Do you want to change the whole world with bite-sized steps? Affirm people. They're starving for it. We live in a highly critical age when civility has been replaced with sharp-tongued sarcasm. We celebrate witty criticism far more than we celebrate affirmation, but affirming people is a missing ingredient to deeper relationships, mutual emotional healing and, basically, a better world all the way around.
You can most likely identify with what it feels like to live in a vacuum of praise. Statistically—and hopefully you're an exception—you probably grew up lacking genuine affirmation from your mom or dad. You've probably worked in an atmosphere where correction was far more plentiful than congratulations on a job well done, especially when the "performance review" rolls around. You may have even been labeled a rebel or a juvenile delinquent by teachers, school administrators or even the local police.
First let me clarify what affirmation is not:
- Empty flattery, words with no foundation in truth
- Appeasement or agreement
- Saying words without action, but saying words plus action
It's important to remember that correction isn't always bad. Criticism can be valuable, especially when coming from friends and family who are seeking our best interests. But nothing is more powerful to change our direction than affirmation.
One of the most important moments in the life of Jesus was His baptism. John the Baptist felt unworthy of the occasion but reluctantly immersed Jesus in the waters of the Jordan as an example to every future follower of the Messiah. When Jesus came up out of the water, something incredibly meaningful happened:
"And when Jesus was baptized, He came up immediately out of the water. And suddenly the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'" (Matt. 3:16-17).
When Jesus began His public ministry, God spoke into His life words of affirmation, words that celebrated their Father-Son relationship, words that conveyed value—and He did it publicly.
God didn't just do this with Jesus. He did it through a burning bush to Moses, through multiple anointings of King David and through the prophetic word to Jeremiah about his calling. He did it, through Jesus, in the life of Peter the rock, Paul the missionary to the Gentiles and John the disciple whom Jesus loved. God sees past our faults and our present messes to what He desires for us to be and calls us by that name. He lets us know that, once we've placed our trust in Him, He is pleased to call us His children no matter what because of what Jesus did on our behalf.
I have a teenage daughter and two little boys. When I read this passage, I can't help being reminded of how vital it is to the development of their hearts and their future success that they hear their dad say repeatedly: "You're my kid. I love you, and you bring me joy!"
I lead a church staff. They're amazing—and they need to know it. I love them as if they were family and believe great things about what God wants to do in, around and through them. They can change the world, and one of my chief responsibilities as pastor of Grace Hills Church is to remind the church's leadership that they're my friends, I love them and I'm grateful to be on the journey with them.
I bump into grumpy, depressed, agitated, scared, discouraged people in public, and you do too. They often need to know from a fellow human being that they matter to God, they are loved and they can make a difference in this world.
We are a divided people. We divide by race, religion, political platforms and cultural differences. And while words of affirmation won't necessarily stop wars or settle all conflicts, they can go a long way to add value to the lives of the people we meet every day. Our affirming spirits may just be contagious, go viral and change the whole world! So who's up next for you to affirm?
Brandon Cox is planting a Saddleback-sponsored congregation, Grace Hills Church, in northwest Arkansas. He serves as editor of pastors.com, where this article originally appeared, and Rick Warren's Pastors' Toolbox. He writes a top-100 blog for church leaders and is author of Rewired: Using Technology to Share God's Love.
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