The Awkwardness of Praise and the Cancer it Feeds

“Whenever a man is praised it is meet for him to think about his sins and then consider, he should say ‘I am unworthy of the things that are said about me.”


One of my professor colleagues at the seminary I taught at in California had a raw bluntness that cut through false modesty with the ease of a hot knife through butter. Encouraging a student who had just just preached a sermon, the student responded with “Well, it was just the Lord.” Whereupon my friend simply said, “well, it wasn’t THAT good.” The student was shocked. The prof followed up with, “If it was the Lord it would have been perfect. You did well, but it wasn’t perfect.” And off he went.

I’ve never forgotten what I overheard that day. Sometimes, we crave praise so much that we actually fish for it with false modesty. Pride is a deadly disease and we would all do well to perform radical surgery whenever the cancer shows its ugly face in our character.

So when I ran across the quote at the head of this article in a book about the wisdom of the desert fathers of the third and fourth centuries, it rang true in my spirit. Praise from others is always and should always feel a bit awkward if we are serious about killing sin our lives. The apostle Paul wrote, “Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God” (Romans 6:11). Good counsel.

Being “alive to God” is worth all the ridicule of the world. Receiving the praise of men is pointless if it allows the cancer of pride to infect our souls. May God give us grace to “get over ourselves” and simply serve Him for the pleasure of being His.

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