Monday, March 7, 2011

Tested by Praise??

We normally think of the toughest tests of our character and determination to be when we have to overcome adversity, make it through difficult times, or conquer challenges. There is no doubt that each of those times in our lives has a purpose. The Bible says that God allows such difficulties to test us and purify us. In those moments, we are stretched and challenged in extreme ways, and by facing the adversity we come out stronger, wiser, and more prepared for the next challenge of life. Like the processes of purifying silver and smelting gold, God uses tough times to test us.

Proverbs 17:3 (HCSB)
3 A crucible for silver, and a smelter for gold, and the Lord is the tester of hearts.

When silver is mixed, or suspected to be mixed, with base metal, it must be subjected to such a test as the cupel to purify it. And gold also must be purified by the action of the fire. So God tries hearts. He sends afflictions which penetrate the soul, and give a man to see his state, so that he may apply to the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning, to destroy what cannot stand the fire, to separate and burn up all the dross.

-Adam Clark, A Commentary and Critical Notes

However, there are other ways we are tested also.

One way is very subtle. This particular way doesn’t appear to be a test at all. It feels like a reward for a job well done. It seems like the proper adulation for our hard work or achievement. This test can be so boosting to our ego that we totally overlook the fact that it is a test.

One of the toughest tests of our character is how we respond when we receive praise and admiration heaped upon us.

Proverbs 27:21 (HCSB)
21 A crucible for silver, and a smelter for gold, and a man for the words of his praise.

Did you see the test in Proverbs 27:21? We are tested by the words of praise that are given to us.

Let’s be honest. We all like to be praised. We love to hear, “Good job!” or “Great work!’ or “You look amazing!” or whatever it is that causes us to puff up with pride. But too many of those words can cause us to become conceited, self-centered, and self-dependent. Too much praise and we begin to “believe our own press clippings,” as coaches like to say. We need to maintain a proper perspective on ourselves, on God, and on life. Otherwise, shortly after the lavish praise we will swell up with pride and then we will fall.

Proverbs 16:18 (HCSB)
18 Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 11:2 (HCSB)
2 When pride comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom.

Proverbs 18:12 (HCSB)
12 Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.

Matthew 23:12 (HCSB)
12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

If you read these verses carefully, you will notice that it is OK for honor to be given to a person who loves God. It is OK to be given an award, or for a complimentary article to be written about you, or for your team leader to acknowledge you for a job well done. The key in the midst of all of this praise is to maintain humility. When you stay humble, you can rightly respond to the praise given to you by others.

Here are a couple of practical ways to handle praise:

  1. Say, “Thank you.” When someone compliments you, simply smile, look them in the eye, and say, “Thank you.” Receive the compliment with gratitude.
  2. Give praise to God. With all sincerity, deflect the praise to God. He is the provider of all of your gifts, talents, and abilities. He works through you to accomplish all of the good things that you do. Simply say, “Praise God” and let it go at that.

So what do we learn from this lesson?

  1. God allows testing to come into our lives to purify us, to test our hearts.
  2. Sometimes the test is through difficult times.
  3. Sometimes the test is through praise.
  4. The way we handle ourselves in difficult times and when we receive praise can either point people toward faith in Christ or away from faith in Christ.
  5. We show ourselves to be faithful to God when we keep a humble attitude, not prideful.
  6. When we receive earthly praise, we should maintain a humble attitude and give praise to God.

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