How to Love and Motivate People by Affirming Them
Want to change the whole world with small, bite-sized steps? Affirm people. We’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, where affirmation is hard to come by. Statistically (and hopefully you’re an exception), you probably grew up lacking genuine affirmation from Mom and/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. And you may have even been labeled a rebel or a juvenile delinquent by teachers, school administrators, or even the local police.
Let me clarify, first of all, what affirmation is not.
- Affirmation isn’t empty flattery – words with no foundation in truth.
- Affirmation isn’t appeasement or agreement, especially with actual error.
- Affirmation isn’t saying words without action, but saying words plus action.
In other words, correction isn’t always bad. Criticism can be very valuable, especially when coming from friends and family who are seeking our best interests. And all of us need to face our faults now and then so we can work on our habits and patterns for a healthier life. But almost nothing is more powerful to change our direction than affirmation.
One of the most important moments in the life of Jesus was his baptism. It was the initiation of his official, public ministry. 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. And when Jesus came up out of the water, something incredibly meaningful happened, and we often pass over it quickly as we read the gospel accounts of it.
After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly beloved Son, who brings me joy.”
Matthew 3:16-17 NLT
When Jesus was just getting started in his public ministry, God showed up to speak into his life, words of affirmation, words that celebrated their Father-Son relationship, words that conveyed value. And he did it publicly, in front of people who would then decide to follow Jesus forever.
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 past our present messes to what he desires for us to be and calls us by that name. He lets us know that, because of what Jesus did on our behalf, once we’ve placed our trust in him, he is pleased to call us his children no matter what.
I have a teenage daughter and two little boys. When I read this passage, I can’t help but be reminded of just how vital it is to the development of their hearts and to their future success that they hear their Dad say, repeatedly, you’re my kid… I love you… and you bring me joy! Even when they’re in trouble for something, like whacking each other, telling a lie, or drawing weather maps on the wall in permanent marker, they still ought to know that I love them, that our relationship is solid, and that they bring me joy… even though they’re going to be punished in the short run.
I lead a church staff. They’re amazing. And they need to know it. I love them like 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 the 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. We find them checking people out in the grocery store line, pumping gas, paying bills, and trying to make it through life one way or another. 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. And our affirming spirits may just be contagious, go viral, and change the whole stinkin’ world!
So… who’s up next for you to affirm?
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