As the fining pot for silver, and the furnace for gold; so is a man to his praise. – Proverbs 27:21
This proverb holds a good principle for every individual to remember, but perhaps especially preachers. Few things can so quickly and so subtly destroy a man as praise.
A superstar in the golfing world, Arnold Palmer, tells the story of a time when he responded to praise with pride and it ultimately cost him dear. He was approaching the final hole of the 1961 Masters Tournament. He was in the lead and the victory should have been his. However, as he approached the ball an old friend watching from the side signaled for him to come over. He walked across to the friend who went on to shake his hand and prematurely say, “Congratulations!”
Palmer recounts that as soon as he accepted that praise he knew he had lost his focus. With a few bad strokes he lost a tournament that should have been his.
Praising an individual for something they have done is fine on many levels. How an individual receives that praise makes the difference.
Consider instead one of the greatest leaders of the United Kingdom and probably in political history, Winston Churchill. Churchill was not what you would call a humble man, but he was also realistic when receiving praise. Someone once made the comment to him,
Doesn’t it thrill you to know that every time you make a speech, the hall is packed to overflowing?
Sir Winston Churchill wisely replied,
It’s quite flattering,but whenever I feel that way, I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big.
This proverb indicates that a man’s response to praise will do the same thing as the fining pot for silver or a furnace for gold-it will reveal the character of the man. One commentator describes praise this way,
Thus vain men seek it, weak men are inflated by it, wise men disregard it…
My personal experience of learning about praise stems from traveling and preaching. By the grace of God there have been occasions when I preached and an individual came to me and would say something along the lines of, “That’s one of the best sermons I have heard in a long time.” To a young preacher that can be encouraging, but if not careful it can be destructive. A friend gently pointed out to me that his response may have been different if he had heard me preach every week for a year. Since then I have learned that a visiting preacher can say exactly the same thing as the preacher did the previous week and some one will respond as if they had never heard it before. That’s not a complaint, it just human nature. I am guilty of the same thing I am sure.
So what does this mean for us?
Should we thank a preacher for a good sermon, a singer for a good song or any individual for a commendable act? Yes, I believe we should. A word of encouragement can work miracles. Though, we should be cautious not to over do the praise and put someone in danger of believing you too much!
What should our response be when we receive praise? It has become my habit if someone thanks me for a sermon that I simply say something like, “Praise God.” I appreciate a word of encouragement, but the day I believe “I” preached a good sermon is the day God will bring something into my life to humble me.
A man’s response to praise will reveal his character.
I’ll close with a quote from C.H. Spurgeon,
“Be not proud of race, face, place, or grace.” – Charles Spurgeon