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.
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?
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.
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).
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.