For those of us involved in the on-stage aspects of public ministry, it’s easy to be drawn in by the desire to be appreciated and applauded, particularly for musicians. If you’re anything like me, you love to entertain, and you love to know your efforts are appreciated. But how do we avoid the sin of pride, and glorify God in all we do (1 Corinthians 10:31)?
This is a question Christians have struggled with for a long time. I was encouraged this week while reading through A Practical View of Christianity, written by William Wilberforce in 1797, as he writes about this very issue. After lamenting that so many Christians seemed to be guilty of “the love of human applause” — and what a temptation it was for himself — he shows us (in the admittedly difficult language of the 18th-century) that this desire for approval is not entirely bad.
We ought to have a due respect and regard to the approbation and favor of men. These however we should not value, chiefly as they administer to our own gratification, but as furnishing means and instruments of influence, which we may turn to good account, by making them subservient to the improvement and happiness of our fellow creatures, and thus conducive to the glory of God.
In other words, there’s nothing wrong with having the favor of men (which is the natural result of our biblically-ordained pursuit of excellence), so long as we see this approval as an opportunity to give the glory and credit for our achievements to God, who is the creator and giver of our talents. Wilberforce continues:
Credit and reputation, in the judgment of the true Christian, stand on ground not very different from riches; which he is not to prize highly, or to desire and pursue with solicitude; but which, when they are allotted to him by the hand of Providence, he is to accept with thankfulness, and to use with moderation; relinquishing them when it becomes necessary, without a murmur; guarding most circumspectly for so long as they remain with him, against that sensual and selfish temper, and no less against that pride and wantonness of heart, which they are too apt to produce and cherish; thus considering them as in themselves acceptable, but, from the infirmity of his nature, as highly dangerous possessions; and valuing them chiefly not as instruments of luxury or splendor, but as affording the means of honoring his heavenly Benefactor, and lessening the miseries of mankind.
So what does this mean for us in the worship ministry? It means that when people tell us that we’ve done well, we do not need to be embarrassed, or display a false humility, or begrudge the gifts we’ve been given by saying, “No, it wasn’t that good…” Instead, we ought to to receive these compliments graciously and with thankfulness, making the most of the opportunity to remind ourselves and others that our gifts and talents are from and for the Lord. We must at the same time remain aware of the ever-present temptation to keep some of the glory for ourselves. It should be a comfort to us to know that it’s okay to want others to be pleased when we do well, because the gifts God has given are dual-purposed. They are meant to bring honor to God, yes, but they are also meant to bless others.
The desire that we all feel to be rewarded and applauded for our efforts is itself not inherently evil. This desire has been placed in us by God. However, many of us set our sights too low, missing the true object of these desires, which ought to be the reward and applause of our Heavenly Father:
Christianity… proposes not to extinguish our natural desires, but to bring them under just control, and direct them to their true objects. In the case of both riches and honor, she maintains the consistency of her character. While she commends us not to set our hearts on earthly treasures, she reminds us that we have in Heaven “a better and more enduring substance” (see Matthew 6:19-21) than this world can bestow; and while she represses our solicitude respecting earthly credit, and moderates our attachment to it, she holds forth to us, and bids us habitually to aspire after, the splendors of that better state, where is true glory, and honor, and immortality; thus exciting in us a just ambition, suited to our high origin and worthy of our large capacities, which the little, misplaced, and perishable distinctions of this life would in vain attempt to satisfy.
Amen! How often we are “far too easily pleased”, as C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Weight of Glory. We desire the praise of men at the expense of hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant” from the almighty King of the universe! This is an honor offered only to man, the height of God’s creation. May we always be excited to bring God glory and men joy through the use of the talents that have been bestowed upon us, as we strive for excellence in all we do!
P.S. — There was a book published earlier this year by Dave Harvey, which addresses this same issue (but is much easier to read than Wilberforce!). It’s called Rescuing Ambition. It’s one of the very best books I’ve read this year, and I highly recommend it! You can check out my review of it here.