January 27, 2014

The thirst for praise . . .

The title of today’s reading convicts me even without reading the verses or the devotional. While I know the satisfaction of doing what Jesus asks, and that seeking the praise of people can be an idol, I still like it when someone says something good about who I am or what I do. Beware of virtues becoming a god from which I seek affirmation instead of drawing on the true God.

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. 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. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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 6:1–4)

It is easy enough to go into obedience without expecting praise from people. What I struggle with is what often happens afterwards — when others praise me instead of God.

Not that I’ve never done this myself. I remember remarking to one friend that she is “extremely talented.” She responded in a godly way and surprised me with saying, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17, NIV)

Praise is a snare. For one thing, it can make me think I am doing/saying the right things when I am not. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was about blessings that would come on God’s people for humility and for being faithful in trying circumstances. Then He said, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)

I don’t know exactly how praise affected those false prophets, but it wasn’t what God wanted and it didn’t stop them from their disobedience. That is also true for me. Whenever I do sinful and selfish things and am encouraged by flattery, obeying God becomes more difficult. I cannot blame those who praise me, but be aware of the results. I also need to think before I praise someone else lest I give them a reason for idolizing praise. Proverbs 29:5 puts it this way: “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.”

God’s ways are not our ways. We think praise is an encouragement, but what does it encourage? The goal of Christian living is to become more reliant of God and less and less reliant on self, no matter how good self might appear. Praising God does far more toward that end than praise for me. In fact, I might need correction far more than praise . . .

Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue. (Proverbs 28:23)

Few friends know the power of being straightforward with rebuke. Most will praise to encourage, thinking that is the best thing to do. For me, praising God is far better. This directs me to Him and to His faithfulness. It encourages trust in Him. Flattery hinders that. Praise can even increase my thirst for the wrong god.

Now that God has shown me this, the great challenge is living by it.

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