I loved reading Sam Crabtree’s Practicing Affirmation and found it to be one of the most practical books I have read in the long time. It’s one of those books I’m sure to reread again and again. He convincingly argues for the necessity of praising others in a way that glorifies God while being careful not to flatter or build up pride. His convincing arguments are clearly from the Scripture. I came across this book while trying to understand the fine line between speaking words that build up and flattering others. I see value in giving compliments, but I’ve certainly seen how complements can go to people’s heads. I remember listening to a highly acclaimed speaker at a photography conference. He was giving detailed instructions on how to flatter people, so that they look better in pictures, but I could not help but see how this pride producing speech was sinful. Sure I want people to look their best in my pictures of them but I’m not willing to flatter in order to make that happen. In Ephesians 4:29 Paul writes, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” I want to speak words that build up and encourage, yet I must be very careful because I certainly don’t want to build up pride.
Another obstacle is my own pride. Praising others does not come easily to human nature; we like to receive praise, but not to give it. Criticizing comes much easier because we are by nature full of arrogant self praise and sinfully feel more comfortable looking down on people. I realized I needed lots of biblical examples to help me find the right balance so that I might appropriately give more positive, affirming, and encouraging words that gives grace to these who hear me. And being novices at this, we also need lots of hand-holding and step-by-step guidance on how to do this in a helpful and God-honoring way. Thankfully, Sam Crabtree’s book is full of both theological warrant and practical instruction. What he is arguing for is God-centered affirmations.
There is a danger of taking glory away from God by praising mere human beings. People do it all the time when they fail to give God the praise that He is due. Evolution attempts to steal God’s glory, much of psychology attempts to steal God’s glory, the cultural elite and decidedly secular in our society give God no credit at all and sadly each one of us fail to praise God as much as we ought. Crabtree begins by demonstrating that God is glorified when we affirm the work He has done and is doing in others. In fact, he argues for the profound fact that if we fail to do so, we risk robbing God of praise by not recognizing His work in His people. We keep God at the center of our affirmations by following the biblical pattern of saying, “I thank God for you…” This way, the person is encouraged and God gets the glory.
“But what about unbelievers? Should we praise them for doing good things?” After a helpful exposition of common grace, Crabtree says, “Yes, we should!” but only if it’s regularly set in a wider Law and Gospel context that stirs the unbeliever to seek the only one who is good, that is God (Matthew 19:17). He persuasively argues that honest affirmations even of slow progress can strengthen relationships, open the door to further change, and help evangelism.
Now I don’t want you to get the impression that the book is arguing that we should only say nice things all the time. He is not saying that we should never criticize, but that criticism should come from a life overflowing with affirmation. He addresses the issue of if and how to criticize and I especially enjoyed his critique of the “sandwich method” the correction strategy that puts every criticism between two slices of praise. Crabtree calls that “a baloney sandwich” and offers some more appetizing alternatives. His main point is that our corrections will have no effect if there is no deep, wide, and long context of encouragement and affirmation. He gives many examples from his life to illustrate and enforce the principles, making it much easier to see how this should all look in our own lives and callings. I certainly see that I need to grow in this area but I’m thankful that this book has shown me how to do it well. I praise God for this book and love how He is glorified in it.
My main take away from the book is that God is glorified when I point out His work in others. If we practice affirmation, everyone in our life will benefit and God will be praised. It’s a win-win situation. Lord help us!