How Do You Receive Encouragement?

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)

(By the way, if you haven’t read it, may I highly recommend you read C.J.’s book, Humility: True Greatness. But don’t take my word for it. Al Mohler commended it on his commentary today.)

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4 Responses to How Do You Receive Encouragement?

  1. Steve S March 3, 2006 at 9:31 PM #

    So, given the topic, I’m not sure how to best tell you that this post was great! ;)

    I’ll simply say that I thank you and (I’ll help the intentional and internal transfer here!) I thank the Lord for posts such as this that succinctly, yet accurately, deal with real life issues (as opposed to just theoretical concepts) that we face in music ministry. I feel like you have been reading my mail on this one.

    When I think of this topic of receiving compliments properly, and compare where I’m at now (grateful to God) to earlier stages of my life (very prideful), I’m often reminded of the Scriptural account where Jesus is commending the woman that washed His feet. He tells the critics that one who is forgiven much loves much.

    I relate this to this topic from the standpoint that, for those of us who have gone through a period in our lives where we (often publicly) failed the Lord, and yet that gracious Savior of ours restored us and once again gave us the privilege of ministering…well, let’s just say that it actually makes it easier to receive these types of compliments because we truly know that any glory and praise belongs to Him! To paraphrase Jesus’ words, one who is forgiven much deflects glory to God easier. :)

    I am so grateful for the grace of God in my life, and am made even more fully aware every time a compliment comes my way.

    Thanks for being an encouragement here on this blog, Bob.

    steve :)

  2. dan mcgowan March 4, 2006 at 8:55 AM #

    I am keenly aware of the reality that when I am doing what I do (as a music and worship leader) I am helping OTHERS encounter Jesus Christ – His presence and His power – as we sing, etc.

    I am also aware that I need on-going confirmation and/or affirmation of the gifts God has given to me – that they are being used in such a way that the above paragraph becomes a reality.

    When I first began as a music and worship leader, I would get comments such as “you are such a great musician” or “the music was so great today” and I offered in response the typical “no no, it’s all God” sort of comments on the outside while on the inside I was delighted that the people liked me!

    Then, after God made it strikingly clear to me that my worship and music leadership is not about ME, but about HIM, the comments began to change… suddenly they were, “Dan, I really felt God’s presence today” or “Dan, your music really helped inspire me in my walk with the Lord” etc.

    For me, this SECOND set of comments are the most important because they remind me that God is the gift-giver and the One (the only One) worthy of receiving glory and honor for the “leadership” of our worship.

  3. Andrea March 8, 2006 at 11:04 AM #

    The ‘frame’ that I inherited from a mentor for talking about worship events after the fact was that of “values and concerns”. It has changed the way I think about what I’m receiving from folks even when they don’t couch it in those terms. It has also helped me to ask follow up questions to in order to dig around for the underlying values (or concerns) that they have.

    It is also a very interesting exercise to hear a list of feedback translated into those terms…often what is valued by some is a concern of others…helps to put things in perspective. And often it is so reassuring to realize that something that I had concerns about going into a service turned out to be someone’s highest value.

    I guess it gets us beyond “I liked it” and “I didn’t like it” and into the why’s and how’s.

    Thanks for these discussions!!

  4. anoninva March 27, 2006 at 11:06 AM #

    I’d just like to add to this, there is such a thing as flattery. Flattery is compliments that go over the top, that gush praise, and are focused all on the person (vs what they did or how it was an encouragement or how the Lord is working). Flattery, to me, is the very hardest because not only do I want to deflect the compliment, but as it is over the top, (and it’s usually the same persons) I recognize it as flattery, and for that reason I want to point that out. But you really can’t at that point, unless you have a really close relationship with the person, which is often not the case. All that to say: Christians, please be careful in your speech. There is such a thing as godly praise, or thanksgiving, especially if you help the person understand how they are reflecting the fruit of the Spirit or how you see the Lord working in their life. By contrast, it isn’t helpful, and can be harmful, to merely flatter people.

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