A different kind of testing

I don’t read from the book of Proverbs often, but occasionally I will read whatever chapter corresponds to the day of the month (there being 31 chapters in the book). So last night I read Proverbs 27. One verse in particular surprised me. And it surprised me that I would find a verse that surprised me, since I’ve certainly read through Proverbs more than once and I’m not accustomed to finding verses I don’t remember seeing before.

Of course, when I was younger I read only in the King James Version, which was the only version used in some churches I attended, and the recommended version at others. Looking at it now in the KJV, I can see why it hadn’t registered with me previously – I can’t honestly figure out what it means with the phrasing used there.

All the versions pretty much say the same thing in the first half of the verse – The refining pot (or crucible) is for silver, and the furnace for gold … and my mind jumps ahead and I expect it to say something along the lines of “so trials refine the character of a man.” It’s a familiar enough idea in Scripture. Isaiah 48:10 says “I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” Isaiah 1:25, Jeremiah 9:7, Zechariah 13:9, and Malachi 3:2-3 use a similar image.

But that’s not the testing Proverbs 27:21 talks about. In the NIV, the verse concludes “but man is tested by the praise he receives.” Hmm, that sounds like a much more pleasant test than affliction. I like praise, God can test me that way all He wants! But of course, this kind of test might show that I failed, instead of being purified by it…

I’ve always cared too much what other people thought of me. I can remember as far back as elementary school, proudly telling my mother how well I did in school, and being disappointed because her only response was that test scores and grades really shouldn’t be seen as so important. I loved people to know how smart I was, and what good grades I got.

After I became a Christian as a teenager, I realized that this pride was a problem, that I should be praising God instead of wanting to be praised, and that loving others involved giving attention rather than trying to get it. But my remarkable ability to memorize Bible verses made it all too easy to give people a chance to praise me without trying very hard.

I think in recent years I have improved in this regard. Being a mother helps. I realize that my love for my sons has nothing to do with how much they memorize, what grades they get in school, or how well they perform in sports or music or other activities. And if I love them simply for who they are, and because they are my children, I can more easily give up the need to try to prove my own worth to others.

Keeping a blog seems to test me in this area in two ways. Sometimes, I get very few hits and no comments, even on a post that I think was excellent. And I remind myself that I’m not doing this for the praise, I do it for my own learning and to share whatever worthwhile thoughts I might have with others. Other days, I do get more traffic (though in the ocean that is the internet, still only a few extra drops), or someone says what a great post I wrote. Then I have to remember that what I can do is only because of the abilities God gave me, and that what other people do with other abilities is just as worthwhile.

I would do well to remember the concise commentary on Proverbs 27:21 from the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary (conveniently provided by Biblos.com in a set of parallel translations and commentary for the verse): “Praise tests character….Thus vain men seek it, weak men are inflated by it, wise men disregard it, &c.” I’m not sure I can quite disregard it, but if I don’t seek it or get inflated by it, I think I’m growing in the right direction.

2 Responses to A different kind of testing

  1. Margaret Packard says:

    Pauline, if you think that a post is excellent, then it probably is, and you don’t need to be praised for it, right? But just in case you should start to become weary in well doing, I want to say that I think you have written many excellent posts. I guess if I agree with everything you wrote, I don’t feel the need to write in and comment. So I’ll do it now. Keep up the good work! And thank you for the work and insight you put into your blog.

  2. Pauline says:

    Margaret,
    I’ve read that a writer is often not a very reliable judge of his own work. I’ve shared poems and other writings with people I know (usually friends at church) and they tell me how well I write and that it ought to be published. It’s been a while since I submitted anything for publication, since the response I was getting when I did try was pretty disappointing (I finally got two poems published in a literary quarterly with a circulation smaller than that of the church newsletter where we were attending, and most of the poems in it weren’t all that great in my opinion).

    I’m told that even good writers get a lot of rejection letters before getting something published – but then mediocre writers get lots of rejection letters too, so that’s not much of an indicator whether it’s wise to keep trying or figure you need to work on improving your writing first. I see this blog as giving me some opportunity to do that (although I don’t spend nearly the time trying to polish what I write here that I would if I were submitting something to a publisher).

    I don’t bring up a lot of controversial topics the way some blogs I visit do, and I understand not feeling a need to respond to something I agree with – I read at other blogs without responding unless I have something substantive to add. Since I always write about things that interest me, it would be fun to have them generate more discussion. That’s what I’m really hoping for, more than being told something is a good post – but of course if people aren’t interested enough to comment back and forth I can’t blame them for that.

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