Recently, I had an opportunity to speak with a widely recognized theologian at a conference. He left an impression on me with his words.
After his lecture, me and some friends approached him to strike up a conversation. Our conversation was mostly surface level, mixed with a few jokes. I was happy to be in the circle. When you’re standing next to an influential person, you don’t care what’s going on. You’re just glad you’re there.
But I grew discontent. And time was ticking; I didn’t know how much more time I would have with him or if I would ever see him again. I’m not one to miss out on learning opportunities. So I decided to ask a question. Before he left our circle I put my hand on his shoulder and asked, “How do you cultivate a spirit of humility in light of all the success God has entrusted you with?”
Some readers of this site might remember a similar question delivered from me to R. C. Sproul several years ago. I like to ask a variation of this question for a few reasons: (1) I genuinely want to know the answer; (2) The response is always memorable; (3) It makes for good blog material.
How did he respond? Like this: “I get a lot more hate mail than you do.” Laughter ensued.
Then I said, “Yeah, but only slightly.” More laughter.
But then, he got serious. And this is where the learning comes in. He continued and said something like, “I get a lot of love, and I get a lot of hate. I don’t believe all the kind things said about me, and I don’t believe all the negative things said about me.” He then began to loosely quote Jesus’ words in Luke 6:26, where Jesus says woe to you when all people speak well of you.
Our time together soon ended. A few more comments were made, and then he kindly walked away. I saw someone snatch a picture with him before he left, and then he was gone.
I jumped into my car soon thereafter to journey home. For the first couple of hours, I did not listen to music or an audiobook. I just drove quietly and reflected on the conference. There were many things that stood out to me during this wonderful time, but one was this conversation. What particularly stood out to me is when he said, “I don’t believe all the good things said about me.”
If you’re a Christian influencer, people will see your strengths more than your flaws. But the people in your church and the people at home know your weaknesses. You know the real you. And God does to a perfect degree. Our recognition of our sinfulness and weaknesses should cause a spirit of humility. We’re not as talented as people think.
The preacher will get told he is an amazing preacher; the author that he is the best writer; and the church planter that he has so much potential. And yet, in the midst of the praise, we should not believe it all.
Not for a second am I saying that encouragement and kind words from others is not a blessing. Sometimes affirmation from external sources is not only desired but needed to confirm your calling. We should be constantly lifting one another up with our words. Christians should be encouraging without reservation.
But the praise can be taken too far, taken too seriously. And if the praise gets to your head, sin won’t be far from your heart. Be thankful for kind words, but know that all the kind things said about you aren’t always accurate. Thank the person, transfer the glory to God, reflect on the words, and move on with your life, not allowing the praise to shape your identity.