Nothing makes a Brit cower in awkwardness like public praise and appreciation! For some reason a simple public acknowledgement for work well done causes us to reach for those awkward phrases that deflect and look for the nearest exit.
Something within our culture and our identity frowns on public recognition. I suspect it has something to do with an ingrained resistance to public signs of affection and a desire to distance ourselves from anything approaching pride.
I think there is a healthy aspect to this in-built reaction but I have started to think in recent years there may be a degree of dysfunction under the surface. I can’t speak for anyone else but I can freely share some of my own journey.
I did quite well at high school. I remember towards the end of school getting an award for something or other (can you tell it was memorable). Such was my dislike of public affirmation that I refused to go to the awards night, despite my parents best efforts to change my mind!
Fast forward ten years, and I find myself on a stage in front of over 1200 people as my wife collected an award for top of the class of 900. (She is pretty great!) Now it was not my award and yet I shared in much of the public praise and limelight on that day. This time it was OK though.
Fast forward another couple of years and you find we have built a culture in the school of ministry we lead that openly encourages public affirmation and praise!
There have been many other moments both prior to this moment and since but the question remains; what happened to transform that timid teenager?
In many ways much of the significant change in my life came as I decided to wholeheartedly live for Jesus at the end of high school. From that point God began to reveal to me some of the things he wanted me to start stepping out in. Playing in a worship band, later worship leading, leading small groups, running a student ministry and beyond. Each little step along the way felt like a stretch beyond my comfort zone and yet with each stretch came confidence.
Not a confidence in my own skill necessarily though I’m sure that helped. Most importantly a confidence in who God called me to be and what he called me to do. I realised he had given me talents and opportunities to use them. I also began to see that no matter the value I placed on myself, my greatest offering, it would still pale into insignificance when compared to the value he had for me. He had sent his Son to die for me, I no longer got to determine my own value, he already had, two thousand years ago.
With this as a foundation the little encouragements along the way, the private and public affirmation actually began to reflect and strengthen the voice of God in my life. I realised he was my greatest champion and like a dad at a child’s sports day or perhaps even a school awards ceremony he would willingly shout and cheer from the side lines.
As my view of my heavenly father shifted, no longer did the encouragement of others seem so alien or in congruent. I have never wanted to seek the encouragement of others over and above the affirmation of my heavenly father. However at least now I can receive it as fuel for the fire, and don’t we all need that.
I now wonder whether that shying away from public affirmation was really just a sign that I had little value for myself. There is only one person who has a true perspective on my life and I am learning to hear his affirmation more and more. Whenever someone approaches me to share an encouragement, perhaps after leading a worship set, I no longer need to deflect their praise. I can simply say “Thank you”.
Away from the crowd I can turn to my father in heaven and say “Thank you, everything I have is from you”. We don’t want to step into pride but sadly in our desire for “humbleness” we can in fact fall into the very trap we are trying to avoid. Our desire to avoid affirmation can simply reveal we disagree with our maker. As I heard someone say recently, it is time to believe the story of our own lives.
We never want to build our life upon the praise of men but perhaps strangley affirmation has a way of testing our internal world just as much as criticism does. Pride is to be avoided at all costs but false humility is nothing but pride in disguise.
I once heard of someone who was complimented after leading a powerful time of worship. They replied full of humility “It wasn’t me, it was Jesus.”. To which the person wisely replied “It wasn’t that good”. 🙂
I could at this point get distracted onto the most interesting question of whether we can actually steal God’s glory. A common Christian cliche. But I wont… a topic for another time maybe…
Perhaps your journey will be different to mine but I am learning that my ability to receive reveals a lot about what I think I am worth. Believe it or not God thought I was worth dying for, he gave everything for me. He did the same for you, we just need to learn to receive it.