CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Be Careful About Those Who Praise You

Nov 14, 2017

This may sound like another rather odd article, so bear with me! But it seems to me that the Christian leader can be damaged just as much from a lot of criticism as from a lot of praise. Let me explain. I have written often about how any Christian who is in the public spotlight, or takes a stand and gets a bit of attention, will often be deluged with criticism.

This goes with the territory as any pastor or Christian leader well knows. It is not pleasant, and we need to guard against it. All the constant criticism and negativity you get can easily wear you out, discourage you, or even make you want to give up altogether.

So it is obvious that our opponents and our critics can be really quite problematic. But I want to suggest that all of our friends, fans and supporters can also be problematic if we are not careful. That is, we can be tempted with so much encouragement and support to think God must be really thrilled with us.

Now often he may well be. But it is always possible there are things in our life and/or ministry that God is displeased with, wants to work on, or seeks to deal with. But if we are not careful, those nudges of God’s Spirit can be drowned out by all the praise and adulation we may be getting.

Please don’t get me wrong here: it is so very helpful and edifying to have those who care about you, support you, are loyal to you, and stand with you through thick and thin to be a part of your life. They are a Godsend, and we could not easily make it without them.

What I am trying to say is this: if we do not stay humble and close to God, all the positive reinforcement from our followers and supporters – as helpful and well-meaning as they may be – may blind us to possible areas that we need to work on.

That is, we have to be careful we are not surrounded with just yes men. Real friends will sing your praises when you deserve it, but will also point out your faults and offer much needed criticism and correction when required. But if we simply have a lot of supporters who only say good things about us, it is possible to hear what they are saying, and not God.

Do you get what I am saying here? There is always the temptation for any Christian leader or public figure to judge his ministry and his standing with God with the positive feedback he gets, and with the number of supporters. How easy it is to think God must really be with you if you have a big and growing church for example.

Now, a growth in numbers and widespread interest in your church or ministry may well be an indication of God’s favour and blessing. But not always. As I have written elsewhere, we are on shaky ground if we simply look at numbers as indicators of God’s affirmation.

Plenty of cults and heretical bodies have big congregations. Plenty of false teachers have massive followings. So numbers alone is not a great way to assess whether our work is fully of God or not. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2007/10/09/thoughts-about-megachurches/

As I said in that piece:

Is church growth automatically wrong then? No. Is it automatically right? No. The truth is, numerical growth in and of itself is no measure of spirituality, or of God’s favour. Indeed, often God tells his people to reduce numbers, not expand them. Consider Gideon for example in Judges 7. But in an age obsessed with numerical growth, with success, and with material measurements of wellbeing, we may be missing out big time on what God really has in mind for his church.

My point is this: just as we may get a faulty view of our work and ministry for God based on all the critics and their many criticisms, so too we may get a faulty view based on all our fans and their words of praise. Again, I am so very thankful for those who do tell me now and then that what I do is of some help, and that I may have been a blessing.

But if I only listen to those voices, and not also try to keep my spiritual ears wide-open to what God may be trying to tell me, I can miss out on God’s best. I may settle for the praise of men but not really get – certainly in the long haul – the praise of God. So we must proceed cautiously here.

Let me at least speak for myself here. I am so grateful for all those who do give me words of encouragement, who stand by me, who support me, and certainly for those who pray for me. I would not get far without them. But I realise the ability of self-deception never fully disappears, no matter how long you might be a believer.

I can get a false sense of security in listening to all these positive words, and simply assume I must be in the centre of God’s will. “Look at all these people singing my praises and rallying around me. I must be doing something right!” Well, hopefully, but not necessarily.

At the end of the day I am accountable to God and him alone, not all my many supporters. Indeed, I often go to God and lay my entire ministry on the altar. So despite all the praise of men, I still need to constantly seek out what is the good and perfect will of God for my life.

Thus two traps must be avoided here. If no one supports you or offers you any thanks for what you do, that does not necessarily mean that God is not with you and in what you are doing. Often when we do God’s will, it will be a rather thankless task, with no one offering any support.

But the opposite can also be true: you might have zillions of people saying how wonderful you are and what great things you are doing, but that does not necessarily mean God is with you and your ministry. Plenty of false teachers and cultists have large, enthusiastic followings.

So in all things we must keep coming back to God on our knees. Yes, having faithful friends and supporters is vital. But do not let them and their words alone determine how you proceed. Always check in with God and see what he has to say. That is always a safe place to be in.

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8 Responses to Be Careful About Those Who Praise You

  • This is possibly your best article Bill.
    Humility is to my mind the chiefest Christian virtue. and I am pleased to see you remember that.
    Keep up the good work.

  • I think there is another danger not mentioned in this article. Years ago I heard a story – which may or may not be true, of a major Christian figure, possibly an evangelist. He was so successful and so popular that he was idolised. He confided his concerns to a friend – that his fame was getting in the way of his message. Not too long after that God removed him – a fatal accident I think. As I say I’m very very fuzzy on the details – it was quite a while ago, and I have no idea whether the story is true or not, but if it is, it’s interesting.

  • Dan 11:31 And forces will stand from him, and they will profane the sanctuary, the fortress, and shall remove the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the desolating abomination.
    Dan 11:32 And he will ruin by flattery those who do evil against the covenant. But the people who know their God will be strong and will work.
    Dan 11:33 And those who understand among the people shall teach many; yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by exile, and spoil, for days.
    Dan 11:34 And when they stumble, they shall be helped with a little help, but many will join them, with hypocrisy.
    (MKJV)

  • As usual a balanced article.

  • Wise critique Bill.

  • Hi Bill, thank you for a well thought out piece of work. I for one must plead guilty to the fact that I do like to pen as much public support as I can for the work that you post, because I would imagine that you cop a lot of abuse coming into your “in box” that the rest of us will never see or hear about. I myself function as a closet intercessor. My main hand book is the Book of Ezekiel. I try to read it right through at least 5 – 6 times per year, and it keeps me grounded. Bill the level of viciousness that you cop from the LGBTQR community is bound to increase exponentially as the political and legal fallout from the SSM bill before Federal Parliment continues. The other major battle front debate is the Euthenasia Legislation currently before the Victorian Upper House. The other day on 3AW, I heard their top medical advisor questioning the need for such legislation when there is such excellent palliative care resources available in Australia. And so it goes on. Bill I can understand that most of the attacks that you cop will come from purely emotive little individuals who have never done a proper day’s research or study in their pathetic little lives. And day after day you get that flung at you. You go to so much effort to properly research an article, and you yourself have stated that you use a trusted and impartial confidant to check your work and resources prior to publishing. Bill I have to believe that because so many of us are praying for you, our prayers give The Holy Spirit permission to scrutinise your work. I’m certain that if He was not happy with a particular project that you had on “the cooker”, that His Still Small Voice would give you cause to step back and do another review. Bill, we live in a dying world that needs to hear the truth that sets people free, that is why sometimes I go over the top in my public support for all that you do. Bless you heaps, Kel.

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