While there is nothing inherently wrong with others recognizing the goodness of God in our gifts and good deeds, the pursuit of praise for our own sake is a vain and empty pursuit that does more damage to our souls than it gives life.
I have always craved the spotlight. From the moment that I realized I had a gift that could move people and attract them to me, I made it my aim to find the light and make my mark in every room that I was in. I had to be the loudest. I had to be the most magnetic. I had to be seen and I had to be heard. It was an absolute must. I can’t even count on two hands the amount of little girl groups I put together just so I could be the lead singer. Or how many impromptu performances I put on in the classroom,at recess, at family parties just so I could taste the brief pleasure of being admired by my adoring fans. Most of my childhood was characterized by using my gifts and charisma to garner the attention and affection of the people around me.
When I came to faith in Christ as a teenager, that longing for affirmation and praise didn't die. Even though it took on a different form, it seemed to take up even more space in my mind and heart. I can vividly remember the agony of trying to figure out how to reconcile my genuine desire to glorify and honor Jesus with my very real longing for praise. Even after I was able to understand and recognize it as sin, that longing still seemed to be my constant wrestle…..until I was able to crucify my flesh and it just went away one day. I’m kidding. It didn't go away, and it probably never will because there is no escaping the frail and rebellious nature of my humanity. Since the Fall, we as sinful humans have both desired to be worshiped and been prone to worship the created rather than the Creator. Even as genuine servants of Christ, we find ourselves caught in the snare of man’s praise more often than we’d like to admit.
I have never come across a worship leader, musician, or anyone with a visible platform of ministry who isn't familiar with the constant tendency of the heart to feed off of the praise of man. It kind of comes with the territory. If we aren’t actively resisting the temptation of having our pride inflated by praise, we are on the other side of the spectrum and wrestling with our confidence being deflated by rejection. It’s really two sides of the same coin, praise and rejection I mean. They tempt us to look to others for that “well done my good and faithful servant,” that can only truly come from the Father. They also tempt us to exploit the things that are meant to turn our hearts in worship towards the Giver of every good gift, for our own gain and glory.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with others recognizing the goodness of God in our gifts and good deeds, the pursuit of praise for our own sake is a vain and empty pursuit that does more damage to our souls than it gives life. So what do we do about it? How do we resist and overcome this snare that so easily entangles us and dims the brightness of our hearts’ devotion to God?
Cultivate a SECRET life of worship
I truly believe that our life of devotion behind closed doors speaks so much more to the genuineness of our faith and the depth of our affection for God than even our most extravagant good deeds. I am fully convinced that those secret moments of pouring our hearts out in worship before the Lord are more precious to Him than we could ever understand.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ longest sermon, He teaches us about how God rewards deeds that are motivated by genuine devotion to Him instead of the approval of others.
“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.
We aren't much different than the people to whom Jesus addressed His sermon, who lived under the domain of the Law.
We are prone to performance and spiritual pride instead of pure and wholehearted worship, which is all that the Father seeks. The more that we prioritize devoting our hearts to God in secret, and become more deeply acquainted with the joy of being with Him as our ultimate reward, the less enticing the temporary reward of man’s praise will become.
Seek the Lord as your ultimate source of identity and acceptance
While it is nice to be affirmed and accepted by others, it’s actually not necessary. For the believer in Christ, our whole identity is bound to His finished work. The question of our identity, worth, and value has been settled in the person and work of Christ. On the basis of His sacrifice on our behalf, we have received unconditional love and adoption into the family of God. Our seat at the table of His grace is not in any way dependent on anything that we bring with us. While acknowledgement, love, and validation from others are no doubt encouraging, they will never suffice as a source of identity. They are as secure of a foundation as shifting sands. They are as fulfilling as the trophies that live in boxes in our basements.
One of the most epic moments in all of Scripture is when Jesus emerges from the waters of his baptism to hear the affirming words of the Father over Him. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”.
From that moment on, even when faced with rejection, accusation, and brutality, Jesus our Savior and Model stood firmly on the love and affirmation of His Father to uphold His life and sustain His heart.
Every single moment of every day, whether we are on a platform or not, we get to choose the fountains from which we draw our sense of identity. We get to choose how firm of a foundation we are going to build our lives on. We get to choose whether or not we drink from the wells that are hewn by fallible people or draw life from the limitless and eternal supply of the Father’s love and the sufficient work of His Son!
Use your gifts to give, not to gain
“As each of you has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” 1 Peter 4:10-11.
Your gifts are not your own. Every single resource that you have been granted by the generosity of God was given to you for the purpose of building the kingdom, edifying the body of Christ, and pointing as many people as possible to the goodness and glory of God! Most of us would affirm that we know and believe this, but the moments when our joy seems to rise and fall with the praise of others often expose the truest motivations of our hearts.
We have to start viewing our gifts as something to be stewarded for the glory of God and the good of others instead of an instrument for our own self-gratification. Imagine what kind of witness that would be to a world that idolizes selfishness and endorses it as a pathway to success. We know better. We know that the gifts of God are meant to lead us back to Him. They are meant to put on lavish display the character, the heart, and the mission of God: to call sinners into communion with Him.
Our chief aim in this life should be to “show forth the virtues of him who called us out of darkness and into His glorious light.” I truly believe that it is possible to live, lead, and steward our gifts and resources in such a way that people behold God. When we do, our worship and praise will be directed to the only One who is actually worthy of it!