Turning Put-downs Into Motivation


“Jesus said, ‘No doubt you will quote this proverb to me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” No prophet is welcome in his own hometown’” (Luke 4:24). 

John Fogerty’s group Creedence Clearwater Revival is unforgettable to anyone who has owned a radio in the last 50 years.  Once, in an interview with Dan Rather, Fogerty was remembering a key moment in their formative years.

The group was one of many bands to perform at a particular event.  As the final group to warm up, and thus the first band to appear on stage, suddenly CCR found they had been unplugged.  John Fogerty yelled to the sound man to plug them back up, that they weren’t through.  The technician did so reluctantly, then added, “You not going anywhere anyway, man.”  Fogerty said, “Okay.  Give me one year.  I’ll show you.”

One year later, the group was so hot with hit record after hit record (“Proud Mary,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Bad Moon Rising”) that “we were too big to play in that place any more!”

Turning sarcastic putdowns into a healthy sic ’em!

I was 25 and the newly called pastor of a church on Alligator Bayou some 25 miles west of New Orleans.  I was in my first year of seminary.  The church ran forty in attendance, just as it had done for the two decades of its existence.

Sunday morning, I’m standing outside the front door shaking hands as worshipers exit the building.  Behind us, just emerging through the doors, two men were talking.  They had no idea I could heard them.  One said, “Well, this little church is doing about all it’s ever going to do.”

The other fellow agreed.  But it was like a spark to my powder keg.  Everything inside me said, “We’ll show you!”

Now, bear in mind, I had little idea what I was doing.  My one previous pastorate had lasted 14 months, averaged 30 in attendance, and was mostly a lesson in futility for both the congregation and me.

One month after I began my seminary pastorate on the bayou, we hit 67 in attendance and grew steadily.  During my final few months as pastor, over two years later, we were running 120 with chairs in the aisles.  The growth continued after I left, I’m happy to report.  A pastor led them to relocate and in time, they were recognized as one of the fastest growing churches in the country.

The men-at-the-door had no idea that their negativism had spurred me on.

Some people take delight in popping the bubbles of ambition and goal-setting.  “Who do you think you are?”  “What makes you better than the rest of us?”  “Why do you think you could do what none of us could?”

The wise and extremely difficult response to such putdowns is to quietly absorb it and turn it into fuel for the journey.  Let their negativism propel you to greater efforts. After all, as we all learned in algebra, two negatives make a positive.

Margaret Mitchell worked on her novel Gone With the Wind for a solid ten years, from 1926 to 1936.  Here is what happened.

An agent traveled to Atlanta in search of budding novelists with works worthy of publishing.  Someone told him about Mrs. Mitchell.  He called her.

No, she informed him.  She had nothing in the works, nothing worthy of publication.

So, he went on, making more calls and checking out other writers.

The next day, Margaret Mitchell came to see him.  “I have a novel to show you.”  She brought out two boxes filled with drafts of her book.

The agent was puzzled.  “Didn’t you tell me yesterday you had nothing?”

What had happened, Margaret Mitchell explained, was that a so-called friend who fancied herself a novelist told her she would never make it.  “You’re too nice a person,” she said, “and you’re not a good writer.” The woman said, “Now, I’m going to make it big.  I’ll be famous.  But you, Margaret, will never be much of a writer and you should get used to that.”

Rather than internalize the putdown, Mrs. Mitchell let it energize her.  She gathered all her manuscripts and drove down to meet the agent.

She turned the sarcastic put-down into a sic ’em.

Her novel became a Pulitzer Prize-winner.  Three years later, in 1939, Gone With the Wind was the biggest movie ever, took home a ton of awards, and turned Margaret Mitchell into a star of the first order.

We must never lose sight of this, however…

Sarcastic putdowns are effective with most people.

The self-confidence was already at a low ebb, and the person who told us what a loser we were simply pushed us over the edge.

That’s why God’s faithful people must never ever be guilty of discouraging people.  We are encouragers.  Our patron saint–so to speak–is Barnabas, whose very name means “Mr. Encourager.”  In his 1972 book Saints Alive! the wonderful Huber Drumwright said of this man, Barnabas was a man who spent himself encouraging others, especially those in the service of Christ.  he stands in the background of the New Testament story, but those he helped (Paul, John Mark) certainly came to the forefront in the Christian cause. The ministry of encouraging others, developing their spiritual potential, is open to all believers even today, and the spirit of Barnabas is needed everywhere…. Somebody is just waiting to be encouraged to invest his life for Christ.

Who needs your encouragement?  What’s stopping you from giving it?

What sarcastic barbs have you endured lately?  What are you going to do with them?


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