What’s the Big Deal About Affirmation?
About the Guest
Can you recall the last time you praised someone? What about the last time you were praised? Pastor Sam Crabtree talks about the power of praise and affirmation, and shares a story about a troubled student of his long-ago who was transformed with a few simple compliments.
Sam CrabtreeSam Crabtree is a former public-school teacher. He is currently Chairman of the Board at Bethlehem College and Seminary, and Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He is the author of Practicing Affirmation and Parenting with Loving Correction: Practical Help for Raising Young Children. Sam has been married to his wife Vicki since 1973. And has written her a daily note for over 40 years.
Can you recall the last time you praised someone?
What’s the Big Deal About Affirmation?
Bob: Have you affirmed anyone with your words today? Do you even know what that means? Here’s pastor and author Sam Crabtree.
Sam: To affirm another person is not just to be nice to them. You could give money to somebody, and that’s nice; but that doesn’t affirm them for something they’ve done. You’ve been a blessing to them. You give them a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. That’s a blessing, but you haven’t affirmed them.
To affirm them is to recognize some behavior, some pattern, that is in them and call it out. Call attention to that good thing with words.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, August 22nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife® Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk today about how we can use our words, our tongues, to build up, encourage, and edify others. Stay with us.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
Dennis: Bob, have we’ve ever had anybody who has been a master of something on the broadcast before?
Bob: A master of—well, yes. We’ve had a lot of guests who are very proficient at whatever it is they are talking about or they’ve done in their life. We’ve had master fishermen on here. You love talking to—
Bob: —the hunters and the fishermen.
Bob: We’ve had some pretty heavy-hitter professionals.
Dennis: Some master song writers.
Bob: Song writers and athletes. We’ve had some outstanding athletes who’ve been guests on FamilyLife Today.
Bob: Yes, we’ve had some real masters.
Dennis: Master coaches like Tony Dungy.
Bob: We’ve had master trivia people. Well, I guess that’s me every day, doing the master trivia stuff. Right?
Dennis: I would agree with that. I’m not going to argue with you.
Well, you know what? Our guest on today’s program, Sam Crabtree, is the first master practitioner of affirmation—
Bob: The art of affirmation.
Dennis: That’s right. He is the master practitioner of affirmation. I’d like to welcome Sam to the broadcast.
Sam: Lord, have mercy on these generous descriptions.
If I was a really a master and convinced of that, I wouldn’t have written a chapter in there about my failures.
Bob: Are you just doing this to affirm him as you introduce him on the broadcast?
Dennis: Well, you know I hadn’t thought of that.
Sam: Well done. Well done.
Dennis: It worked. It worked. He has written a book called Practicing Affirmation. Now, think about putting your name on a book. The only other topic that I think would be more challenging to live up to would be practicing humility and put your name on it.
Bob: And how I obtained it.
Dennis: Authored by, you know? Sam has done a great job with this work. I’m really looking forward to our conversation Sam, as I told you—
Sam: Me too.
Dennis: —because I do think this topic owes its value to its scarcity. Sam is a former school teacher. He is the Executive Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities area up in Minnesota. Little pastor up there by the name of John Piper, who is a master teacher, I think. Don’t you, Bob?
Bob: I do.
Dennis: How did you come to be this master practitioner of affirmation?
Sam: Well, thanks, Dennis and Bob, for giving a subject like this some air time because I really am deeply convinced it’s very important to every human being who has ever lived, is now living, and will ever live. I think people all over the place are thirsty for just a little bit. “Somebody appreciate that I’m even trying even if I fail.”
It’s in offices, it’s in marriages, it’s in churches, it’s everywhere. People just wish that someone would give them a pat on the back about something because we’ve not all washed out totally. God has not forsaken all of us.
Dennis: William James said, “The greatest need of the human heart is the need to be appreciated.” I’ve thought about that many times. I think it’s just good for someone to put their hand on your shoulder and say, as I’ve said to Bob, “Bob, I just appreciate you for your friendship, the high quality work you do here on FamilyLife Today, and the great job you did on The Art of Marriage®.” Bob always listens to me when I say that.
Sam: Yes, that is one of the principles that drives me; is that, I do believe that people tend to be influenced by those who praise them, which explains why the teenager whose parents never give him any credit for anything and he’s maybe not athletic; so, the coaches don’t recruit him. He isn’t musical; so, the band teacher doesn’t really want him in the band. He’s maybe not academically inclined; so, he’s not getting any kudos for his grades; but when he did the graffiti on the bridge, the gang yucked it up.
So, now, who’s got influence on this guy? Those who praise him, those who yuck it up.
Or the man who’s marriage is a little dry, little dusty, and his wife doesn’t appreciate him; but that secretary at work, she notices little things, makes little comments, and appreciates him. Who’s got influence?
Sam: The one who’s praising him.
Bob: How did this idea dawn on you? Do you remember a time when you kind of pulled back and said, “You know, I’m recognizing something here that I’ve not always been aware of?”
Sam: Well, over the years, I’ve noticed it even back decades ago when I was teaching in the public schools. I had a student that I’ll call Wayne. He was exactly the kind of young man that I talked about earlier. He wasn’t athletic. He wasn’t musical. He wasn’t academic. He was from a broken home. He was actually anti-social. He was destructive of school property. From day one in school, he would say, “I hate school and everybody there!” He acted that way.
So, I had an agreement with the administration: any fatherless boys I’d like to have them in my class. The administration was happy to go along with that.
Bob: I bet.
Sam: School full of women teachers, and I was male. I may not be better than those women teachers at a thousand things, but I’m a little better at being a male than they are.
So, I had Wayne in my class. I want Wayne to listen to me not because I know everything or I’m perfect. I just think it’s going to go better for him in his life if he listens to a teacher who’s interested in his well-being. So, how am I going to get his attention? I thought—I do believe already at this time, years ago, people are influenced by those who commend them. So, what can I commend in this boy?
So, I’d given an assignment to the students. I’m working my way around the classroom answering questions of those who’d raised their hands and needed some help or something. I’m always keeping one eye on Wayne. I happened to notice that, though, he was not doing his assignment; he wasn’t killing anybody. I thought, “I’ll take it. I’ll take it.” We can work from there. Build from there in incremental baby steps, as it were.
So, I made my way over, came up from behind him, and I put my hand on his shoulder. He jerked his head around to look at me like “What did I do now” which was usually the case. Usually, he had done something—
Sam: —had been doing something—
Sam: —was up to trouble. He wasn’t. He was just daydreaming out the window. That was all he was doing, just daydreaming. I said, “I can tell that you are deep in thought. I like that about a guy, a guy who is a thinker.” I patted him on the shoulder and walked off. He gave me this look on his face that I can still remember with emotion that “So, that’s what it is like to get a compliment.”
Sam: I think there are people all over the place who are thirsty, “Would somebody please appreciate something about me?” I wasn’t making a big deal out of it, you know? “Oh, you’ll be Valedictorian or something; just, you’re thinking that’s good.”
Bob: So, when you saw that expression on his face and you could tell it was like water on a parched ground, did that get your wheels spinning and go, “If I do more of this, we can make a difference here.”
Sam: Yes, it is everywhere. It’s with young people. It’s with adults. It’s with your own kids. It’s with your own parents. It’s in church controversies. There are some people who will tone back, ratchet back, tune down the volume and intensity of disputes if they’re appreciated for some of the good that they are also doing in the middle of whatever this dispute is.
Dennis: It is something that really needs to be raised in terms of the dialogue today within the Christian community. We’re so often known by what we’re against and by what we can point our bony fingers at. You’re just calling people to step up and be positive and not always be critical, but to speak words of encouragement to people.
I want to take a step back and assume nothing. Let’s say you’ve got a group of first graders that you’re teaching. Explain to that group of first graders in your class what it means to affirm another person.
Sam: To affirm another person is not just to be nice to them. You could give money to somebody, and that’s nice; but that doesn’t affirm them for something they’ve done. You’ve been a blessing to them. You give them a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. That is a blessing, but you haven’t affirmed them.
To affirm them is to recognize some behavior, some pattern, that’s in them and call it out. Call attention to that good thing with words and say so. “Good job.” “I like—first grader, I like the way you shared with your neighbor, good.” “I like the way you are giving me your attention right now. Attentiveness, that’s a good thing.” “You are on time when you come to school every morning. You’re punctuality is a good quality about you.”
So, affirmation looks back and latches onto something that has been done. You recognize something that has been done. That is a little different than encouragement, which can be cheerleading that looks forward and says, “You can do it! You can go! Come on win the game!” “You can get this degree.”
Sam: Affirmation looks back—
Sam: —at a reality that’s been seen and recognizes it and says, “That was good.” Specifically, what I argued for in the book, I called “God-centered praise of those who are not God,” especially point out character qualities. “Commend the commendable,” I say, which is see some quality that is in Jesus and how that’s replicated in other beings, in other people.
Dennis: That was going to be my question in following up was “Is it always because of something they do, because of who they are, or is it both?”
Sam: Sometimes, it can be something that somebody else has done. So, for example, Easter is a time when lots of little girls are wearing pretty dresses, bows, and lots of things. You could just say, “Well, that’s a pretty dress.” That’d be true, and that’d be fine. There’s no sin in that. I’m not against that kind of thing.
Or you could say to a little girl, “Someone must love you to give you nice clothes like that.” That draws attention to somebody else, what they’ve done, and that they love you. You’re a recipient of this grace that’s coming to you. I’m noticing that is in you, and you do look nice. So, it is a compliment to them, but it goes right through them, right past them. It ricochets off of them and goes to the one who actually did something godly like be generous.
Bob: They may not have thought about the fact that this nice dress is an expression of love; that’s just the dress that Mommy put on their bed.
Bob: Now, all of the sudden, they may pull back and think, “You know, somebody does love me. I never really thought about the provision of clothing as a statement of love.” It might awaken in them a sense of gratitude that wasn’t there before.
Sam: Yes. Back at the beginning of the program, Dennis was talking about how people are needing to be affirmed, to be appreciated. Bob needs to be appreciated, and people need to be appreciated. That’s true. That is missing. Something else that’s missing is the opportunity for people who know and love God to give Him the praise for what He’s doing all the time, everywhere, in all the relationships that are around us.
So, as we were having lunch recently, we looked out the window, and we remarked on the beauty on those heavens. The Bible says, “The heavens are declaring the glory of God.” In the same way, God doesn’t get honor if we don’t say, “Wow! God did that sky out there. Isn’t He amazing?!”
He doesn’t get honor from us if we don’t look around at the people that are around us, see what He’s doing in them, and say, “Wow! He’s really making her a generous person. He’s really making him a courageous man. He’s really making that child a creative, little person in His image.” So, God doesn’t get honor for things we don’t give Him honor for. He doesn’t get the honor in the same way.
So, there’s a shortage of people doing these things. Therefore, the people are languishing for lack of affirmation; and God doesn’t get the credit that belongs to Him because He’s been at work all along.
Bob: Is there a difference between affirming someone and flattering someone?
Sam: Oh, my! Yes, there’s good affirmation, and there’s bad flattery.
Dennis: What’s bad flattery?
Sam: The distinction line that I’ll try to make here; and it’s a fine line. It calls for judgment. You could say to someone—you could affirm them for some character quality you see God developing in them. You don’t care if they do anything for you ever. You have no investment in it. You are doing it because it is right for you. You just think, “God, this is the right thing for me to say to them; so, I’m going to say this to them. It’s right.”
Or you could do it because you want a payback. Usually, flattery goes there. The young man that says to the pretty little thing, “My aren’t you lovely,” wants something, probably. Wants some relationship, some kind of relationship, or some favor from her. Then, flattery can be exaggerated, and it can be fallacious. It can, actually, be a lie. A salesman can make lying, flattering statements to a person; and that’s not what I’m talking about.
Bob: So, it’s manipulative. It’s got an agenda with it, whereas, affirmation—you’re saying something that is true and observable with no desire to benefit from what you’ve just said.
Sam: Well, I wouldn’t say it that way because I think you will benefit from being an affirming person, but you don’t expect the benefit to come right back from the person you are affirming. So, when Jesus said, “If you give so much as a cup of water to a little one, you won’t lose your reward.” He’s interested in us being interested in a reward, but you don’t get it from the little one. You get it from God.
There is a self interest in this affirmation. I make no secret about that in the book. This is good for the person doing the affirming. You win. You gain a hearing, among other things, if you do affirming. That’s not the same as trying to manipulate or have an agenda. You said it very well. You should write a book on this or something.
Bob: You’re very affirming, but I’m thinking about the marriages and the families that we talk to every day. How many issues, Dennis, in a marriage and family do you think if you dug below the surface there hasn’t been any affirmation of anybody there for years?
Dennis: Well, the nature of human relationships is to move to spotting the negative, pointing out the failures. The tongue becomes an ice pick rather than a paint brush. Instead of painting the glory of God on somebody’s life, we chip away at their dignity. I think what Sam’s calling us back to is “Hey, speak some words of appreciation, affirmation, and praise to your spouse.” I’m going to ask both of you guys this question, alright? Sam, Bob, what words of affirmation are most meaningful to you?
Sam: The one that jumps right into my mind is anything that’s smatters of Christ like, especially if they use that language. “You strike me as being a Christian person.” I’ve had a few of those unsolicited remarks in my life. I go away, and I weep because God is at work in this profoundly broken sinner.
The other two things—I ask people to pray often. “How can I pray for you, Sam?” Two things right away. One is wisdom because I’m not naturally wise. I’m a fool. The other is love because even if I were to do some wise things I could do them for selfish motivations instead for the good of others. So, if someone says, “I want to ask you a question, Sam, because I want to ask it of a wise man.” I’m going, “God must be at work—”
Dennis: Yes. Right.
Sam: “—because that isn’t me.” “You’re a loving man.” “Wow! Somebody’s been praying for me then.”
Sam: Those who said, “How can I pray for you?” They must have really followed through. So, thank God for their faithfulness.
Dennis: Bob, what about you?
Bob: I was thinking in general categories and thinking, there are things that all of us do that we’d like to think we’re good at, at some level. “This is something I can do, and I’m okay at it.” So, I think when somebody comes along and acknowledges, not just with a general—like somebody might come up and say, “I heard your radio program. You guys do a great radio program.” Well, that’s nice.
When somebody comes up and says, “I was listening the other day. You asked this question of the guest, and it was exactly what I was thinking. I thought, “How does he know the right questions to ask?” Now, when somebody says something like that—
Sam: You do that by the way.
Dennis: He does. He absolutely does.
Bob: —when somebody affirms you in that kind of role, you go, “That’s what I’m hoping.” It does affirm the sense that I’m trying to do these things and somebody is saying, “You’re not just trying. It’s working. It’s succeeding.” That is water to the soul to go, “I’m not laboring in vain, but it’s making a difference.” I think that’s where it comes for me.
Dennis: Yes. I am listening to you guys answer the question; I have to tell you this story. I would not have said this about myself had it not been for someone who really affirmed me a couple of months ago. I was working on my book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood; and I was in the process of finishing it with a guy here at FamilyLife who’s a writer whose name is Tim. Tim had been in the trenches with me helping me with this, not just for months but for years. This book twelve years to write.
So, it’s not like Tim and I had shared a bunker for awhile. He hadn’t been—
Sam: How long does it take to read?
Dennis: Yes, exactly. Well, it doesn’t take twelve years to read, I promise you that. Near the end of one of the sessions, Tim looked at me (I could get emotional about this too. I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of this. I really don’t). He said, “You are really a kind person.”
I went, “Wow! That’s a work of God.”
Sam: For a Type A.
Dennis: Yes. That’s a great thing to have said about you by somebody on the planet at sometime in your lifetime—
Dennis: —not multiple times, just once.
Dennis: It really illustrates what you’re talking about: not just the compliment that you are kind, loving, or that you know how to ask a question; but you know where the skill came from to do it. It was the work of God in your soul.
So, here’s the assignment for all the listeners today: before you put your head on a pillow, find a way to deposit a great compliment, a great word of affirmation, a great word of praise, on a person’s life and make sure they know you mean it. Then, step back because what Sam said, You’ll benefit. You will be blessed because of that.
Bob: I think if you want this to be more than just a one-time occurrence, if you want to cultivate a habit and grow in grace as you affirm others, it would be helpful to get a copy of Sam’s book, Practicing Affirmation, which we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can find out more about the book online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Again, go to the FamilyLife Today Resource Center online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Look for information about Sam Crabtree’s book, Practicing Affirmation. You may want to go through this book together with others and use it as a small group study. In fact, speaking of small group studies, our HomeBuilders Series® of studies for couples—we have a study on building up your spouse, how you practice affirmation in a marriage relationship.
All of our Homebuilder titles during the month of August are available at a 25 percent discount. So, if you’d like to find out more about how you can order some of the HomeBuilders studies at a savings; or again, find out more about Sam Crabtree’s book, Practicing Affirmation; go online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call us toll-free at 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then, the word “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk more about how we can practice affirmation in marriage and in all of our relationships. Sam Crabtree is going to be back with us. Hope you can be back as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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