come from a place where words didn’t nourish, and praise was rare, can you be starved for praise?

The last post was written to us who crave man’s praise. It stemmed from Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees- a warning to all who would seek man’s praise even over God’s: How can you believe when you love glory from man and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God

The Case For (People) Praise 

But this post is for praise-givers. For us. All of us. Because we’re all called to praise-God first, then people. Yes-I did say, We’re called to praise people. Please don’t whip out the blasphemy flag yet.

Not praising the good is bad. Tight lips in sight of others’ good is a double failure. We fail to honor God and to bless others. Our mouths were given by God to refresh and feed and heal. When we hold back our praise we starve our brothers and sisters. This should not be. The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life. Righteous lips feed many. 

It is incumbent on Christians to praise the good we see in others. Sam Crabtree, author of Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise Of Those Who Are Not God makes the case. He even applies Matthew 25:41 to our people praise. “As you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me.” If you did not affirm them, you did not affirm Christ.

Sam Crabtree explains how to praise rightly, how to praise in a God-centered way. We praise people, 

[F]or being godly, for being Christlike, by commending them for God’s glory, applauding them for doing something good in the strength God supplies (1 Peter 4:11). This is how we complete the loop when Jesus teaches us that people should let their lights so shine that others see their good works . . . and what? Glorify their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). 

Crabtree goes so far as to say that when we fail to pause and observe and verbalize the good we see in the lives around us, we fail to give God the glory he deserves. Them’s strong words. 

3 Right Reasons To Praise

1. We praise people because God is honored when we honor what he honors. Praising people, by calling out where God is at work in them, glorifies God. All that is commendable in people is commendable because it is an expression of Christ. And we’re to exalt Him and called to praise His wondrous works. That is why we were made his people, to declare his praises (1 Peter 2:9).

2. We praise people because we want to encourage others in doing good. What is praised gets repeated. Which might be why the kid who is starved for praise at home and school goes to the gang for applause. When we praise the good we see in others, as echoes and reflections of Jesus Christ himself, people are affirmed. They feel loved and fed. And odds are they’ll seek to repeat that good.

3. We praise people because praising the good in others brings us joy and renews us. We become sensitized to see the good, and our minds are renewed. What’s more, we lift the morale and build relationships. All our relationships- at work and at home, in friendship and marriage- benefit when we shout out what’s good. Our mouths become fountains and out joy flows.

Plus A Perk: You gain a hearing. People who practice praising build a platform from which to be heard if criticism must needs come. But if you’re a Ms. Nitpick or Mr. Fault-finder your hard words, no matter how well-intended, will likely fall flat to the ground. Calvin wrote, We readily believe those whom we know to be desirous of our welfare…Our goodwill…is made manifest by commending them when they reflect Christ. Praise earns trust.

How To Do Praise Right

Praising people the best way, is commending the qualities of Jesus in them. It is not complimenting built-in features-her Shirley Temple curls or his Ironman muscles-and it’s not praising what’s outside either- his new Trek, her new Coach. And we know it’s not fuzzy platitudes. Nice job! and Great work! don’t cut it. 
It’s none of these. It’s not shout-outs for what came natural or praise for what money can buy. And definitely not showering vague compliments. 
Christian affirmation is both precise and tied to Christ. Praising the praiseworthy means noticing the qualities of Jesus alive in those around you. We can think of this kind of praising people as a sort of horizontal version of worshiping God-noticing and naming his divine attributes, his righteousness and holiness and power and love. 

We are on the look-out for the good, true, beautiful things in people and when we spot them, we name them. We don’t let these God-sightings pass. We say, That is good! Keep that up. Like that Anna Cumins’ poem, Don’t save your loving speeches for your friends till they are dead; do not write them on their tombstones, speak them rather now instead. 
But to praise the praiseworthy, we must know what is praiseworthy. If we want spot a rose-breasted grosbeak, we’ve got to know what a rose-breasted grosbeak looks like. To spot the good, we’ve got to know God who is the source of all good. Knowing God and his Word tunes our hearts to sing his praise when we see goodness echoed in his creatures.

But beware of this wily wrong reason to praise.

Be Wary Of Flattery

Flattery is excessive or insincere praise given for the praiser’s own gain. Flattery is selfish. And it can hurt the receiver. Proverbs 26:28 says, “A flattering mouth works ruin.” How can praise a genuinely good thing in another without working their ruin? And how can we be sure we’re offering God-honoring praise and not flattering?

Here’s a straight answer from an Ask Pastor John podcast,

The issue is whether it is calculated to achieve some purpose that is not rooted in the authentic, spontaneous delight that we take in the virtue we are praising. It is the opposite of calculation. It is spontaneous. C.S. Lewis, in one of my favorite quotes, says, “We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not only expresses, but completes the enjoyment. It is its appointed consummation.” 

We should not shrink from affirming people. The second we’re struck by the commendable we should commend it. Because, affirming people that way is affirming God at work in them, and God wants to be praised for his work. 

On the Look-Out for Praise Due

Not only does he want to be praised, God himself models people praise. He names Noah as righteous (Genesis 7:1). He calls Solomon “very great” and “majestic” (1 Chronicles 29:25). Jesus commends the woman of great faith (Matthew 15:28), marvels at the faith of the centurion (Luke 7:9), affirms Nathaniel for his honesty (John 1:47), to name a few. 

We should praise people, too. But in a God-centered way. woman who fears the Lord is to be praisedThis way is grounded in the fact that if people do anything commendable, it was God who brought it about. God is at work both to will and to act according to his good purpose. He’s at work in people around you. So be on the look-out.

  • When you see a friend’s attention to detail, commend it. Say, Wow! You were so thoughtful as you planned this lesson. Our God loves order, and you planned this so well. 
  • When you spot Sarah whose growing self-control said no, shout it out. Say, Way to go! I saw you pass up those treats for the joy ahead. The Spirit’s at work in you.
  • When you see Pete persisting with the Jr. Highs at youth group, praise him. Say, You must have the patience of Job to let those 13 year olds pelt you with popcorn. God at work in you. Bravo!
  • When you see your son kneel and help a kid who tripped and skinned his knee, affirm him. Say, Sam, I am so proud of how you are cared for Dan. That was like Jesus. He cares for you.
  • When a niece tells the truth when it’s hard, shout it out. Say, Lucy, you acted like Jesus just now. You told the truth. Jesus was full of grace and truth. That was impressive. 
This is not flattery. It’s not trading compliments and earning Brownie points. We see something good and rejoice and give praise. In doing so, we honor God and we encourage ongoing good in others and we are transformed. And the mouth of the righteous becomes a fountain of life. 

What’s At Stake

I’ll let master affirmer, Sam Crabtree take us home. Affirmation, he says, is the purpose of the universe-specifically affirmation of God.   

If the praise with which we commend people is God-centered, it doesn’t subtract from the praise owed to God, but adds to it. In fact, the earnest desire to see God receive the praise he deserves will serve to increase the desire to praise people when they reflect his character. 

What if we don’t affirm people when they reflect the work of God in them? God gets robbed of praise he deserves, and they fail to gain the encouragement that would be so motivating to them. Further, morale is drained, and we become presumptuous bad-tempered cranks who take God’s work for granted.

A lot is at stake in our praise. Let’s not rob God. And let’s not starve his body around us. All truth is God’s truth, and so is all goodness and beauty- so let’s call those out. Since all that is truly praiseworthy is in Christ, when we praise those qualities in people, we praise the God from whom all blessings flow

Yes, yes and yes, readers- praise on. We are light-shining, image-bearers designed to reflect God’s glory and when we praise people rightly it honors God. Then from our mouths refreshing, life-giving fountains flow.

Lord God, help me honor you and bless others by affirming the work you are doing in them. 
Help me commend what is commendable in those around me so that you, Heavenly Father, get more glory. 
Help me give praise when it is due and so exalt you. 

The lips of the righteous feed many…
Proverbs 10:21a


Slaves to Praise

For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. John 12:43

Hey, Mom, Gabe-Age-Eight hollers, a Yertle atop his big brother and Papa.

Take a picture of this. It would be really good on Facebook. People would really like to see it. 

Mom squirms. The apple has landed. Not too far. I smile at my happy stack of man-folk and wince.

Hey, Mom-hurry! I might fall off. Get your camera fast.

I go. Not so fast, cringing and grinning, both. And I take the picture. But I don’t post.

Hey, Mom- aren’t you gonna post it? I know what you could say, ya’ know- the caption? Call it, “Ride ‘Em Cowdad.” 

A Hard Saying

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?  John 5:44

Was that a throwaway line to his audience, to the unbelieving Jews Jesus had just said, refuse to come to me to have life? Was it just a stream-of-thought from the Son of Man, on his way to feed five thousand? No, never. Were any of our Lord’s words ever throw-away? Ever?

Here, and again in John 12:43, we have one of those hard sayings of Jesus. Those either/or, mutually exclusive, this-but-not-that type of deals. Either serve God or money. Either be a slave to sin or a slave to obedience. Either love the world or have the love of the Father.

Either believe in me or love man’s praise. Yup. He said that, too.

A text without a context is a pretext. The context of Jesus’ words was to unbelieving Jews. They’d just seen him do a big sign. He healed a paralytic on the Sabbath. And still with signs, and with and searching the Scriptures for eternal life they refused to come to Jesus to have life. 

But the bigger context, the bigger reason for these hard words of Jesus that John recorded is stated in John 20:31. These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name. That’s not they and we-here, now, you, me, praise-craving, infected souls-to whom Jesus spoke this hard saying. It’s not just for those Jews then. It’s for us now.

It’s for me. I believe, and yet, Help my unbelief. When good deeds to be seen, and liked, and praised by man I act as an unbeliever. I do not set my heart on things above but on earthly things. I choose the quick buzz. I choose the puny praise. I don’t delay gratification. At the moment I post, or pose, or seek man’s applause, I don’t believe God’s praise is worth more. I’m acting like a hypocritical Pharisee, a praise-craving junkie, seeking another fix. I act like a functional atheist.

And it’s not just Facebook. The itch for man’s praise has been around since the Fall. The essence of the fall, is choosing our glory, or pleasure over the pleasure that comes from perfect union and obedience to God’s good will. All have sinned and fall short of his glory. And in perfect contrast, Abraham, we, grow strong in our faith when we give glory to God.

A Morbid Concern

Are you with me? Do you feel the itch, the twitch, the need for man’s praise? Do you feel it on Facebook when the likes stop coming? At work when the boss doesn’t notice or your colleagues don’t care? At home when your spouse doesn’t praise and the kids don’t thank? Do you feel it?

Over half-century ago, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, preached a this sermon on John 5:44. We are, he said,

[A]nimated by this one desire to receive praise and glory from one another. To receive honor means to seek honor, to desire and live for honor. It is to have it as your life’s ambition. He lives to have man’s honor and to give it to others. It has everything to do with the state of our soul.  

This [praise-craving behavior] is never more evident than today. Our agencies of publicity, our media, have been multiplied more than ever before so this thing can be practiced and carried out. The whole of life today is carried out on this very basis. All the time, the money, to keep this going. It’s what John calls, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.

Look at all the trouble people take to meet important people, just to say they met. It’s in books and papers. They are all writing for one another. It’s driven by a desire for reputation. Self-praise is involved-self-advertising. 

I’m amazed how people can be so fond of looking at their own photographs, of having them plastered all over the place. Self-advertising, dropping a hint here and there, making things known. You see it in the gossip paragraphs. Receiving honor one from another. We have a morbid concern for the opinion of others. 

It makes belief impossible, this life than consists in giving honor one to another. It is so external. Is there anything more superficial than giving honor one of another? It is such an external attitude toward life. It cares nothing for the inner man of the heart. For that which is highly esteemed before men is abomination in the sight of God. 

How to Slay the Praise-Craving Dragon

How can we defeat the dragon? How do we fight our morbid love of man’s praise? We all, to one degree or another, want somebody to notice when we do something good. Praise just tastes so good. But it’s addictive and deadly to faith. We won’t be mastered. By God’s grace, we won’t be overcome.

In a 6-minute Ask Pastor John podcast, Piper takes on the question, How can I conquer the love of human praise? Here are three ways we can fight off the praise-craving dragon inside us.

1. Hate hypocrisy. Your own. 
Thus when you give to the needy sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Matthew 6:2

Slaves to man’s praise do good, but the good they do is only incidental to what they really want. Sure, this side of heaven, motives will be mixed. But ask yourself, What’s driving me first? When we do a praiseworthy thing-when we cook a meal or give flowers, sing on stage or write a check- all for good, servant purposes, mind you, but when we’re doing it to be seen– APPLAUSE PLEASE- we are hypocrites. And Jesus hated hypocrisy.

Slay the praise-craving dragon by hating your own hypocrisy. Do the thing because it praiseworthy, not because you’re praise-craving.

2. Don’t settle. Visualize the prize.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them. For then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1

“They have received their reward.” We lose something great and we gain something pitiful when we settle for man’s praise. We get man’s short-lived kudos and likes and applause. But the buzz is incredibly fleeting. Facebook is heroin to praise-craving souls. The buzz is fast and big and gone. We might gain 10, 50, or 100-like reward but beware. On or off Facebook, so many of us are insecure and needy of people’s praise in order to be happy and feel satisfied. Let’s not settle.

Slay the praise-craving dragon by remembering not to settle. Set your heart on things above. Don’t to trade God’s great reward for man’s puny praise.

3. Keep Secrets. From your left hand. 
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4

Seriously. Practice doing good deeds, giving gifts, in secret. Or at least in secret to all but right hand. Cultivate friendships with least of these people who can’t repay you. Who can’t say thanks, or repay in kind one day. Children and elders and people with disabilities might be just the type you need. God knows they need you and he is immensely pleased when we welcome and care for these. He sees.

Slay the praise-craving dragon by cultivating relationships with folks who won’t give you praise. Practice keeping your good deeds secret. Hide them. He sees.

*   *   *   *   *

I didn’t post Ride ‘Em Cowdad. I had an itch for a quick fix. But I didn’t post this time. I didn’t because I’m in rehab and fighting a faith-killing disease and slaying a dragon. 

And I want to love the praise of One more than the praise of man.

But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart,
by the Spirit, not by the letter.
His praise is not from man but from God. 

Romans 2:29


Prayers’ Double Grace

“Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it.” 

C.S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” originally from The World’s Last Night and Other Essays

Always, he knows a word before it’s on our tongue. Always, he calls us to pray

Never, can a plan of his be thwarted. Never, can a sparrow fall to the ground without him. 

And yet God lets us play the game. God instituted prayer, Pascal said, in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causalityIn other words, prayer lets us feel like we have a hand in making good things happen. 

He lets our frail, little selves be somehow part of carrying out His sovereign, known-before-time-began, grand plan. He lets our prayers be the means to have happen his good and perfect will. 

Sometimes God does this before the prayer is even audible, sometimes while we’re still speaking (Isaiah 65:24). Often his answers come while we wait (Psalm 40:1). 

But does God grant requests because we ask? 

God answers us before we call, while we speak, and often while we wait.

Two years ago a wondrous text came through. It came just after Carrie shared her burden with our life group, that God would preserve a precious life. The answer came before we paused to pray; God answered before we even called. But in some little way we felt we’d played a little part.

Today my phone chimed while were still speaking. We were praying for Terrie who had some weighty “relationship issues” on her plate. I’d asked for God’s wisdom in the timing and grace in the confronting. Then came Terrie’s text.

The time was right last night. We spoke of all the areas I was concerned about and he was attentive and sincere. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. 

God had more double-grace in store. As if Terrie’s answered prayer, weren’t enough to feel the dignity of causality, God gave me more. This was of the waiting patiently and he heard my cry sort.

Of the for ten years with words and groans sort. Suffice to say, the little note my husband wrote at 11:10 this morning was God’s answer to all that. The two-line yellow post-it note was an answer to hundreds of garbled, groaning heart-cries. Does that mean prayer works?

Would grace have happened anyway or did our prayer affect God’s answer? 

Or, as John Cooper asks, Must we deny one teaching of Scripture-that prayer is effective, to affirm another-that God is sovereign? When God told Moses he intended to destroy the Israelites, Moses prayed and God did not destroy them. The interaction was real. Moses appealed, God relented. But God knew it would go down this way. 

When those phones chimed answered prayers and the post-it note filled me with glee, it wasn’t that my prayer brought it to pass. God did. 

We are commanded to present our requests to God and to pray, “Give us our daily bread.” But to think that God would grant a request because we pray- would make us agents of his grace– that blows the mind. For millennia, man has been mulling. Calvin, Pascal and Lewis are a recent few. 

Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents…He could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to co-operate in the execution of His will.  

“God,” said Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.” But not only prayer; whenever we act at all He lends us that dignity. It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so. They have not advised or changed God’s mind—that is, His over-all purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures.

-C.S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” from The World’s Last Night and Other Essays

In short, God uses means. All his ways are grace and always, when God answers us, this is grace. And when he lets his creatures co-operate in doing His will-when he lends such dignity-this, too is undeserved grace.

God granted two big prayers today. Each, alone, was grace. That God would grant me a part by praying- if only a day for Terrie’s timing or a decade for a tangled, twisted web-this is double grace. 

Sometimes before we call, sometimes while we speak, and sometimes while we wait. But answers yes are never deserved, never earned. 

Always, when prayers are answered, grace. 

Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. Isaiah 64:24
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. Psalm 40:1