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Difficulty Accepting the Praise and Approbation of Others

self denial john macarthur

Here is some of what the Bible had to say about pride:

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate. (Proverbs 8:13)

 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look… (Proverbs 6:16,17)

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (I John 2:16)

Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished. (Proverbs 16:5)

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Evangelicals are frequently warned about the dangers of pride — of thinking more highly of self than one ought to. We owe everything to Jesus, Evangelical preachers say, and without him we have no power to do anything good. Readers who are on Facebook and have Evangelical friends likely see regular reports in their news feed of how awesome Jesus is. Something good happens in the lives of Evangelicals and their status report reads, ALL PRAISE TO JESUS for ____________________. Last night, I watched the thrilling North Carolina vs Villanova college basketball championship game — a contest which Villanova won on a last second jump shot. One of the sideline reporters interviewed one of the heroes of the game and the first words out of his mouth were I THANK MY LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST! Earlier in the day I had read report about a nanny saving a baby in a stroller from being hit by a car — giving up her body to bear the brunt of the accident. Nearby witnesses rushed to her aid, lifting the car off of her body and giving her emergency medical treatment. The local sheriff considered the story to be a miracle of God!

Where, oh were was God or his son Jesus? As I watched the basketball game, I didn’t see any dunk shots by J.C. I didn’t see God setting picks or making fouls shots. The same goes for the accident. If what happened was a miracle from God, exactly where was God? From what I can tell, it was PEOPLE not God who helped the nanny — likely saving her life. Despite there being no evidence for God doing anything, Christians continue to give God praise, honor, and glory that he does not deserve.

Evangelicals are taught that is always wrong to take credit for doing anything; and yes I mean ANYTHING. According to the Bible, Christians have no power of their own. According to the last part of John 15:5, Jesus told his followers: for without me ye can do nothing. Why, without God, we wouldn’t even be able to draw the next breath. No matter how much hard work Evangelicals put into something, the praise always goes to Jesus. He alone is the reason Evangelicals do good works. I could spend hours studying for a sermon, yet if my sermon was well received and well delivered it was all because of Jesus. Simply put, Evangelicals believe that they are a conduit through which God does his work on earth. According to the Casting Crowns song, If We are the Body, Christians are supposed to be the words, hands, and feet of God.

Evangelicals are frequently reminded of the importance of self-denial. Jesus first, others second, yourself last, goes the Evangelical acronym for JOY. How this works out in real life is that serving Jesus and others is ALL that matters. Self is a hindrance that keeps Christians from fully and resolutely living according to the teachings of the Bible and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. (Please see I Did it All for Jesus: My Life of Self-Denial and Learning to Be Human Again After a Lifetime of Self-Denial) I have been accused over the years of taking Christianity too seriously. The reason, according to these critics, that I left the ministry and Christianity is because I didn’t have a balanced life. If I had just learned to balance my Evangelical beliefs with my personal and family wants, needs, and desires, all would have been well. Are these critics right? Consider these verses:

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me, For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24,25)

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2)

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:15,16)

For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. (James 4:14,15)

Who is it, then, that takes these verses seriously and attempts to pattern their lives after them? The balanced Christian? Or Evangelicals who push their pots into the center of the table and say, “We are all in”? Are these Evangelicals to be faulted for taking God at his word? Are they to be faulted for desiring to pattern their lives after Jesus and his disciples? Shouldn’t Evangelical preachers see in the Apostle Paul the epitome of what it means to be a man led by God?

without jesus I am nothingThe book of Revelation speaks of those who follow the Lamb (Jesus) whithersoever he goeth. That was the kind of follower I wanted to be. Blinkered like an Amish horse, all I saw was Jesus ahead of me leading the way. While I failed many times, my goal was always to, without reservation, follow and serve Jesus. The only way to do this was to get self out of the way.

Living this way brought much heartache, suffering, and economic deprivation. (Please see How Fundamentalist Christianity Affected My View of Money and Material Things) I now know that self (and family) does matter. I now know that it is healthy to put self first. I have spent countless hours in counseling trying to reconnect with Bruce Gerencser. I spent the bulk of my adult life burying self. When I deconverted, I had no clue as to who I really was. Even today, I am not at all certain that I have reached a place where I am free of the damage wrought by a lifetime of self-denial, metaphorical self-flagellation, and prostrating myself before God and his son Jesus. Having spent most of my life on my knees, I still find it hard to stand up and walk by my own power.

One area that I need to work on is accepting the praise and approbation of others. When I take a photograph that I know is pretty good, I find it hard to accept the praise others heap upon this example of my photographic skills. Polly has taken to getting after me about this, reminding me of the fact that I put hard work into improving my photography skills. I have the same problem when readers complement me over something I have written. I know that my writing has helped thousands of people over the years, but I have a hard time accepting praise and gratitude from those I have helped. There is still deep within me the feeling that I do not deserve anything. Even when I come into some sort of economic windfall, I find myself thinking, I do not deserve this. Try as I might, I have been unable to shake the notion of self-denial. Certainly, I have come a long way and I am in a much better place psychologically that I once was, but I know God and his demand of personal sacrifice still lurk in the shadows. Perhaps someday I will be able to accept the kind words of others without feeling some sort of shame for accepting what should only be given to God.

As many former Evangelicals know, God can still lurk in the shadows of our lives. I am almost eight years removed from the day I walked away in the Christian church, yet I still battle with what I call an Evangelical hangover. I suppose this is inevitable. After all, I spent 50 years in the Christian church and 25 years in the ministry. I spent the vast majority of my adult life praising and worshiping Jesus. I preached thousands of sermons and read countless Christian books. I immersed myself in the pages of the Bible, and rarely did a day go by that I did not spend time reading it. While I can point to the date when I attended a Christian church for the last time and the date when I said to myself, I am no longer a Christian, flushing my life of residual religiosity and faith is a day by day process that continues to this very moment.

How about you? Do you still have some sort of Evangelical hangover? Do you have a hard time accepting the praise and approbation of others? Has it been difficult for you to regain a sense of self after years of denial? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.



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    This obsession, especially amongst sports people, of always praying and giving thanks to god is ridiculous. If it actually had any basis whatsoever in reality then every sporting contest would result in a draw.

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be grateful for the way we are, and the lives we lead; well, unless you are one of the less fortunate, of whom there are many. I’m grateful to my parents for giving me genes that are keeping me healthy, so far. I’m grateful to my grandparents for bringing me up, though it resulted in my having a distorted view of life, inevitable by virtue of their belonging to too old a generation.

    In the unlikely event that there’s some mysterious creator out there, who stays hidden and doesn’t actually want us to believe in him, or her, or whatever, then so be it. I have no interest in being grateful to such a creator and, by the same token, such creator has no desire for my gratitude.

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    J.D. Matthews

    This is all part of the Control mechanism of religion. How convenient for those in power when others will give up their desire for control, because it makes them somehow holier. Isn’t it convenient for the wealthy if the poor will think that it’s better to be poor? We’re taught we shouldn’t want to have power, wealth or honor… because those with power, wealthy and honor want to keep it!

    There’s always a double standard with it too. In the church, if I wanted my way on something, I was told I was being selfish. But the other person who demanded their way was never viewed as being selfish. Any disagreement? You’re being selfish. Any unhappiness because you don’t think something is right? That’s you being selfish again. My mother used to tell me frequently “you’re the most selfish person I’ve ever seen” because I wouldn’t do some things exactly as she would want them done or allow her to control my life the way she wanted to. Of course, she wasn’t being selfish at all. Narcissists never think THEY are the selfish ones.

    And whether you accept it or not, you do a great job with this blog.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    Growing up, I learned to not take credit for my accomplishments. I don’t remember being lectured on pride or selfishness, but there was a pervasive sense that whatever I did wasn’t good enough. I learned to accept compliments graciously, because that was an expected behavior; one says “thank you” with a smile, and changes the subject. The smile need not be genuine, and one certainly shouldn’t accept the compliment internally.

    Any self-celebration of an accomplishment was wrong. “A-” was not an acceptable grade. A sweep-and-vacuum of the livingroom was totally inadequate because of one escaped dust bunny. Merely doing chores, rather than enthusiastically aligning myself to parental goals and desires, was inadequate.

    By the time I’d escaped to college, I was ready to explode. And yet, I’d internalized it all. I’d been depressed, though undiagnosed, most of my life; and depression fosters a sense of inadequacy far stronger than the messages from the outside. But the messages from the outside, I now realize, didn’t help at all during those formative years. I’m 56, I’ve done lots of therapy, I take meds, and I’m still shaking it off. Excessive pride isn’t a good idea, and will get you into trouble. But it’s okay to be okay with yourself, a lesson I’m still learning.

    Now, how much of this was religious in nature? Certainly, there wasn’t much of an overt religious message in my household. My mother was a devout Catholic, my dad a lapsed Lutheran; the Evanglical messages of you are crap, Jesus saved you anyhow, praise Jesus! just weren’t there in my growing up. Oh, the message was there on Sunday, but it didn’t have the blunt fierceness of the Evangelical version. And yet I’m convinced that Christianity, and it’s fundamental message that nobody is ever good enough, was at the root of my upbringing; my parents had internalized it, and they taught me what they knew.

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      Greetings Karen and thank-you for this comment. I too believe that fundagelical history in my family was a core aspect of my experience in childhood. I cannot say that it was the primary core because I now see Christianity of this kind as simply another tool of human abuse. It thrives because we are harmed early on in life and many of us never had the opportunity to bond with our parents, never had the basic human warmth that is the natural course and has been undermined by harm done through generations. My dad grew up on a farm, struggling and doing heavy labor to barely survive. He never learned to be intimate with anybody, never had a real friend and escaped the farm into preaching. He did a short training at an uncredited Baptist school and was off the farm for good. But he carried his silence and depression with him into his religion. My mom was the daughter of a Baptist preacher and though a very competent registered nurse, had to play the shadow wife of the preacher she married. She was not pleased by it but complied.
      How can the body of a human being not be depressed when it is so under attack as it is in fundagelical religion? As I read blogs and stories of people like me, survivors of religion, depression is by far the primary challenge we face after upbringings that taught us we were faulty, never quite what was desired, things to be trained in God’s army.
      The very simple truth for me about this history is that I was not loved naturally and was not first on my dad and mom’s priorities: God came first and the Calvanistic judgement was upon us all. I was terrified into belief as little one and I was abandoned to deal with Satan and God until I came begging for salvation, to be saved from what awaited all sinners like me. I was seven. Fuck.
      Still, I do not see the destruction of religion as the cure for family abuse, for systemic, culture-wide blindness with regard to our children. Religion was created to be a structure explaining away what cannot be faced without hard, long psychological work. One cannot simply say, Oh, I did not have an ideal childhood and so I continue to harm myself just as my parents harmed me with neglect or hitting or shame-based relationship. The feelings are too painful to simply allow into consciousness. The horror is too much. With help, the feelings of true harm done can be accessed over time and felt through in their horror, felt as the child faced them. This acknowlegement in the body/mind, this self-caring does free us to some degree to carry-on without the severity of affect that haunts our lives. Harm is internalized as you very clearly state, buried. Our parents/caregivers pass on to us what they experienced. This is why it must stop with us and not our children.
      We cannot give our children what we are unable to give ourselves, complete and utter love, boundless and never denied. FUCK GOD! FUCK the Jesus of Godhard and Anderson. I will love myself as best I can and I have given that same love to my children. No God goes before my child, no fear or fantasy. I have to face it. There is magic in human existence but it sure isn’t in woo-woo.

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    I could quote half the article and say: me too! Me too. It’s hard to accept compliments or to think highly of myself. It feels like a sin, doesn’t it? The sin of pride…. And since that is the worst sin of all, at the root of the others; I’ve avoided it like the plague resulting in pretty low self-esteem.

    I have this memory which is both painful and happy. I had written a story and the teacher read it out loud in class because it was the best one. I was so proud and really pleased with myself! When I went home, the wind took half of the story away because one of the pieces of paper slipped from my hands. I thought that God was punishing me for the sin of pride and whenever I felt good about myself I remembered this cautionary tale….

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Bruce Gerencser