Affirmation Done Well

Sam Crabtree, Executive Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis has just written an excellent book entitled Practicing Affirmation about the necessity of affirmation in the life of every person. He begins the book by focusing on that real affirmation starts when we honor God, for he is the one who has given us 'commendable qualities' we praise others and are praised for (18). The good character that grows as a person matures in their faith is part of continuing effect of saving grace wrought by God through his Son. Secondly, praise and affirmation for the good things people do and say is to by passed onto God (24). It can be very easy to fall into the trap of hearing very good affirmation and as a result being filled with pride and vainglory. Crabtree is careful not to withold praise and affirmation of unbelievers alike, for this 'calls attention to the undeserved grace that God has bestowed upon them in the form of faint echoes of Jesus...' (32).

As Crabtree notes in the second chapter, 'Blessing others is the calling of every Christian' (41). Through many biblical examples, Crabtree draws out the simple fact that refreshing others in affirmation causes ourselves to be affirmed as well. Although easy at first in close relationship, affirmation should not dwindle as time passes but remain a constant activity of every life. Yet, as we can all attest, it is many times much easier to offer a word of complaint or correction to our spouses, children, and co-workers. One clarification that I thought was helpful was Crabtree's insistence that real refreshment from affirmation is to be theirs and 'is to be real refreshment' (49). At this point, I could remember the times I bought my wife something or did something for her with the intent of brinding refreshing to her and in turn it was only what I thought she liked, not what she really enjoyed. Crabtree goes onto tell of a time when his 11 year old daughter shut her parent out for a time. Instead of seeking to figure out the problem and fix the thing, Crabtree slowly through the careful use of affirming words helped bring their daughter back to communication (56-58). The beauty of this story is that even when distress and conflict arises, affirmation calls others back to relationship rather than driving than away to despair.

Chapter 3 was particularly helpful for me in understanding the principles of why we should affirm others. Crabtree bears witness to the fact that affirmation 'lifts morale,' 'energizes people,' 'earns us the right standing from which to make suggestions,' and is a good use of time (72-76). If affirming others for their good character and deeds is part of our every day life, then those around us will also be refreshed to be a refreshment to others. I have noticed in my own life that being refreshed is a constant reminder of good things God is calling me to tackle. Sam's point regarding the relationship between affirmation and our making suggestions is a powerful point indeed from the standpoint of church and family relationships. Suggestions made in the context of home of berating and criticism often lead to distantce in relationships and the breakdown of families. Yet, affirmation can cause us to gain a hearing, not to break someone down, but to call them to live out a Christ-like manner in a even greater way.

Lastly, the chapter on Mistakes I Have Made is full of principles that relate affirmation to our growth as Christians. If we think that affirmation is for specific occasions and moments, Sam warns us that "Affirming others is not optional" (91). If we are able to bring together eloquent words about the majestic creation, how much more should we marvel at God's good work through his people in the building up of their character. Crabtree goes on in this chapter to make a helpful distinction between encouragement and affirmation. Affirmation "looks backward, confirming something that has already happened, already been observed. It commends a reality, not merely a hope," "Encouragement, like cheerleading, often aims for something that has not yet been done" (100). This is not to say that encouragement isn't good, but affirmation is more about the confirming good moral deeds done through the work of the Spirit that display God's work. Encouragement can easily fall into the praise of a future goal that does/does not have any relationship to the growth of character.

Overall, Crabtree's book is a an excellent picture of the purpose, goal, and beauty that comes from affirmation. Pastors, teachers, leaders, seminarians, and especially those who are married (with or without kids) would greatly benefit from a reading of Sam's book.

Thanks to Crossway for providing a copy of this book to review