If achievement is good, if it is part of God’s design for human beings, then surely it ought to be celebrated. This week we explore reasons for celebrating achievement and ways to do so (and ways not to do so).
Why we should celebrate achievement
I’ve made the case that achievement is good, that it is part of God’s design for human beings, and that it brings honor to God when our gifts and opportunities are used in productive service.
But there is no “celebrate achievement, I will say it again, celebrate achievement” instruction in the Bible, so is it really a good idea?
I think the best way to think about celebrating achievement is through the categories of thanksgiving and praise. If it is true that God has gifted people, gives us opportunities to use our gifts, and uses our works of service for the sake of others, then it follows that when some good achievement arises, we ought to give him thanks and praise.
Thanksgiving simply acknowledges that God is the source of all good things, that he has given the gifts, the opportunities, and the results. He has brought good things out of our feeble, imperfect efforts.
Praise declares God’s goodness and acknowledges the goodness of his deeds. It is the perfect companion to thanksgiving because we rejoice in who God is as well as what he has done for us.
How not to celebrate
While celebrating achievement through thanksgiving and praise is appropriate, We rightly give thanks to God, but don’t show our appreciation, respect, or offer thanks to the person who has achieved that great thing.there are ways for celebration to go in the wrong direction.
The most obvious problem is giving thanks and praise to the wrong person. If someone has achieved something great, we should celebrate it, and give God the glory. Again, he has given the gift, the opportunity, and the outcome. It is always a perverse redirection to claim glory for people rather than acknowledge the Creator and Sustainer of all life, the Giver of all gifts, and the rightful recipient of our thanks and praise.
But a second problem is the opposite of this. Due to a fear of the first problem, sometimes our celebrations completely ignore the human element. We rightly give thanks to God, but don’t show our appreciation, respect, or offer thanks to the person who has achieved that great thing. Perhaps we don’t want them to become full of pride, or we don’t want to commit idolatry by worshiping the creation rather than the Creator. But surely it is not right to pretend the person had nothing to do with it.
How to celebrate
But wait, if we are trying to avoid the second problem, won’t we just fall into the first problem? If we thank and praise the person, won’t we be robbing God? Possibly. But not if we’re thinking rightly about achievement.
If we’re thinking rightly, we will recognize that every great achiever is God’s creation, and every good achievement is powered by him. But we will also see that the achiever has worked hard in God’s strength, has taken care, and has persevered in faithful dependence on God. It is right to give thanks for such a person and to give thanks to such a person. We ought to honor God and we ought to honor his servant (1 Tim 5:17).
Of course the order is important: God’s praise comes first, then praise to his servant. Thanks to God first, then thanks to his servant. But it is right and appropriate to thank and praise people. We see this in the way that Paul acknowledges what the Philippians did for him, while also giving thanks to God (Phil 1:3–6; 4:14–16). The two are not mutually exclusive, so long as the order is right.
Sometimes we praise people’s achievements without recognizing the One from whom all blessings flow. But other times we thank God while ignoring the one through whom he has poured out blessing. Both are mistakes. Let us celebrate achievement in a way that honors God and those through whom he works.