Addicted to Praise
Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.
In 1998, John Piper visited Beeson Divinity School for a three day lecture series on preaching. During one of the sermons, he admitted that he was addicted to praise. The type of praise Piper was describing are the compliments and attention one receives after preaching a good, or maybe great, sermon.
Piper told the story of recently speaking at Wheaton College, his alma mater, and no one, absolutely no one, came up to him afterwards and thanked him for his message. Piper said that he walked around campus for some time talking to himself wondering what went wrong and asking himself why he had to have constant affirmation to feel good about his ministry.
Piper’s admission is a powerful one, all preachers struggle with desiring the encouragement of others. Yet, we know that the gospel word we share may very well bother, offend, and convict the very people we look to for praise.
The temptation lurks that when we receive the admiration and praise for which we long, we think we have arrived, and therefore accomplished great things for God. Martin Luther calls this kind of pride: donkey ears. Why? Donkey ears dominate the animal’s appearance just like a preacher’s pride in their own accomplishments.
If, however, you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books, teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it—if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears.
Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, “See, see! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well.” That very moment you will be blessed and blessed beyond measure in the kingdom of heaven. Yes, in that heaven where hellfire is ready for the devil and his angels.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, 34:287-288, cited in Timothy George, Reading Scripture with the Reformers (Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 2011), 164.