God-centered praise of those who are not God is not optional. A fire not stoked goes out. A refrigerator unplugged rots the eggs. A garden not tended erupts with weeds. Affirmation is the fire-stoking, refrigerator-electrifying, garden-tending side of relationships. Relationships in which commendable things are not commended, but overlooked, take on a flavor. The relationship is marked, and we take on a reputation to those around us.
Barnabas is called the “son of encouragement.” What’s my reputation? Mr. Crabby Pants? Old Lady Battle-Axe? Miss Nit-Pick? We bring refreshment to relationships when we unleash so many affirmations that those around us lose track.
I am not suggesting a checklist approach to life. Healthy affirming is more organic, a way of living. It’s more like romance than rocket science. It’s less like knitting (with its knit one, pearl two) and more like the weather – how much rain is enough? Well, that depends on how dry it’s been. And what are you trying to grow – a watermelon or a tumbleweed?
Jesus said, “As you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matthew 25:41) If you didn’t affirm them, you didn’t affirm him.
The thing that compounds a deficiency in affirmation is a surplus of corrections in a relationship. Corrections outweigh affirmations. They have greater impact individually. The sting of rebuke outweighs the fresh whiff of a bouquet of affirmations. A person sniffing flowers when a bee stings quickly forgets the flowers, even if the bouquet is very large. If a pattern of corrections is outweighing the affirmations, the sting stays with us, and added corrections are like picking at the scab made by the sting.
A rash word is like a sword thrust (Proverbs 12:18). It only takes a moment to cut somebody with a sword, but it takes a long time to heal, and is aided by ointment, and even then it might leave a scar. Affirmations are like ointment that can assist the healing.
When we don’t affirm those around us enough, they stop hearing our corrections, eventually stop listening to us altogether, and perhaps become oppositional toward us. Conversely, affirmations gain a hearing for us. The principle is this: people tend to be influenced by those who praise them. It’s true in marriages, families, classrooms, churches, and even true in our relationship with God, for what does he inhabit? Answer: the praises of his people.
Puritan Richard Baxter said, “They love those who best esteem them highest. The fault of these admirers can be extenuated and easily forgiven. If you would have his favor, let him hear that you have magnified him behind his back and that you honor him…”
John Calvin says, “We readily believe those whom we know to be desirous of our welfare, connecting the hearing of those around us with our manifest goodwill toward them, which is made manifest by commending them when they reflect Christ.”
Affirmation is the purpose of the universe – specifically affirmation of God. Lord, help me honor you and refresh others by commending the work you are doing in them.