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The Pursuit of Praise

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

When we are children, we thrive on praise. Numerous times a day I hear a form of, “Mom, look what I can do.” There’s something in us that needs that affirmation. This affirmation, as children, most often comes through the close adults in our life, whether that be our parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. “Good job Susie, I knew you could do it!... Way to go… you’re so smart!” These affirmations encourage us and begin to form powerful truths inside us.

As important as praise is, many of us weren’t on the receiving end very often. Maybe Mom or Dad weren’t around or just too busy to have many words at all, or maybe they weren’t kind or encouraging with their words… and maybe we didn’t do so good in school. Whatever the reason, instead of, “Good job Susie…” we may have heard, “What is wrong with you? You’re impossible! … Get it together!”

The negativity and/or lack of praise may have screamed lies at us that we were a screw up, unworthy, stupid, hopeless, fill in the blank… These lies are also powerful because they become false truths. These lies that become true to us often happen so early in life that, most of the time, we don’t even recognize they’re there.

The relevancy of this blog does not belong to a group that would define themselves as coming from a broken or dysfunctional home. Unless you come from a home that had a perfect mom, perfect dad with perfect siblings, you’re not discluded… I’m well aware I made up that word, it worked!

The praise we desired as a child doesn’t somehow disappear as we get older. We are just as hungry for it as we were in the beginning. The search for praise and acceptance begins by default.

Is it wrong to want others’ praise and acceptance? I don’t think so. It’s natural. God didn’t create us to be alone. The hunger becomes a problem when that praise becomes our motivation and we look to others to define us.

A wise teacher, Bill Johnson, once said, “If you live by the praise of man, you will die to their criticism.” If we look to others to praise us and define our value, we are on a road full of highs and lows that will undoubtedly exhaust us physically and emotionally.

My unhealthy pursuit for praise had been a part of my life since before I can remember. I didn’t realize it was a problem until my adult life. I began to recognize unhealthy thought patterns I had since childhood that followed me into my adulthood. I had such a strong need for acceptance from a fatherly figure that I looked to anyone I thought fit into the “fatherly” category and hoped to have an opportunity to impress them. It could have been anyone… a boss, teacher, friend’s dad, etc. I wasn’t picky.

The problem with that, is none of them were invested in my life. How could they have known I had set them on such a high pedestal. They had no idea I was staring up at them waiting for them to tell me who I was. I was always left unsatisfied.

To remedy my dissatisfaction, I began to just envision the praise I craved. For example, when I was doing something I felt was praiseworthy I would picture them there with me. This fantasy-like thinking gave me control. I didn’t have to rely on them or my circumstances. This strong desire for praise and acceptance can show up many ways. This is one of my personal examples; strange as it may seem. I realize now that this thinking was simply counterfeit to the Lord’s real constant presence in my life. It wasn’t the random men I was envisioning… it was Holy Spirit all along.

If you’re not a believer in the Lord, don’t let me lose you here. If you are a believer, this scripture may sound familiar to you… “But I tell you I am going to do what is best for you. This is why I am going away. The Holy Spirit cannot come to help you until I leave. But after I am gone, I will send the Spirit to you” (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God. He has been with me from the very beginning. He is the One who tells me who I am, He is the One who cheers me on, He is the One who affirms and accepts me, and He is the One who fathers me.

If you are one that has been blessed with an earthly father that loves, affirms, accepts, and does all those wonderful, fatherly things, please don’t take that for granted; be grateful and tell your dad thank you! But can I tell you that even the most loving father on this planet cannot replace your Heavenly Father. There is a place inside us that only God Himself can fill.

I didn’t have a relationship with the Lord until I was in my early 20s. As a child I believed there was a God and my mom taught me to pray, but I never really knew Him. The void of this relationship became clear to me one Sunday morning after attending church. My husband and I had been going to church on and off because we knew we should, and we were hungry for something or Someone we didn’t fully understand.

When we had gotten home from church, I remember walking into our living room, my purse on my shoulder and shoes still on. I stood there, and I began to cry. My husband came and asked what was wrong. I don’t remember a conversation, but I do remember the gaping hole in my heart; its residency had become too familiar and unapparent, but it seemed to have gained a voice making its painful presence known. It ached.

I knew I needed the Lord.

My life was forever changed that day. As I sought the Lord He began to open my eyes and speak things into my life through His Word. He began to answer questions I didn’t even know I’d asked. He began to make my heart whole again, piece by piece. Some pieces were put back together more gently than others, but always with love and grace.

The Lord has been faithful as I have sought him over the years since that living room encounter. The words the Lord has spoken so personally and clear to me have left an everlasting mark, and there is no soul in this world that could convince me of anything contrary to his goodness and faithfulness.

I loved the Lord and I was convinced of his goodness, but I wasn’t so convinced of who He said I was. My head and my heart didn’t agree. I had read God’s Word and I knew that I was accepted by him, loved by him, and made righteous through him, but that truth hadn’t been deposited in my heart. My mind could recite the verses, but my weary heart still craved the praise that the world could never satisfy.

In 2014, while attending ministry school, I had been praying that the Lord would deliver me of the fear of man that I knew was crippling me. I had gone on a missions trip to Ecuador. After a long day of ministry, we were ending the night with an evening church service we were scheduled to run. Minutes before the service began the leaders asked if we would each share a 5 – 10-minute message.

Umm, no! I had no time to prepare and I’m not a big fan of wingin’ things.

Well, I did share, and I did survive. I shared on the fear of man… go figure! Afterward, I began to sob and I couldn’t keep it together, so I snuck away to the bathroom. I made a trade with the Lord that night in the bathroom. I cried out and said, “If you take this fear of man from me I will be a fool for you the rest of my life.”

I had finally decided that I would rather look like a fool to the world than bow to their opinion of me while I gave away God’s calling on my life. I knew I couldn’t be effective in what God had called me to if I was consumed with the fear of man; shame or pride would always be a companion - both destructive.

Do I think we shouldn’t care what anyone thinks? No. There are a select few people in my life that I place a high value on what they think. I often go to them for wise counsel and I absolutely care what they think. Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days.” Seeking wise counsel is just that - wise. Our attitude should never be that we don’t care what anyone thinks… That’s not wisdom… that’s pride and stupidity!

There is a powerful freedom available to us outside the fear of man. There’s a burden lifted with that freedom that we may not even realize had been there. I fought for this freedom for so long. I fought with the Word of God and I fought in prayer. These were both powerful, but truly, the freedom came through the process of seeking the Lord’s face and finding the truth in who I was in Him.

I can confidently say to you that I know who I am. It’s not because of the world's opinion - it’s because I know I am loved by the Creator of the universe, the One who set the moon and stars in place. I am accepted by the very One who created me, and I am praised by the One who rejoices over me.

That does not mean that I’m never tempted in my thoughts to fear man - the enemy will whisper in my ear, but I know how to recognize his voice and tell him to shut up!

Have you ever found yourself wrapped up in others’ thoughts of you or have you defined your value by someone else’s opinion? Have you recognized a need in yourself to get others’ attention?

Here’s a good test to give our heart a check. Remember the 5-10-minute message I shared in Ecuador? I challenged them with this:

Let’s pretend you had a big, unique accomplishment that someone took notice of and Hollywood contacted you to create a movie that would tell the world about it. Now let’s also pretend that the actor in the movie got all the credit for what you’d done, and your name was never known. Are you okay with that? Don’t answer that too quickly.

When we know who we are, we don’t need our accomplishments or our title out in front of us proving our worth. We’re already worthy. What we do, or the accomplishments we acquire don’t make us who we are. We are not what we do… good or bad. Thank God.

The world has nothing to offer us, and their opinion only has the power we give it.

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