Mike left this comment/question on a recent post:
Why are compliments so difficult?…Yesterday after our morning service a lady stopped to tell me “how great I am” and what she loved about the way I lead the worship service, which was that I projected “a sincere love for God in what I do.” While certainly I hopefully project a sincere and true love for God in what I do, how do you receive a compliment such as this?… How do you deflect praise and still be cordial?
I imagine that anyone reading this post can identify with Mike’s question. Why are compliments so difficult? Most of us, unless we’re blatantly arrogant, feel embarrassed when someone encourages us. There could be a number of reasons. Maybe they’re highlighting something you’re not sure you should be encouraged for.
“That shirt looks really good on you.”
“Hey, like, I loved those riffs, dude!”
“Thanks for not going as long as you usually do.”
Maybe their praise is somewhat vague.
“Great job today!”
“You are one great leader.”
“I loved the meeting this morning!”
Maybe we’re hearing what they didn’t say.
“I really liked the flute today.” (Any of the other instruments?)
“I loved the way you started the meeting this morning.” (Were you there at the end?)
“Sam did a great job leading while you were gone.” (How bad is it when I’m here?)
On the other hand, maybe it’s a genuine compliment, sincerely offered. We can still feel uncomfortable. Usually we’re battling the fact that we love being encouraged but don’t want to be proud. We wish people wouldn’t say anything, but another part of us is crying out, “More! More!” It’s the dilemma of Romans 7:21: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” Here are some practices I’ve learned from others that have helped me in those situations.
First, thank the person just for taking the time to encourage you. Whether or not I think their compliment is sincere or warranted, they made a point of expressing their gratefulness. I don’t have to know their motive or evaluate their grasp of reality. I can simply thank them.
Second, if someone’s compliment is vague, ask them to be more specific. “Thanks for saying that! So what about the meeting encouraged you?” We’re not fishing for more praise. It’s just that God receives greater glory when we acknowledge how He worked specifically.
Third, express amazement and gratefulness for the way God works through any of us. “I’m so glad God encouraged you that way! Isn’t He good?” What about the contributions of others? “Thanks so much. I’m just glad to be working with so many servants!” I often tell someone how much I’ve benefited from the example of people around me. One of the best ways to turn awkwardness into gratefulness is to remember how God has used others in my life.
Finally, and this is probably the most important thing, internally and intentionally “transfer the glory to God.” That’s a phrase I first learned from C.J. Mahaney, quoting the Puritan, Thomas Watson. It means telling God that whatever benefit, fruit, or glory is being ascribed to me at that moment is completely and rightfully His. I don’t want it, because it’s not mine.
None of this means that we won’t struggle later with pride. I may put the encouragement on constant replay in my mind, try to make others aware of how great I did, or exaggerate someone’s comments in a later conversation. The best thing to do then is confess my pride to God, thank Him for how He’s used others, and again transfer all the glory to Him.
God intends encouragement to be a means of grace to us, and a reminder that He’s working through our lives. I regret how many times I haven’t received it that way. But I’m grateful that He has not only given His Son to pay for my sins – He continues to send encouragement my way so that I can learn to find joy in giving the glory to Him alone.
By God’s grace, may we excel in both receiving – and giving – encouragement, all for the honor of Him who created and called us for the praise of His glory. (Eph. 1:11-12)