Thursday, August 11, 2016

Being Put to the Test By Praise?

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m really being tested right now”? Maybe you’ve said that yourself a time or two. When we think of being tested, here are some things that come to mind: Financial difficulties. Health problems. Family and relationship conflict. Difficult, even insurmountable problems at work. A time when we have no choice but to exercise patience. Testing isn’t fun – at least not usually.

I was reminded of this during a recent quiet time when I read a curious statement about testing from the Bible. The passage, Proverbs 27:21, states, "The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives."

When we talk about being tested, it’s usually within a context of adversity or struggle. But have you ever been “tested” by praise? Can times when things are going great and seemingly can’t get any better become occasions for us to be tested?

Pat gently - don't
break your arm!
Actually, they can. How often have you heard of stellar athletes, famous entertainers, particularly young ones, or (dare we say it) politicians getting a “big head”? Sadly, far too often. Once-promising stars get caught up by the lavish praise they receive and end up short-circuiting their careers and falling to personal and professional ruin.

But we don’t have to be individuals whose names appear on celebrity TV or the gossip magazines to be tested by praise. At work our boss can praise us for work well done or high productivity, or we can be singled out for a prestigious award. It’s one thing to receive compliments graciously and feel the pride of accomplishment; it’s another to wallow in the praise and practically break our arms patting ourselves on the back.

In his acclaimed book, Good to Great, Jim Collins led a team of people that studied high-performing companies, seeking to identify their secrets. Initially they attempted to discount the impact of leadership, reasoning it’s too easy to give credit to leaders for an organization’s success. After a while, however, they realized the influence of leaders was an intrinsic factor.

Of particular interest was that many of the leaders of top companies shared two qualities: Unwavering determination and great humility. When commended for the performance of their organizations, the leaders typically adopted an “aw, shucks” attitude. More often than not, rather than absorbing the praise, they would respond something like, “Our people did all the work” or, “They could have gotten it done without me.”

There’s something endearing about people who demonstrate high character by remaining humble despite extraordinary success. Maybe we’ll never be CEO of a company that becomes an industry leader, but there’s still much for which we can receive praise. It might be a promotion at work, recognition for service in our community or at church, or even the achievements of our children. How do we react when showered with praise?

Another verse offers this advice: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2). In other words, when others speak well of us, it’s best not to say – or even think to ourselves – “You’re right about that!”

But there’s an even better way to “pass the test” when praise and compliments come our way. We can accept the kind words, since they are intended as a gift. At the same time we can remind ourselves of the apostle Paul’s words, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), while also acknowledging, “Apart from Me (Jesus Christ) you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

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