The Power of Affirmation

Shavua TovOn Sunday evening I sent an old and dear friend of mine a quick email wishing him Shavua Tov!” for the upcoming week. Shavua Tov is a Hebrew blessing that means “May you have a good week; may you find the happiness you seek; may your week be fine; may it be as sweet as the Sabbath wine” (quote source here). My friendship with him goes back 18 years (I met him through a letter I sent to his ministry back in June 1995 and he personally responded to it) and I have always considered him to be a “male mentor” to me and sort of like an older brother. He’s in his early 70’s now and still going full bore. He has authored several books over the years; has a popular weekly radio program; is a very much sought after speaker and a former pastor (for 30 years, if I remember right); and he is also a Professor Emeritus at a seminary where he still teaches occasionally. He is also a much beloved husband, father, grandfather, and a friend to many (of which I count it an honor to be among them).

After sending him that blessing, I mentioned to him that it isn’t often in our own society where we actually “bless” others with a blessing. We may say things like “Have a nice day,” or something similar to that, but the expression is so rote anymore that it has lost it’s impact or meaning. He wrote back to say “that we don’t understand the power of words to bless others… not just make them ‘feel good’ but to actually bless them. In the Bible, words have real power to do what they represent. Thus, the benediction/blessing pronounced at the end of most worship services aren’t just nice words. They have power to accomplish what they represent” (quote source is his email to me).

“Power to accomplish what they represent” . . . and not just nice words to say at the end of a worship service. I’ve been thinking about that since he wrote it and I wonder just how different our world might be if we actually started blessing each other instead of focusing on our differences or our disagreements that come up too often in life. A National Enquirer mentality has taken over as civility (e.g., being respectful of/to others) has lost it’s power in our society over the past several decades. Enquiring minds want to know and mostly what they want to know is the dirt (e.g., gossip) about others, whether it’s true or not. We love our gossip way too much. And we ending up cursing instead of blessing others most of the time by what we say about them behind their backs.

I read a devotion this morning in Our Daily Bread titled, The Power of Affirmation,” written by Marvin Williams. Here is what he wrote (the Scripture text for the devotion is found in I Corinthians 1:4-9):

During a recent study, 200,000 employees were interviewed to discover the missing ingredient in their productivity. The study concluded that appreciation and affirmation topped the list of what they wanted most from their superiors. This research implies that receiving affirmation is a basic human need.

The apostle Paul seemed to realize this basic need in the Corinthian believers, so before he peppered them with firm words of discipline, he showered them with affirmation. As their spiritual leader, Paul began his letter with thanksgiving to God for the grace being displayed in their lives.

Once far from God, these believers were now participating in His grace through the death and resurrection of Christ. United with Jesus, they were drawing their spiritual life from Him, and the fruit of this union was their spiritual growth in godliness (1 Cor. 1:4-7). Paul deliberately and continually thanked God for His work in the Corinthian believers’ lives. I imagine that they were better able to bear firm criticism from Paul because of his tender affirmation.

When we see people who are obeying God, let’s take time to affirm them and to thank God for what He’s doing through them.

Lord, You are at work in so many ways in my life and in the people around me. Help me to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ by telling them how I am blessed to see Your work in them.

Praise loudly—correct softly.

Before Paul gave the Corinthian believers some strong words of discipline that they needed to hear, he blessed them first for the grace that was being displayed in their lives with his words in I Corinthians 1:4-9 by stating, “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

How often in our society do we bless folks before we give them our criticism? For example, from a supervisor’s viewpoint, how often is credit given for the good an employee has done before the criticism or correction is given when a correction is needed? Or, even when no correction is needed and the employee is exemplary in their work, how often does a supervisor praise the work of his or her subordinates when it is due except, perhaps, during an annual evaluation? Not very often. A plethora of books have been written over the past several decades on the power of affirmation yet in actuality it isn’t often put into practice. We criticize and gossip far more often, and usually behind others’ backs.

An incident happened yesterday that brought this point to a reality. There was a breach in the security of my apartment that I discovered when the apartment next to mine was vacated by the young couple who lived there. The two apartments (mine and theirs) are the only two apartments located in a very large old house, and there is a door in the back of their apartment that lead into my apartment space. I was always told that the door was securely sealed on both sides so that neither side could open it and enter the other’s apartment. After the couple moved out at the end of August, I discovered that the door that separated their apartment from mine was not secure. In fact, it was possible for them to open that door and enter my apartment space without any problem (e.g., the stairwell area which I used for storage for most of my possessions which leads up to my apartment). On my side of the door it required a key to open the door which I was told by the previous owner of the house that the key had been lost years before. However, on the other side of the door was a doorknob lock that only required turning it to open the door. When I discover the violation and breach in my own security, I reported it to the current manager of the house.

Listen carefullyThe current manager came over to the house yesterday morning to assess the situation. I had had previous conversations with her in the past and liked her very much. She stated that they would secure the door with a lock (which needed to be ordered) that would not allow either side to be able to open the door separating the two apartments, and that only management would have the key for that new lock. In the course of our conversation she told me about some “second-hand” information she had received about me (she would not reveal the source) which, when she told me what it was, I told her was absolutely not true. What surprised me was that she chose to believe the “second-hand” information over what I said to her about the information she received being false.

From the few times I have talked with her since she started working for the company that currently owns this house (she started working for them in early 2013), I have found her to be very professional. However, what she told me yesterday that she had “heard” about me and obviously believed (without ever asking me about it before it came up yesterday) blew me away. When I told her it was false I got the impression that she did not believe me (from her nonverbal communication). The only other folks on the premises who could have said this about me are the young couple who rented the apartment next to mine who moved out at the end of August (the apartment is currently vacant), and a fellow who rents the single garage space as a “workshop” who employs men who work with him doing carpentry and other work in various places around town. That fellow does not live on the premises, and the men he employs are mostly temporary help that come and go from his workshop throughout the day and evening hours.

What has happened to our society when we now believe “second-hand” information about others said behind their backs and when confronted with the truth it gets dismissed when those “others” defend themselves against those false allegations? This woman who received the false information about me is a professional and should have asked me about that information when she first received it instead of automatically believing it was true. Indeed, a “National Enquirer” mentality has taken over in a big way in America and the truth doesn’t appear to matter anymore. We love the lies more than we care about the truth.

What has happened to our nation when civility and respect for others has died and actually caring about others beyond a surface level doesn’t matter anymore? Just look at all the infighting in politics that goes on 24/7; not to mention the treachery that goes on in the workplace nowadays with folks “trying to get ahead” at any cost including damaging or destroying other employees. We no longer have any respect for our elected leaders or for our employers or other employees, or even each other! And, when one of our most commonly used words in our English language today is a four-letter word starting with an “F” something is seriously wrong (e.g., just watch most movies made in America in the past several decades to see just prolific that word is used in common dialogue). Disrespect is everywhere, and the truth doesn’t appear to matter to anyone anymore–at least not if it gets in the way of something we want.

The incident that happened yesterday with the manager of the house I live in is a clear case in point. Without giving me one bit of credit she automatically believed the second-hand information she received about me. In fact, if the whole security issue concerning my apartment had not come up, she never would have said a word to me about what she had heard someone say about me and would have continued to assume it was true (and she may still believe it to be true).

Folks, we need to get back to some kind of civility in this country or we will go down the tube at a rate we don’t even want to think about. As long as we only care about our own little world and what we can get or who we can gossip about, we have lost sight of what this country has always stood for in the past which is “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for everyone. We curse others with our gossip and our lies, and then we ask God to bless America. And there is something seriously wrong with that reasoning. Seriously wrong.

We don’t need more books published on the power of affirmation. No, we need to start treating each other as we would want to be treated in every single situation we encounter every single day. And if we can’t start doing that, folks, then praying for God to bless America totally misses the point. Our actions, attitudes, and behaviors do count. We–you and me–are America. And it starts with us . . . .

The final few verses in the book of Jude (vs. 17-25) are a call for Christians to persevere and state the following:

But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

We need to build up others instead of tearing them down with our cursing of them behind their backs (or to their faces). Gossip and lying about others is the ugliest form of cursing that there is on this planet. How can we expect God to bless our nation when our own actions, attitudes, and words don’t. Changing our actions, attitudes and words starts with us . . .

And now–today–is the time for change . . .

Before it is too late . . . .

YouTube Video: “My Wish” by Rascal Flatts:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here