Piper's Foreword to Crabtree's Practicing Affirmation

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Foreword: Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God

The point of being created in the image of God is that human beings are destined to display God. That’s what images do. And the point of being redeemed by Jesus, and renewed after the image of our Creator, is to recover this destiny.

But why? Surely not so that God’s handiwork in his people would go unnoticed or unpraised. If God is sovereign, and every good gift is from above, then not praising the good in others is a kind of sacrilege and soul-sickness.

When our mouths are empty of praise for others, it is probably because our hearts are full of love for self. This is what I mean by soul-sickness. C. S. Lewis was surely right when he wrote,

The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least. (Reflections on the Psalms, 1958, p. 94)

Sam’s book is a healing balm for cranks, misfits, and malcontents who are so full of self they scarcely see, let alone celebrate, the simple beauties of imperfect virtue in others. Or to say it differently: I need this book.

The absence of affirmation for God’s handiwork in his people is also a kind of sacrilege—for at least three reasons.

First, it is disobedience to God’s command, “A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30). And I can’t think of any reason this does not apply in principle to God-fearing men.

Second, it demeans Jesus as though he were stooping to do something unworthy when he says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21, 23). If he says it, should we consider it beneath us to say it?

Third, all the works of God are worthy of praise. And there is no good in anyone but by the work of God (1 Cor. 4:7; 15:10j).

It gets deeper. Sam says, “The best affirmation is rooted not only in the character of God but in the gospel.” Which means that every glimmer of good in the life of God’s children is blood-bought. Jesus died to make it possible. What does it say about us if he died to bring it about, and we don’t consider it worth praising? That is, to say it again, I need this book.

Of course there are pitfalls and problems. What’s the difference between good praise and bad flattery? What about the fact that in the Bible God’s people never say, “Thank you,” to each other, but only to God for each other? What about the danger of encouraging someone’s craving for human praise, which Jesus so clearly condemns? Is it okay to want to be on the receiving end of good affirmation? What about unbelievers who are not “being renewed after the image of their Creator”? When should we praise them? Or should we not? Sam tackles every one of these issues head on. It is not a superficial book.

But it is practical. Incredibly practical—with dozens of illustrations and applications to the workplace and marriage and parenting and friendships and ministry. And, of course, that’s what I would expect from Sam Crabtree. He lives this book. I have worked at Sam’s side on the staff of our church since 1997. Which means I have been on the receiving end of unremitting God-focused affirmation. Not without correction. And so, yes, there is a section in the book on that too.

I thank God for you, Sam. I pray that we can finish well together. You have taught me more than you know. You have written a one-of-a-kind book. I have no doubt that in the last day this book will be one of the many reasons the Lord Jesus to will say to you, “Well done.”