Commending the Commendable
About the Guest
Since all of us like praise, then why aren't we better at praising others? Sam Crabtree, author of the book, "Practicing Affirmation," is passionate about praise and wants believers to be passionate about it too. Sam encourages listeners to lavish appreciation on those they love, commending those qualities in them that Christ commends: mercy, grace, generosity, loyalty and many more.
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.
Since all of us like praise, then why aren’t we better at praising others?
Commending the Commendable
Bob: In the book of James, the Bible says that the tongue is “like a fire. It can set ablaze a whole forest.” Sam Crabtree says we need to watch our words.
Sam: Proverbs says that a rash word is like a thrust of the sword. Criticism stings. I mean, if you’re smelling a bouquet of flowers and you get stung by a bee, it doesn’t matter how big the bouquet of flowers was. The sting outweighs all that. So an unthoughtful word – doesn’t even have to be a criticism – just a thoughtless word – can cut and wound, and as you know, healing takes longer than wounding.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today® for Tuesday, August 23rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Are there ways in which you need to train or tame your tongue? I think there are for all of us. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know how there are certain aha moments that you have in life where you hear something and you go, “I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of that,” and it just clicks and it makes sense and you think, “That’s wise,” and it sticks with you.
Bob: I remember hearing a sermon preached by a mutual friend of all of ours. C.J. Mahaney was preaching a message and he was talking about marking out what he referred to as “evidences of grace” in the lives of other people. He would just say “We make it a practice among our staff at our church where we will sometimes in staff meetings go around and we will say, ‘I want to tell you an evidence of grace that I’ve observed in your life.’” And he says, “We’ll do this as a part of the staff meeting.”
First of all, I’d never heard it expressed as an ‘evidence of grace,’ but I thought, “That’s a great expression, because that’s really what it is.” And then I thought, “I want to go to one of those staff meetings. I want to sit in the room and have people come around and say, ‘Let me tell you something I’ve observed in you.’ I want to sit in on one of those meetings.”
It’s just one of those things that stuck with me. I think there have been a handful of things when I’ve seen somebody doing something, and it’s just flashed back, and I’ve gone up to them and said, “Can I just point out that I think this is an evidence of God’s grace in your life,” and talked about whatever it was I’ve observed.
Dennis: Bob, in all the years you and I have been doing radio . . .
Bob: Oh, yeah. He’s about to tell me I’ve never mentioned, I’ve never used the phrase “evidence of grace” with him. That’s where you’re going.
Dennis: I was not going to say that.
Sam: That’s good self-restraint, Dennis. Self-control there.
Dennis: I was not going to say that. I’m speechless!
Bob: I’m sorry for impugning your character.
Dennis: I’m speechless! I was going to . . .
Bob: Will you forgive me?
Dennis: No. I’m not, for awhile. I’m going to hold on to that one.
Bob: Going to harbor that one? Alright.
Dennis: I am. I am. It’s too good. Too good of a catch right here on the radio. Here’s my assignment for you, Bob. In all my years, how many assignments have I give you on FamilyLife Today? It’s been a couple.
Dennis: You had to go count the straws in your garage one time.
Bob: More than I liked, but go ahead. What’s the assignment?
Dennis: The assignment is, in our next senior leadership team meeting here at FamilyLife when we get together with all the leaders of the ministry, I want you to introduce that concept.
Bob: Tell the story.
Dennis: Tell the story, and let’s do it. I think that’s a great idea.
Sam: It can work. We recently had a Pastor’s retreat, which we do several times a year, and at this particular one our Senior Pastor, John Piper, was not going to be there. Oh wait, he was at this one. He was at this one. And he asked me if I would lead us in something out of the Word and then relate it to this book, because he knew it was going to be coming out. So we just went around. We said “We’re not going to stop. We’re going to do this exercise until everybody in the room has had somebody point out something that they see God doing and developing in this other person.”
Bob: An evidence of grace.
Sam: That’s right, exactly. It started a little slow, but then somebody broke the ice and pretty soon it flowed. There was weeping with appreciation, people saying deep feelings of how they saw God at work in their companions around the room and their colleagues. It was really healthy, really healthy. But there were people saying, “We don’t do this enough. We have to do this thing again.” So it can work.
Bob: You know, I should probably introduce the . . .
Dennis: I was thinking the same thing.
Bob: . . . the affirmation cheerleader we have on today’s program. Sam Crabtree is the Executive Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota where John Piper is Senior Pastor. Sam is the author of the book called Practicing Affirmation. This is obviously a passion for you. Has it been a passion throughout your life, or is this something that in recent years you’ve grown in your enthusiasm for?
Sam: Well I obviously have grown in enthusiasm and in increasing clarity, but it does go way, way back for me. Really there is a thread in me that I think represents the whole human race. We all want to be affirmed. We all want to be appreciated. In fact, I think there is something defective about the person who doesn’t want God Almighty himself to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Bob: Jesus says on that day when you say, “Lord, we didn’t know it was you,” that the response will be “Well done. You did it for the least of these; you have done it for me. Well done. Enter into your rest.” Stop and think of Jesus himself. He’s being baptized, the dove comes down, what does his Father say? “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
Sam: “Hear ye him. Listen to him.” That’s an affirmation.
Bob: And Jesus in his humanity had to smile for a voice from Heaven to say, “This is my Son. I’m so pleased with how he’s doing.”
Sam: And turn the coin over. He’s so pleased, and in such resonance with His Father, and they’ve got it together. They’ve got a happy relationship; always have had, and He’s going to give that up on the cross and say, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” And so I think that ratchets up the price of what He did because this affirming and how sweet it is and how endearing it is, and how unifying it is was forfeited on purpose by Jesus on the cross.
Dennis: You know, when you take something like this that is so powerful that is clearly something that God wants us to do for one another and encourage one another, there are undoubtedly those, even within the Christian community that raise their hands and say, “Hold it. You shouldn’t be praising another person. This is idolatry. You are encouraging someone to be prideful.”
And all of a sudden they have pulled the pin out and they’ve popped the balloon of your book, Practicing Affirmation, and it’s like we need to be on rations. What would you say to that group of people?
Sam: Well, first of all I appreciate that they are on guard against idolatry. We don’t want to go there. This is not a book about self esteem. That’s why I call it God-centered praise of those who are not God. So I would start there by just saying, “I’m glad you’re on guard. That’s good.”
However, not all praise of everything that’s not God is idolatry, because God Himself praises things in the Bible. In fact, there are some things He says exist to be praised, like the noble woman of Proverbs 31: “A good wife is to be praised.” That’s what you’re supposed to do with a good wife, and you’re disobeying God, making an idol out of your paradigm by not praising this noble wife.
So I would say that, and then I would add that “You’re probably going to pay a price for that practice. In fact, you are paying a price for not affirming people. They are drifting from you; there’s an alienation that’s coming into your relationships. . .”
Sam: “. . . and there are people who just don’t like to be around a person who doesn’t affirm anything that they do.”
Dennis: You used an illustration of the Proverbs 31 woman. You’ve been married to Vicky for 38 years. What do you think is the consummate affirmation that she likes to receive? Now this is cool right now, because we’re here in the studio and I can see her face right over your right shoulder. So, I’m going to just look at her face as you answer the question, and I’ll find out if 38 years has taught you what affirms your wife.
No pressure, though, Sam! No pressure.
Sam: And we’ll be right back after this commercial.
Dennis: There went Sam, back out into the studio area, to check with Vicky.
Sam: It’s not the same every moment, not the same every day. It’s kind of like the need for a drink of water, you know? If you just had a drink, you’re not even thinking about a drink of water.
Dennis: She’s nodding her head, by the way.
Sam: Okay. Is she sleeping?
Dennis: She’s smiling; a big smile.
Sam: And a little while later, you know a drink of water would be good, and a little while later a drink of water would be really good, and a little while later it’s necessary, and if you don’t get some water you’re going to die. I think the same kind of thing can happen in a marriage relationship where there’s a certain affirmation that is – once you’ve given it, you don’t have to give it again right away, like it’s always the favorite affirmation, but there can be an ebb and flow, a rising and a falling, in what particular message, affirmation, appreciation is needed at the moment.
So it depends. If she’s been up all night rocking the baby, there’s a certain kind of appreciation that is fitting in that moment, and then there’s another appreciation that’s fitting when she’s been married to you 38 years and she’s sitting on the other side of the glass in the radio studio, and a million-and-a-half listeners are going to hear what you’re going to say about her.
My first answer is I don’t know what she most likes to hear, because I don’t put that question to her, “What do you most like to hear?” I just like to be on the lookout for what is she doing, and then affirm what I see. So, she’s a very loyal wife. She’s endured 38 years of me, for Pete’s sake, which is a lot of divine mercy. I’m not exaggerating or funning you, but nobody has forgiven me more than Vicky. It’s very, very endearing to us. And she’s so ready to stay with me and to be loyal and to be faithful to me.
Is she nodding her head and agreeing with this?
Dennis: She is.
Bob: She’s wiping away a little tear from the cheek right now.
Sam: I think maybe one affirmation she really enjoys is she’s a very proactive Grandma with our grandchildren – loves to be in there, and if that means rocking them all night or wiping up the vomit, or whatever it is . . .
Bob: Hearing you talk about Vicky, I think the question comes up – I’m thinking of the marriages that all of us know about, where affirmation just hasn’t happened, maybe for years. The opposite of affirmation – is it contempt? Is it criticism? How do you define if I’m not affirming, if I’m destroying, instead of building up my marriage I’m tearing it down with my own hands. Is that through contempt and criticism?
Sam: Well, and even short of that – I’ll come back to that – but just the person who says, “I’ve praised you twice in the last year. That’s enough.” The indifference and the silence can send a message they don’t mean to send. “You don’t measure up. You don’t make me happy. If you made me happy, it would be overflowing in expression.”
But criticism stings. If you’re smelling a bouquet of flowers and you get stung by a bee, it doesn’t matter how big the bouquet of flowers was, the sting outweighs all that.
Sam: So criticism and correction are caustic and toxic to relationships, to harmony and gladness in a relationship. Proverbs says that “a rash word is like a thrust of the sword,” so an unthoughtful word – doesn’t even have to be a criticism, just a thoughtless word – can cut and wound.
As you know, healing takes longer than wounding. So it can take a lot of affirmations to rebuild and to heal over a wound that has happened over some sarcastic remark or some insult or some snide observation, or just picking on some persistent weakness in the other person.
Dennis: You have a page in your book, and I’m going to have you just read this to our listeners. Page 53 in the book talks about what to do if you’re in an overly corrective relationship with another person. You have six suggestions. I thought those were just really, really good, because all of us can get in the pattern of overly correcting, being focused wrongly on what’s not happening, what needs to be done. Share that list with our listeners.
Sam: Sure. To reverse the trend of an overly corrective relationship, do these things: First, if she has stopped listening to you, quit preaching.
I put number one there.
Dennis: She’s really nodding now, by the way.
Sam: Okay, then I won’t read the other five.
Dennis: No, keep going.
Sam: It’s kind of a “duh,” you know? They’re not hearing you, so let’s try something else.
Bob: But there are a lot of people who ignore that and just keep on going and grinding in the process.
Sam: And pushing the other person away. Number two: Stop moralizing about listening. “You should be listening to me, teenager, wife.”
Dennis: She just sat up in her seat.
Sam: Instead, ask the Holy Spirit to do His job, because it’s the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin and righteousness and judgment.
Number three: To reverse the trend of an overly corrective relationship, affirm. I’ve said over and over, stay up nights if you have to thinking of ways to say what is so commendable in this other person. When one of our daughters turned 11, it was as though suddenly, instantly, all the knowledge of the universe was poured into her brain.
And at the same moment it was sucked out of all the other brains, especially her dad, because she just was indifferent to what I would say. I knew, “I’m in trouble here,” so I did say to myself, “If I have to stay up nights, Lord, will you help me be a student of my daughter and commend her for commendable things that you’re doing in her life. I want to be the person on this planet who gives her more praise than anybody else, maybe everybody else combined.”
I just think it’s good – an 11-year-old should not drift from her dad. That’s not a good place to be. It makes her vulnerable to all kinds of seductive shenanigans from others.
Dennis: I just want to comment, here. What you’re talking about doing goes against everything within the fiber of our hearts as human beings. You’re talking about doing something that has to be the work of God in a person’s soul, right?
Bob: We want to return evil for evil instead of returning a blessing for evil, right?
Sam: Or preach some more, or scold some more.
Dennis: Yes, yes.
Sam: Or punish.
Sam: So I decided, I am just going to find Christ-like things that I can commend in this daughter. Well at that time our two daughters were very different, and the daughter that I’m speaking of used what I called MBO, Management by Observation – that is, just leave everything where you can see it and then you know what you’ve got and where it is.
So I walked past her room one day. The door was open, and so, you know, everything in her room was just kind of tsunami-like, but on her dresser she’d organized her things so that the tall things were on the back and then stair-stepped down to the shorter things in the front, so that you could see everything. I just said, “I get it. I see your plan here. This is good. This is orderly. This is something God would do.”
Now, is it okay for me to bring God in on compliments? I’m arguing that it definitely is. Now what I mean by “It’s something that God would do” is He’s the most orderly being in existence. He does everything decently and in –
Sam: Order. And so I just commended her for that and walked out of the room ignoring the rest of the tsunami. A few minutes later I was walking past the kitchen and I happened to glance in there, and she was hugging her mom. I just stopped, backed up, and I said, “Oh, I love this. I love to see an 11-year-old hugging her mother. I think it’s good for the mother, makes the mother happy. I think it’s good for the daughter. It makes this dad happy, and I think it makes God happy when an 11-year-old hugs their mother for right and healthy reasons.”
I’d say in ten days or so we had our daughter back, and we’ve had her ever since. She’s married, has three children of her own now, and she calls and asks my opinion about things that – she doesn’t need my opinion or permission on anything. So that’s this number three out of how to reverse the trend of an overly corrective relationship, is stay up nights if you have to thinking of things you can affirm legitimately and honestly.
Number four: Keep up a steady, tender flow of words and gestures that confirm and commend them. It’s got to be steady. Keep it up. It can’t just be a one-time experience like you talked about. “Well, I’ve commended you twice this year. That’ll have to do.”
Dennis: Like an eye-dropper – just let out a little bit at a time.
Sam: Yes, this is like breathing. Do a little bit every day.
Number five: Model. We don’t affirm any particular quality we don’t personally embrace and exemplify in some appreciable measure. So if I commend my daughter for being orderly and I’m a slob, the hypocrisy will be detected and it will be unsavory. It will fail. If we try to commend punctuality while always running late ourselves, our hypocritical compliments become off-putting. They not only don’t endear, they smell bad.
Bob: Although I want to ask you about that one, because I have, at times, said to my children, ”You know this is something where you’re actually much better at this than I am.”
Sam: Good for you.
Bob: And when I say that it’s kind of like, “Really? There’s something I’m better at than Dad is?”
Sam: I recommend that adults say that to children. “You’re better than me at this.”
Bob: That’s right. It’s like all of a sudden they’ve taken another step toward adulthood just by hearing that. You know what I mean?
Sam: Well, you elevate something and you humble yourself. God resists the proud. The cocky parent who thinks he’s better than his kid in every way will be resisted by God, but He exalts the humble.
Bob: So what’s the last thing on the list?
Sam: Number six: If you want to reverse the trend of an overly-corrective relationship, is love the unchanged person as is. Be a blessing to that person before he listens to you or changes his patterns or reforms.
Bob: That’s a great list. I think just starting to practice a few of those things can be revolutionary in relationships.
Dennis: Listen to what James said in chapter three, verse seven: “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”
Dennis: I think you have exhorted us, Sam, to remember who made people, and to honor the image of God in their lives in a practical way by affirming them for not only who made them, God, but what He put in them, and that they have true value, dignity and worth.
Bob: The Scriptures go so far as to say, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” I mean, think about that. There is the power to destroy another person through the words that you use, to tear them down and lead them to despair that can lead to death. So there’s a stewardship responsibility that God has given us with the gift of speech. We have to be good stewards of that gift, and we have to practice what you’ve been exhorting us to here, Sam – the gift of affirmation in another person’s life.
I want to encourage listeners to get a copy of Sam’s book. It’s called Practicing Affirmation, and this is a book that will help coach you, help mentor you, help you renew your mind about what affirming words ought to look like in someone else’s life. It’s a book you may want to go through with others in a small group study. We’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. So go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, look for information about the book Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree.
Speaking of small group studies, our HomeBuilders® series of studies – this month all of the titles in the HomeBuilders series are available at a 25 percent discount. One of those studies is the Building Up Your Spouse® study that talks about affirmation. So there’s another great study that couples can go through together to help them learn how to practice this art of affirmation.
Again there’s more information about the Homebuilders studies and about Sam Crabtree’s book on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, or call toll-free at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word “Today.”
Now, let me just take a minute and say how grateful we are this month for those of you who have gotten in touch with us and have made a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Because we are listener-supported, those donations are essential to keep our program on this station and on our network of stations all across the country.
This month we are hearing from a lot of folks who are making a first-time donation to support FamilyLife Today. Those of you who have been listening for a while and you’ve always thought, “You know, I should make a donation to help support them. God’s really used that program in my life and I want to make sure it continues on our local radio station.”
Maybe you’ve thought those things before, and this month some of you are stepping up and saying, “I’m finally getting around to it and making a donation.” We appreciate that. When you do make a donation to help support the ministry this month, not only are we keeping track of the first-time donors through a thermometer that we’ve got on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, but we want to invite all of you to request a CD sampler that features six messages from a recent FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, where Dennis Rainey and I both were speaking.
These six messages come on four CDs, and it’s our way of saying thanks for your support of the ministry this month. All you have to do to request the CDs is type the word SAMPLER in the key code box on the online donation form. Or, when you call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation, just ask for the CDs from the Weekend to Remember, and we’re happy to get them out to you.
And we appreciate your support of the ministry. We’re always happy to hear from FamilyLife Today listeners, and especially those of you who are new listeners. It’s nice to hear from you as well.
And we want to encourage you to be back with us tomorrow when we’re going to continue our conversation with Sam Crabtree and talk about how we can build one another up and honor God in the process. I hope you can tune in for that.
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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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