Discover more from Once A Week
Molding the Image of God through Praise
Praise is one of the strongest sources of joy for humans. And the stronger the emotion, the stronger the memory. God created our embodied souls such that many of our strongest memories are rooted in joy. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism provides the clue to God’s purpose for praise in the development of his image bearers.
 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened,  and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)
What a source of strength those words must have been for Jesus! Surely the memory of the Father’s overflowing praise at his baptism created a wellspring that would wash away doubt and run like a river of joy along the course of his costly ministry.
I don’t remember when, but sometime as an adult I re-discovered a research paper I wrote in high school for Mrs. Schreier’s sophomore English class. This was in the Spring of 2002. The movie adaptation of Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring had just released on December 19, 2001, and my love for Tolkien’s writing had been growing since reading LoTR in late elementary school. Naturally enough then, I chose J.R.R. Tolkien as the subject of a biographical research paper, and also wrote a literary analysis of The Silmarillion.
This came to mind when I re-read the post I published last week and paid attention to the bumbling, pedantic introduction I had previously ignored. I then thought to myself with a silent chuckle, “Mrs. Schreier would be so disappointed.”
Actually, if it weren’t for Mrs. Schreier, you probably wouldn’t be reading this right now. She was the first teacher, as far as I can recall, who affirmed my writing skills. I saved that research paper with her hand-written comments, and they are a source of encouragement over 20 years later:
“Aaron, this is one of the best research projects I’ve read. You effectively moved from his life to the literature. Your example show your understanding of the novels and effectively support your thesis. Please give me a copy (if you will). I like to keep proof this can be done!”
Where would any of us be without the praise of those older and wiser than us? As children, we learn to see ourselves through others’ eyes.
Mrs. Schreier’s request to keep my paper as an example created the first of what would become a pattern in my later education. In college, Dr. Neely read out loud from my exegetical paper on 1 Samuel 25 to show my Old Testament narrative exposition class how biblical interpretation prepares for biblical preaching. In seminary, Dr. Geddert kept my review of Jesus and Community by Gerhard Lohfink as an example for how to write book reviews for his Church and God’s Mission class. Also in seminary, Dr. Zink encouraged me to publish my philosophy of counseling paper.1
I feel uncomfortable sharing that information. Am I just boasting in the reflected glory of my professors’ praise?
Or could it be that these memories show God’s wise design for praise? These teachers helped mold my identity, helped me identify strengths that God had given.
Stronger joy, stronger memory. Stronger joy and memory, stronger identity.
These teachers helped me see myself as God sees me. Certainly God sees me as more than a writer; it’s not the core of my identity. Still, I believe he created me to love language and love crafting with words. And I owe that belief to Mrs. Schreier, Dr. Neely, Dr. Geddert, and Dr. Zink.
Don’t underestimate the impact your words have on others. Don’t underestimate the power of delight. Of course there are caveats: praise should be intentional and specific, not simply lavished thoughtlessly. Praise can fuel narcissism. We can become dependent on what others think of us. Praise can also be coercive, ashas written.
But as with all forms of evil, the power of misused praise only serves to illustrate how much more powerful it is when used rightly.
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
a stranger, and not your own lips.
How does it sound to hear the first part of Proverbs 27:2 as a command? Do you think we focus so much on the second half, the command to refrain from self-praise, that we neglect the first command to let others praise us? What do people praise you for? What patterns have surfaced in praise from others along the course of your life? As uncomfortable as it can be to share that, and as much as you might fear looking prideful, could you share here or with a trusted friend? I would love to celebrate with you!
Sorry Dr. Zink, I still haven’t gotten around to doing that, despite re-reading it multiple times in the last 9 years to figure out how to turn it into an article.