Practicing Affirmation

Our Lord Jesus Christ

Our Lord Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zechariah 8:16 “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace.”

In your heart of hearts, what do you long to hear God say, once you’ve arrived at the end of your race? Jesus taught that at the final judgment God’s children will receive affirmation that their faith was not in vain when the Father pronounces, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” This is good news. We’ll know that we have run our race well. But it is a long road to the end. We have to wait and live out our faith with fear and trembling.

Presently, we have God’s Spirit, which affirms in our hearts and minds the truth of who we are in Christ, but this is not all. We are commanded to speak the truth in Love and we often think this only means telling people the ugly truth. But God commands us to build one another up with our judgments.

Ephesians 4:15 “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Zechariah 7:9“Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another,”

God is a God of judgment. God pronounces judgment on everything that pleases him and displeases Him. Judgment is not merely a negative action. In our modern Christian culture, judgment as become a purely adverse term. But acquittal is a judgment, not guilty is a judgment, innocent is a judgment and righteous is a judgment. Judgment can be positive. God’s judgment is either condemnation of behavior that is contrary to Him or affirmation that people are glorifying Him and should continue in the direction they are going.

We must speak truthfully with one another about these two paths. We must rebuke but we also must affirm. God pronounces judgment; good and bad. God affirms that which pleases Him and condemns that which is contrary to His nature. Both are necessary. We must imitate God in our judgments by affirming that which glorifies Him and declaring evil what does not.

God practices affirmation. At creation, at the end of each day, God pronounced judgment and said “it is good.” Scripture says that Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord and was spared from the flood. Noah’s righteousness was affirmed through mercy. God called David a Man after His own Heart. The Father affirmed Jesus in Matt. 3:17 at Christ’s baptism; “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus affirmed the grace of God in people. His judgment of Nathanael in John 1:47 was, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” That is quite a judgment coming from the one who did not sin. Jesus affirmed and praised the faith of the Centurion, the Canaanite woman, Mary and the crowd when he healed the paralytic. Jesus affirmed God’s active grace in the lives of his followers and so should we.

We must imitate God and affirm that which pleases and glorifies Him. Here are some examples of judgments that build up. Praising people who are letting their light shine so brightly, that when people see their good works they glorify our Father in heaven; Matthew 5:16. Recognizing genuine faith; 1st Corinthians 11:19. Showing people respect for fulfilling their God-given office by God-given strength; 2nd Corinthians 8:16.

Praise is perverted when we praise the wrong things; when that which is being praised is elevated above the glory of God or when we accept praise without the glad admission that God is the source of the good we’ve done. Biblical affirmation recognizes God as the source of maturity; it refreshes the affirmed and opens doors to address sin.

The very first thing we have to understand is that…

Affirmation recognizes God as the source of maturity

God-centered affirmations point toward the echoes, shadows, and reality of a righteousness not intrinsic to the person being affirmed. The fruits of the spirit are gifts that are worked into us from outside. Without reaching full maturity, these fruits are nevertheless commendable, and should be praised. We can truthfully say to someone, “God is helping you become more . . .” and fill in the blank with qualities such as: diligent, cheerful and humble.

While growth in character is commendable, God must be identified as the source. We are called to praise the works of God. God’s works are not merely creational. The Apostles asked Jesus what the work of God was and Jesus answered, “that you believe.” God’s work is our faith. He disciplines us with Grace. And faith in people is a work of God that ought to be praised.

If we mature, we mature because Christ, through his spirit, is leading us further up and further into obedience. By affirming that, we avoid puffing up the one we are affirming. It is not wicked to recognize that people are living and moving in Christ and that it’s due to Christ’s activity in their life that they are growing up in the faith. Affirmation is powerful. It reinforces. To affirm is to assign value. Are you affirming your children and spouse in the things of the world or the things of God? There is no problem, whatsoever, with being complimentary. It’s natural for some people and it’s a valuable quality. But what are you consistently complimenting?

If you are always telling your daughter how pretty she is and never complimenting her on any other virtue, what are you placing the most value on? If you are always telling your son how strong and big he is, without affirming any fruits of the spirit, what is he going to place the most value on? If you never notice your wife’s diligence or stewardship but always notice the quality of her pork chops, what is she going to think matters more to you?

I know most of us use everyday affirmations, but what is the sum total of our affirmations, what are they fixated on? The things we prefer or the active grace of God in other people’s lives? Biblical affirmation places the focus on God; the true source of our holiness. Our praise can confuse people and lead them to stumble if it is done in such a way that it leaves the Lord out of the picture. Don’t just tell people how great they are. Tell people how Godly they are. Tell people that you see the grace of God in their life.

Now I am not saying that you have to couch every compliment in such explicitly Christ-centered terms that you leave the person out. Give people praise for their patience and use it as a means to point out that God is with them and shaping them in His image. Affirmations may include things like: “I give thanks to God that you are so patient with me,” Or, “You are really growing in self-control and it is a blessing from God.”

Another way to affirm people is to point out God’s response to prayer. If I pray with my son that he would be more diligent and he is, then I affirm both his growth, as well as God’s grace, when I point out that he is, in fact, growing in diligence. He sees, not only that God hears our prayers, but knows I appreciate his work at being more diligent.

Also, I am not saying that you talk this way to everyone you meet and greet. This takes wisdom to apply. Giving this kind of praise is like getting praise; when you receive compliments. Failing to recognize who is maturing you in the faith is dangerous and self-righteous. If a co-worker tells you how diligent you are, don’t just beam with pride. Be humble and tell them why. Say something like, “It’s amazing when God answers my prayers to be more like Him.” When people tell my wife and I how great our kids are we always thought the humble thing to do was to downplay it or dismiss it. But we are learning to do this. It’s why I chose this topic. Its degrading the grace of God to dismiss His blessing manifested in one another.

Sam Crabtree in Practicing Affirmation uses the angel Gabriel addressing Mary as an example. “Gabriel is not stealing praise from God by singling out Mary for a commendation uttered to only one woman in all of human history, by saying, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). He affirms her by (1) greeting her (a simple practice overlooked in many homes to the detriment of many relationships); (2) describing her as favored—she has earned nothing, can boast in nothing, and has passively received this bestowal, yet it is an honor to be savored, to be sure; and (3) declaring that the Lord is with her, for her, proactive on her behalf. Again, Mary is distinguished from all other women as being “favored,” and yet ultimately God gets the honor, for he is the one doing the favoring, the gracing, the bestowing.”

Do not praise people just to praise them. If God blesses you through people; the patience of your spouse or the self-sacrifice of a friend, then pass judgment on it. Praise the tool and praise the gracious hand wielding that tool. Show your spouse, your fellow Christians and your family that you see the active Grace of God in their lives. Recognize the maturing process and point, always, at the one who is growing others up in the Faith. Point those you are affirming toward God, by affirming them in His Grace.

By practicing Affirmation we glorify God and…

Refresh Those We Affirm

You all know the struggle and strain of Sanctification; the process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ. It’s tough. The more we mature in our knowledge and relationship with God, the more aware we grow of our own sin and the more we agonize over it. Our sins pain us more and more. The longer we are on this earth fighting them, the harder it can seem to overcome them.

How many of you have felt like you are in a dry and barren land, making mistake after mistake just like Israel? Hating what you’re doing and struggling to stop doing it? We all know the strain of repentance, confession and humility. Dying to ourselves to live for Christ can be agonizing, that’s why it’s called dying. The cross we are called to bear, if we are honest, is heavy. For me it is too often too heavy to even lift off the ground to drag down the road after Christ. The race seems far too long and far too difficult. In our own strength it always is. But we turn to Christ and ask for the power of His spirit to run.

And in that struggle and fight God as provided us with teammates, who are called to stand at the edge of the road and give us refreshment on our journey. To cheer us on. To tell us how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. That is your role for one another. It’s my role for you; to meet you where you are on your journey and give you a drink of water and an encouraging word, “keep running, you’re doing great.” God has provided us with one another, to speak his words into one another’s life as encouragement and refreshment.

Now, I am not saying that we should affirm and reassure one another in sins. Our words should never seek to justify and puff up. Our words are meant to build up; to tell one another how far and how well we’re running our race and to tell one another when we’ve gotten off route and how far we still have to run before we’re done. The point here is not to tell one another we’re doing alright merely to help one another feel better about our struggles. We are called to honestly judge each other and speak the truth in love to one another. This requires confronting sins and affirming the active grace of God in one another’s lives.

I didn’t plant the tree in my backyard. But there it is and in the summer when it’s hot I have to give it water or it dies. Those trees of righteousness to your right and left were planted by God and are yours to water.  They are constantly being attacked by the scorching east wind of accusation. Satan is regularly fertilizing the sin of doubt, frustration and unbelief and it’s up to each of us to weed with rebuke and refresh one another with affirmation.

Proverbs 3:27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

Galatians 6:10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Zechariah 8:16 “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace.”

What greater good can we do one another than refresh and affirm the grace of God visible in one another’s lives? Than offer one another peace in the midst of our struggles by affirming God’s presence and sanctification? If you see something, say something. Send a letter, e-mail, text, Facebook update or call them. If you recognize Grace it ought to be honored and praised because it reinforces people on the front lines of the spiritual war they’re engaged in. The fruits of the Spirit are a glorious treat. But we are too often ungrateful for the refreshing produce. Don’t be passive consumers. Be active approvers. Who better appreciates the struggles and successes of a wife and mother than another wife and mother, the struggles and successes of a grandparent, than another grandparent.  If you see something, say something. Don’t let each other languish. Give each other refreshment.

Bonheoffer wrote in His excellent book Life Together; “When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged…He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.”

God has given us one another so that we can hold up the word of God to one another, as a mirror. This is another truth often taken solely in the negative sense. We aren’t just holding the word up to show each other how awful we are. Sometimes we are holding that word up to remind each other in whose image we are being forged. To show one another hat we are more mature than we were a year ago and to refresh one another in the heat of the refining furnace. We often feel like we are in the desert wandering alone through difficult seasons in our lives, it ought to be our brothers and sisters who bring us a word of refreshment; a word of affirmation and encouragement.

If you are blessed by the fruit in another Christian’s life, than bless them by affirming God’s active grace in them. Build them up. Stir them up to good works. Enrich and refresh them by judging them and calling the fruits of God’s spirit, good.  Give them peace of mind by affirming God’s grace in their life. Don’t be refreshed by another person’s fruit and good works without blessing them in return.

Another benefit of Affirmation is that it…

Opens Doors to Address Sin

Now we are all called to speak the truth in love to one another. Addressing sin and calling one another to repentance is right and good. We are commanded to do so. But I assert here that regularly refreshing others and affirming the active grace of God in them puts you on a better footing if you need to also address sin. Who are you more likely to listen to? Someone who regularly criticizes you and always finds fault with you? Or someone who regularly builds you up with encouragement? Aren’t you more likely to listen to someone who is obviously paying attention to your life, calling the good, good and the bad, bad?

The importance of affirmation does not remove the place of correction. We’re going to live with sinners. We’re going to marry a sinner. Our children are sinners. Our parents are sinners. The people around us are going to pull boneheaded moves, and in love it will sometimes be our place to point them out. But think of it this way: give so many affirmations as a pattern, a way of life, that you gain a reputation for it; that you are known for your affirmations, not your criticisms and corrections.

In Acts 4:36 Barnabas is called the “son of encouragement.” What’s your reputation? Mr. Crabby Pants? Old Lady Battle-Axe? Miss Nit-Pick? You are trying to encourage the growth of fruit and weeding is meaningless if you are never fertilizing and watering the plant. Be so well known for your affirmations that when the rebuke does come it has weight. It has power. The rebuke of an avid affirmer is more powerful than a constant criticizer.

I am not saying that you cannot rebuke or address sin unless the person who is sinning feels nothing but warm loving feelings about you. What I am saying is that affirmation builds a better platform from which to better address sin. Because, the person who is being rebuked is more likely to trust you and honor your words. Because the rebuke of an affirming person is more powerful. Also, I am not saying that your defense to a rebuke should be citing a lack of affirmation. I am talking about relationships. God tells us to build one another up and that is easier to do if we are regular affirmers.

It’s like a cat I received as a present when I was about 10. It was a scratcher. Every time you wanted to pet it or snuggle it or play, its default reaction to everything was scratching. Put food in the bowl; get a scratch. Lay down to sleep; get a scratch. Walk by its bed; get a scratch. Bob a sock before its eyes; get a scratch. I got rid of that cat after a month or so and I have never considered owning a cat since. That is what a constant critic is like. If every time your husband comes home, he gets a nasty ear full, your words of rebuke lose their affect and he’ll sign up for overtime. Likewise with your children. If the dinner table is a place where they are raked over the coals of disapproval every night, they will stop showing up as soon as they can. If evenings, after the kid’s are in bed, are full of scrutiny over your wife’s housekeeping skills you will find that time fill up quickly with TV, book clubs, Pilates and facebooking. People are not just going to avoid the words of criticism, they will avoid the critic. Affirmation is a means of softening the hearts of your spouses, children, friends and co-workers. It opens lines of communication. A consistently critical or disingenuous attitude closes lines of communication.

Sam Crabtree writes in Practicing Affirmation. “One reason for rebellious kids and broken marriages is that we have homes where seldom is heard an encouraging word. Without encouraging words, the kids and spouse won’t be built up and tuned in. Even if a person understands…human development, the theology of man and sin, the best child-rearing practices, and the difference between right from wrong, the people around him are likely to stop hearing him over time if he doesn’t practice affirmation toward them. When overwhelmed by correctives, insufficient affirmation can leave your influence held hostage.”

Don’t merely rely on your authority to rebuke. Being generous in affirmation builds people up and it gives your rebuke weight. If your reputation is that of an encourager and active affirmer, than your rebukes are going to go way up in value. No husband listens to the nagging wife. Kids never hear the barking parent. Wives place no value on the opinion of the hostile husband. Friends won’t listen to correction when they’ve never heard encouragement. Affirmation is a very practical and very God honoring form of speech that builds up people and relationships. It opens ears and it opens hearts.

Conclusion

Speak the truth in love. Judge one another but remember Jesus’ command in John 7:24; “judge with a right judgment.” Praise the works of God. Build one another up with words of life and love by praising the active grace of God in each other’s lives.

Don’t compliment people based solely on your preferences. Meditate through scripture on those things that please God, that result from his active love working in and through the people you know.  Build others up. Look around you and see the active grace of God.

God judges, but we see in scripture this isn’t all bad news or harsh pronouncements. The Father praises the Son. The Son praises the works of the Father. Jesus praised and affirmed faith, humility and good works when He witnessed them. He gave thanks for the fruits of the spirit that He enjoyed while He walked among us and He did so, by judging those fruits to be good and giving adoration to His father who caused the fruit to grow.

We all wonder and struggle with lies from the evil one. We must refresh one another with affirmations of God’s active grace. We must build one another up. Don’t be a constant criticizer. Refresh your spouse, your children and your neighbor. Gain a reputation as a relentless encourager. That way, you give Glory to God, you refresh your parched neighbor and you give weight to your rebukes. Speak the truth in Love. Give God praise. Build one another up. Affirm the fruits of the Spirit and give honor to the one from whom all blessings flow.

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