How Bitter Turned Sweet & Good Friday Turned Great

Cross Good Friday

Good Friday turned great just before midnight. That’s when my pride died.

Again. This side of heaven, it won’t stay dead.

I can’t tell you the details. It would not be right. But I can tell you that it happened after a good friend confronted me about my wounding words.

Before Pride Died

But before pride died. I want you to know that the words I write do rattle around in my head. By them, I will be justified, or condemned. If I know the truth and ignore it, I’m worse than hot air. I’m a hypocrite.

So I tried to look for the kernel of truth in criticism that mostly seemed off- Assume you are guilty when a fellow believer confronts you about your life. And I tried to apply the cure for passive-aggressivetrust that God means good, leave him your hurt, and do good. By grace, I try to take my advice.

Maybe especially last night, because Good Friday is so good.

Why Good Friday Is Good

Good Friday is good because “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3), and because, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). And it’s good because “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

Good Friday is good because by Christ’s death, we are freed from the penalty of sin and the guilt of sin. Because he bore our sins.

That is why Good Friday is good.

Marahs Made Sweet

I read and re-read my friend’s words. They stung. But I knew there was a kernel of truth in them, because I know there is sin in me. So I confessed, not was she accused, but what I knew was true.

That layer removed, I thought of other sins of which my friend had no clue. And just before midnight, I went to bed and paged to the prayer called “The Grace of the Cross.”

O My Saviour,

I thank thee from the depths of my being

    for thy wondrous grace and love

  in bearing my sin in thine own body on the tree.

May thy cross be to me

  as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs…

I got that far before the bitter tears began to flow. Bitter, in Hebrew, is marah. The Israelites found water too bitter to drink and called the place Marah (Exodus 15:22-27). Then the Lord showed Moses “a piece of wood.” He threw it in the water and the water turned sweet.

Wood turned bitter water sweet. I remember when I taught the story to my Sunday school class. Millie and Michaela and Audrie got it. They saw the cross of Christ.

They understood it was wood that makes our bitter water sweet.

How Good Friday Turned Great

Last night I tasted both. Bitterness first- It was my sin that held him there.

But then sobbing like a hot mess in bed, the bitterness became sweet. I knew I was forgiven by my crucified King.

Christ died for this.

Feeling that was how Good Friday turned great. The cross makes our confessed sins, even our most embarrassing and ugly and bitter sins, sweet. Because, Who confesses and forsakes finds mercy (Prov. 28:13).

That is when bitter turns sweet, and good becomes great. We stand forgiven at the cross. We remember and we celebrate:

Christ died for this.

I saw my sin loud and clear last night. But I also saw the cross and confessed and found mercy and grace.

And that is how Marah became sweet and Good Friday turned great.

In confession we break through to the true fellowship of the Cross of Jesus Christ, in confession we affirm and accept our cross…

The old man dies, but it is God who has conquered him. Now we share in the resurrection of Christ and eternal life. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

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. 
Amen. 

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