How do you express humility after you’ve done something objectively well? I’m not talking about humblebragging or false humility. But really, when you use your God-given gifts to create or express something beautifully, how do you respond with humility when you receive genuine praise? In some Christian circles, it may be an unspoken rule that any form of accepting compliments is a form of pride. Perhaps that manifests itself in a motioning of the arms and an “All glory to God” before shutting down the conversation. Or maybe a compliment is met with self-degradation and doubts about the overall quality of the work, character trait, sermon, etc. Whatever the method of deflection used the underlying cause is actually pride itself. Yup, I’m arguing that constantly declining, denying, or deflecting compliments is a subtle form of pride. Because sometimes the humble response to genuine praise is simply “Thank you.”
“Sometimes the humble Response to Genuine Praise is simply Thank You”
I was once told a story by my former boss/pastor about a well-known preacher and author who was speaking at a conference. When it was his turn to teach, the MC introduced him by mentioning how his writings, sermons, blogs, and teachings had impacted many around the world. All of which was, and is, true. The speaker, in the middle of being honored, walked over and said something to the effect of “that’s enough of that.” And the MC responded (perhaps in a “hot mic” moment) with “well, a truly humble person would have just said thank you.” Ouch.
I’ve thought about that comment a lot in recent months. And I’ve got to say, I think it has a ton of merit. When we deflect genuine praise about spiritual matters it doesn’t direct people to the Lord, rather it ends up pointing people back to us. While that may not always be the intention, it is often the result. It is a subtle way of showing how holy we are to the point that we won’t even acknowledge the areas that God has gifted us in and the Spirit’s work in and through us.
Proverbs 18:12 tells us that “before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.” Notice that humility doesn’t lead to a lack of honor, that humility subverts honor, or that the two cannot coexist. Rather, this Proverb shows that genuine humility leads to honor. Jesus confirms this point in Luke 14:8-11:
When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Jesus didn’t say that you should sit at the lowest point at the table and then refuse to move up when urged by the host. No, His point is that humble people don’t scheme for glory and honor out of selfish pride and ambition. True humility is being content in our station and thinking of others greater than ourselves. And with that in mind, it is no surprise that a humble life leads to honor before the Lord and people. When we are exalted, praised, or complimented the response isn’t to deny the fact that the Lord is working through and in us. No, when that happens it’s simply time to say “thank you” and meditate on what God has done for us.
“It is no surprise that a humble life leads to honor before the Lord and people.”
The neat thing is that graciously and humbly receiving praise doesn’t only encourage the recipient, it is also a blessing and honor for the person who is sharing the word of appreciation. When I was a young believer, I heard a speaker who genuinely changed the way I viewed what it means to be adopted by the Lord. When I went to thank him and speak with him about it I was literally stiff-armed and the speaker kept talking about how he was a failure and it was all God (no joke, he used the term failure multiple times). But here’s the thing, the talk wasn’t a failed talk. It meant a lot to me. When he shut me down from thanking him, it made me question the validity of what he said. Humility certainly wasn’t the character trait that came to mind during that interaction.
I was speaking with a very wise elder recently, and he pointed out that deflecting or downplaying someone who is thanking you actually robs them of the blessing of encouraging you. He’s absolutely right. Saying “thank you” affirms the change or reaction that someone has had directly due to something you have done for them. The Spirit changes them to be sure, but saying “thank you” affirms the work the Spirit has done in and through you by His grace, mercy, love, and covenant promises.
Saying “thank you” isn’t building yourself up in a tower of pride, it is humbly responding to truths that are only true because of what Christ has done for you. God humbles the proud and he raises up the meek and grateful. We must never attempt to grasp the glory that is due to God alone. But we must also never downplay or deny His work in our lives because that work glorifies God and encourages the saints. Pride is destructive and it wants to respond to praise and honor in a way that magnifies ourselves. But only through humility can we respond to praise in a God-honoring manner. So remember, sometimes the most humble response is simply “thank you.”