My natural temperament is one of introversion. I have had to learn how to make friends and talk to strangers. To be truthful, it is still difficult for me today.
When I was a teenager I read a book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, by Dale Carnegie. It was one of the most significant books I have ever read. Oh, I know some people learn “people skills” to manipulate others to get their own way. That was not what happened to me when I read it.
The primary takeaway from the book for me was the importance of affirmation and how easy it was. The author gave concrete examples of how to encourage and I found myself saying in my spirit, I can do this!
We are naturally attracted to those that encourage us and repulsed by those that discourage us. One common theme in the lives of those that have influenced us for good is that they affirmed us.
One Bible personality that excelled at this was Barnabas. His real name was “Joses” (or Joseph), but everyone called him by his nickname, Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement”. This was his reputation because he practiced it. He saw the best in a person and encouraged them to reach their potential through affirmation rather than criticism.
My father did this so well. As a child and teenager I can’t ever remember a game that I played where afterward he pointed out in detail all the things I did wrong. Later as an adult when our church was going through financial adversity he was always positive and had encouraging words for me.
I told Paula last year that one of the things I missed about my father the most was his encouraging words. He believed in me and from a human standpoint is one of the reasons I was able to stay in ministry even through tough times.
The most important people in the world that ought to be encouragers and cheerleaders are parents. It is easy to accept and affirm our kids as they should be and as we want them to be, but not as they are, sometimes. Failure to affirm is not so much a lack of skill as it is a lack of heart. When we love someone it is easy to affirm them.
I like what John Maxwell said, “You can love people without leading them, but you cannot lead people without loving them”. One reason our children succumb to peer pressure is because their peers accept them more than their parents do. Of course, we must discipline, correct, and guide our children, but along with that there must be a heavy dose of affirmation.
We should not only encourage them verbally, but also write it down for them. Sometimes I go to the bookstore and buy cards for my kids. These are not birthday cards, but cards that encourage and affirm. I will write them notes and share some qualities I see in their lives that I respect and admire and put it on their pillow for them to find later.
One time I borrowed my son’s car to run some errands and there were three or four of those notes and cards that he kept in his car with him. I have walked into the bedrooms of my children and spotted letters I had written them months ago. We all need encouragement.
I have a massive filing system consisting of many topics to help me expedite my research as I prepare lessons and sermons. The most file folders (and the fattest) that I have on a topic is “encouragement”. Contained in these files are literally hundreds of notes, letters, cards, and e-mails I have received that were a special blessing to me.
When I get discouraged I pull one or two of those folders out and just go through them reading kind words of affirmation. This past summer was an especially difficult time in my life and God used those written words, some of them over thirty years old, to lift my load and brighten my day.
Zig Ziglar said, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care…about them”. One of the ways to smash indifference in the life of a person is to encourage them and see potential in their live and believe in them.
Recently I began to teach the teenagers in our church and have so enjoyed it. For all of my ministry to young people I have always sought to look for the good and to let them know that I see something in them that God can use.
One Sunday morning after class one of our young people, shy and reticent in their personality, came up to me and gave me a piece of paper. Later I got home and opened it and I was surprised and humbled. It was a long note expressing gratitude for believing in them and loving them.
I think that affirmation and love go together. You will not value someone that you do not love. A pastor had a young preacher to speak for him in his pulpit and the young man asked him for some advice to help him with his preaching. The wise old man said, “Son, you can’t preach the love of Christ with a clenched fist”.
Sometimes we think we are affirming, but it is with a tone in our voice of anger and frustration. The two don’t go together. People react to our spirit and the way we say something, not just what we say.
My favorite sport that I played was football. I have had several dozen coaches, all of them with different styles and approaches. I will tell you readily that the coaches that influenced me the most were those that were affirming. Some of my coaches used mockery in front of the team in an attempt to motivate me. I pulled away from that approach and closed my spirit to them. I didn’t want to learn from them.
I also had coaches that were firm, but also affirming. They made it easy to risk something new because you knew they would applaud the good and help you correct the bad. But I knew they believed in me and I will always be grateful to them.
The sad thing about this is that some of these coaches will never know why players were repulsed from their style of leadership. They tried to influence by fear and bullying. Perhaps they had never been in an environment of affirmation and simply didn’t know how to do it.
I have had spiritual leaders in my life that did the same thing. Some were quick to criticize and never affirmed me. I don’t think they meant to do harm and probably thought they were doing good, but they had no influence in my life that was positive. I pulled away from them because I got tired of being “bruised” by their words.
We had a lay leader in our church when I was a teenager named Gabby Dickerson. Everyone loved him because of his sense of humor, but there was more to him than that quality. He was not a critic, but a builder of young people. He loved us and we all knew it. Yes, he was a good teacher, but he had a great heart and he influenced my life and many others at a deep level. He was an encourager.
Someone said, “Everyone has the right to speak, but you have to earn the right to be heard”. I believe one of the ways we earn that right is through affirmation.
Parents, we must be expert encouragers. I believe in discipline very much, but I also believe in affirmation as much as I believe in correction. I don’t think it is a 50/50 proposition either. It’s more like 80/20 with the larger percentage going to affirmation, then the heart of a child will be open to correction.
As you have been reading these words perhaps you are remembering ways that your parents or an aunt or uncle encouraged you. Maybe it was a teacher, a coach, or a spiritual leader. Why not take the time to return to them the affirmation they gave to you? Write them or call them and tell them specifically how they made a difference in your life.
Someone wrote, “If someone needs praise, give it to him. He cannot read his tombstone”. Don’t wait, my friend. The old saying is true, “Dead noses smell no roses”.