THE POWER OF GRATITUDE

But first–

THE PROBLEM WITH INGRATITUDE

It closes the heart to receiving. The elder brother said, “You never gave me a kid so that I might make merry with my friends” (Luke 15:29), and he didn’t expect it from a stingy dad. Ingratitude brings two dangerous outlooks–victimization and entitlement. They will paralyze you! Guaranteed.

Ingratitude puts you in bad company. Jesus said that His Father “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). I wouldn’t put those two words in the same sentence—but Jesus did! Ingratitude brings you into a stinking crowd. Paul said that “there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful…” (2 Timothy 3:1-4). He concluded with a warning: “Have nothing to do with them.”

Ingratitude places you in the enemy’s camp. No one has ever shown greater ingratitude than Lucifer, the most beautiful creature God ever made. And yet he envied God and staged a coup on the throne. How stupid can you get?!  Ingratitude turned him into the ugliest creature in the universe. And he’s never had a grateful thought since. So would you agree with me that ingratitude is serious, not a little sin? On the other hand–

THE POWER OF GRATITUDE

It makes you shine. Thankful people are fun to be around and exude a radiant countenance. I don’t have to tell you that ungrateful and grouchy people are at the opposite end. Would your friends call you a grateful person?

Gratitude allows you to receive grace from heaven, because you don’t feel like you are entitled to it. When you have a grateful heart, you always feel like you are being blessed. You can’t help it—God simply pours it on. Think prodigal. If you don’t enjoy healthy, holy, happy relationships, ingratitude may be a root cause.

Gratitude connects you to important people–like parents. If you want to draw closer, express thanks for what they have done, not what they haven’t. (And if they are still drawing breath, it’s not too late). My friend Jacob did it as a college freshman. I asked why he was not looking forward to thanksgiving. He answered, “They don’t talk about spiritual things, and they still treat me like a teenager” (which he was). I told him to write a letter of gratitude, make it long, and write it out freehand, because Mom will treat it as a trophy. He did. I’ve seen the parents four times since. Every time they bring up the letter. It changed their home–for years. Way to go, Jacob! Gratitude is powerful!!

Gratitude and generosity are siblings. Generous people cause thanksgiving to rise to heaven: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous to every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11). If you have learned generosity, you probably picked up gratitude along the way.

When? “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever” (Psalm 30:12).

Why? “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 118.1).

How? “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.” (Psalm 100:4).

Who? “Surely the righteous will give thanks to your name” (Psalm 140:13).

HOW TO BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT, part 2

In part 1, I said that in order to be filled, we desire, we pray, and we relax. Then…

We receive. The Christian life is more about receiving than doing. Children do that well. Jesus one day thanked the Father for hiding things from the wise and prudent and revealing them to little children (Matt. 11:25).  Reason is not opposed to revelation, but it is not the same as revelation. People who compare how they are trying to receive the Spirit with how their friend did are not acting like children. Nor are those who analyze the words and sounds coming out of their mouths and wonder if they are truly speaking in tongues.

To be on the receiving end of a gift does not mean that we remain passive. If someone hands you an envelope and says, “This is for you,” you take it and open it. The Bible says that we receive  “by faith.” So we assume the outlook of a child rather than the scrutinizing mindset of an adult. How do children receive? Simply, openly, confidently, and without a battery of doubts.

Manifestations are accepted. We don’t produce or prohibit them. They are one way that the Spirit may work. After Jesus spoke peace to the fearful disciples, “he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). The disciples most likely did not say, “This is weird. Why did he do that?” Weeks later, the Spirit blew down from heaven and sat on each of them like a fireball. We can’t pull off manifestations, so we don’t try. And we don’t get weird by shoving or shaking—but by receiving. If we shake or fall or laugh, we don’t think that we are suddenly more mature. Otherwise, we would start trying to make things happen rather than letting things happen.

It would be foolish to make a pattern out of manifestations. Cornelius didn’t say to Peter, “Aren’t you supposed to breathe on us?” We are not looking for formulas. We are living by faith and submitting to the Lord, the Spirit. Some may think the Holy Spirit is not dramatic enough and need to push someone, so it looks like God is on the move. Bad idea!

We step in the water. Faith always does something. “By faith Noah…built an ark to save his family” (Heb. 11:7). “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea” (29). Had the priests east of the Jordan said, “We’re not stepping into the water until it parts, “ they would have waited a long time! To step may mean opening your mouth and speaking out a word of prophecy, or it may mean offering up unintelligible sounds. After the disciples were filled with the Spirit, we are told that they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). They opened their mouths and spoke. The Spirit gave them the language, but they had to exercise their vocal chords and let the words out. Exercising any gift is a divine-human partnership. We prophesy “according to our faith” (Romans 12:6). When we pray for the sick, we extend our hand and offer a prayer or declaration of faith.

So do we need to ask for the Spirit to receive the Spirit? Sometimes. Jesus encouraged us to ask (Luke 11:13), but sometimes the Spirit comes when we surrender. I’ve heard people say, “We’re not supposed to do anything to receive the Spirit.” That could be true in some instances, but in other situations they are praying or surrendering or receiving the laying on of hands with someone else praying on their behalf. My suggestion to people desperate for the Spirit: ask and keep on asking, surrender and keep on surrendering! Come, Holy Spirit!

HOW TO BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT, part 1

The Holy Spirit is a person, with intellect, desires, and emotions. We can communicate with him; he hears our prayers. He knows our heart, our feelings, our hopes. He is not a force; he is a divine being. He can be loved, praised, and obeyed. He can also be grieved, resisted, insulted, and blasphemed.

A car does not run without an engine; a Christian does not live without the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the agent of the new birth and of the entire life that follows. He produces in us the character of Christ (fruit) and the ministry of Christ (gifts). He teaches, guides, convicts, encourages, empowers, comforts, and equips. The Spirit is the power behind the New Covenant—from start to finish. Then how are we filled with the Spirit?  We do not follow five easy steps. The Holy Spirit is a person, not a machine. Every experience of the Spirit is different, as the book of Acts makes clear. The Scriptures give us no automatic way but offer principles to follow and examples to learn from.

We desire. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). Curiosity is insufficient motivation to enter or go deeper into the life of the Spirit. Desperation sometimes precedes appropriation, while passivity kills spiritual passion. Paul said, “Earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (I Cor. 14:1), and that would apply equally well for all aspects of the Spirit’s work. Hungry people say, “There’s more,” while people who have had enough stop eating. The Laodiceans said, “I need nothing” (Rev. 3:17), and all they received from Jesus was a rebuke. The Pharisee who “prayed to himself” didn’t need anything, while the tax collector cried out for mercy, and his prayer was heard. If you are satisfied with where you are, that is where you will stay. Wonderfully, our longings work in tandem with the purposes of God.

We pray. Pentecost occurred at the end of a ten-day prayer meeting. Jesus had told them that they were to wait until they were “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They translated waiting not as immobility but as heartfelt praying. It was while praying that Jesus was filled with the Spirit (Luke 3:21). It was after Cornelius and Peter were both praying that God brought them together and poured out the Spirit upon a room full of seekers (Acts 10). And it was while the apostles were praying that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). The Greek word for “pray” literally means “to ask.” People who pray are needy. Prayer is the language of dependence. Satisfied people don’t pray; broken and needy people like the tax collector pray, as the Upper Room crowd of 120 did.

We relax. We don’t put ourselves in the position of having to conjure up God’s presence. We are creatures, not the Creator, children, not the Father. After the death of Jesus, the disciples on Sunday evening shuddered behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). The first word the resurrected Christ brought them was, “Peace be with you.” Apparently, one time was insufficient, because he said it again (21). This prepared them to receive the Holy Spirit that he was about to give them. An outlook of peace prepares us to appropriate the Spirit of peace. (How we receive comes in part 2).

HERE YOU STAND!

We’re in a war, not on a picnic. Sometimes I forget that. These Scriptures help me remember.

“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes…so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then…” (Eph. 6:11,13,14). The call is to a posture of war, of resistance. Armor is defensive. Some might think that we are to attack.  We are called to stand, used 4 times. Then we pray, the offensive side of war.

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (I Cor. 15:58). What could move you?  “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love” (I Corinthians 16:13). Being on your guard means staying alert, not falling asleep. Love and courage are siblings. If you want to grow in courage, grow in love.

“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering” (Hebrews 10:32). Standing is hardest when suffering is greatest. Suffering builds endurance—or it takes us out. Suffering refines us and frees us from sin (I Peter 1:7; I Peter 4:1) or it brings discouragement and despair. Discouragement is a luxury we dare not entertain if we’re here for others.

“You too be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:7-11). Hope enables us to stand. We can endure the present if we know the future is good. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). God gives rewards to those who endure in the face of trials. When you suffer, look forward, not backward. It will enable you to pass the test. Lot’s wife looked back—and lost big.

“It is by faith you stand” (2 Cor. 1:24). We need faith, not just will-power and guts. “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you” (2 Thess. 2:15). Truth helps us to stand. When we abandon truth, we lose our position. What we believe is more important than what we feel. We are looking for truth, not for experience.That will come–with truth!

“He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (Col. 4:12). It is good to pray that our friends will stand. Some will not. We stand firm in prayer so others stand firm in life. “I have written to you briefly…that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it” (I Peter 5:12). We stand in the truth, by faith and through grace, which empowers us to obey.

“Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (I Peter 5:9). We take a posture of resistance. We have determined that we will stand. God is not picking on us; everyone goes through all kinds of suffering. No one is exempt, not even the Son of God. You are not a victim. Stand!

WORK IT OUT!

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…”

This is no light assignment. People are often too casual about their salvation, some so flippant that they lose it. They fall asleep. The five foolish virgins were naive and unattentive–and missed the Party.  I can take the gift of salvation lightly and not invest in my future.

Am I indifferent to the truth that Christ was obedient to death, that he took abuse and injustice for my salvation? How cruel to stomp on the work of Christ by my indifference or neglect. How easy to take our salvation for granted because it was won in a battle that we did not fight.

“Fear and trembling” does not describe the frame of mind that we sometimes take toward our salvation. Passivity is a killer. Jesus would not let the helpless father off the hook. When a distraught parent thrust his boy at Jesus in desperation, asking Him to do whatever He could, Jesus threw the responsibility right back at him. He said, “If you can. All things are possible to him who believers” (Mark 9:23).  Faith without works is not faith. Jesus proved it by calling the father to responsible faith. A passive investor found out that burying his gifts (and the master’s money) did not please his employer one bit. He was called “lazy” and “wicked,” two words I probably would not have used in the same sentence (Matthew 25:26).

I told a young man I was once working with that he had a huge part to play in his destiny. He was saying, “God is going to make me a dad. I’ll have kids. I am trusting Him.” In a reality session with him I said, “It’s not going to happen unless you make a hundred good decisions in a row. You have made some bad ones, yet you expect God to come through. You can’t do it without God, and He won’t do it without you. Don’t underestimate the part you play in your destiny. Faith is empty unless it is accompanied by what Paul calls ‘the obedience of faith.’”

Paul says that God gives the gifts of the Spirit sovereignly “to whom he may” (I Corinthians 12:11). So do we sit back and wait for Him to make His choices? Not even close. We are commanded to “eagerly desire the spiritual gifts” (14:1).  Our very passion for one or more may even indicate God’s sovereign choice. There is cooperation between heaven and earth.

“…for God is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

This statement is as positive as the first phrase is pointed and serious. From a warning to a blessing. From “be careful” to “be encouraged.” Here is what you do because here is what God is doing. Putting them back to back gives power to both statements. They support each other because they are two sides of the truth. Work it out because God is working it in. Grace and truth. If we only heard what God was doing and not what we are called to do, we may chill out and not take our assignment seriously. We have a part to play and it is a sober one. To ignore that is to fail to see what God is doing to make it happen.  We see human responsibility and divine sovereignty in two powerful phrases. Both are important. Divine sovereignty without human responsibility turns God into a detached deity with an ironclad will. The Bible gives us a very different picture. There is a dance between heaven and earth and both sides are true and necessary for scripture to mean what it says. Paul takes very seriously how we are to behave and how important grace is. Have at it!

CONTROL ISSUES?

The elder brother of the prodigal had them too–and didn’t know it. If you are a controlling person, you probably don’t see it–but everyone near you does. They feel it when you try to control the time, the conversation, the meeting, the phone call.

“The fruit of the Spirit is…self-control.” The more self-control you possess, the less you need to be controlling. The more out of control you feel, the more you may try to control whatever you can. If you struggle with needing to control other people,

1)  You feel entitled to your opinion, but you don’t want theirs. You trust your outlook.

2)  You assert yourself with anger, one of the major methods of controlling. And you are mad when people don’t follow your advice or expectations. The elder brother was like the Pharisees, who were out of control but presented themselves as in control. Controlling others masks insecurity. Think Martha, who tried controlling her sister.

3)  You don’t plan on changing, but others need to. Unfortunately, you are clueless to your control. You just have better ideas and more wisdom, and you want to mentor others and show them how it is done. The Pharisees thought they had things to teach people. In fact, they had nothing right, nor did the elder brother.

4)  You have many relational conflicts, which should be a clue to your problem, but you tend not to see your issues while you point out the flaws of others. The elder brother had a conflict with his brother and with his father. He didn’t know how to do relationships. The prodigal and the father did. The emphasis of controlling people is more on functions than on relationships. The prodigal was mending a relationship. The elder brother had no idea relationships needed mending. He didn’t know his father as a father; he was his boss. Entitlement reduces a relationship with God from father to boss. And their picture of Him is skewed by their wounding, perhaps a demanding mother or father. The elder brother had a good father but but he didn’t know it. He tried telling his father how to run the family, how to control his over-the-top younger brother

If you have read this far and think you might have some control issues, you probably do, and they are most likely bigger than you think. Here are some helps to walking in freedom from the need to be the CEO of the universe:

 

  • Focus on yourself. Notice Paul calls it “self-control.” You are not required to control others, and you are not as good at it as you may imagine. Every one of your problems has a common issue–you. Quit thinking the world is out to get you. It just wants you to quit trying to manage their life. That is demoralizing and degrading, especially since your life is out of control. Think about it: the more we walk with self-control, the less need we feel to control others.
  • Consider God. He is the most powerful person of the universe–and the least controlling. The father of the prodigal is a picture of God. The son made an illegitimate request–and the father honored it. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe he could see that the son had already left and needed to learn what the world was really like. He did–and he came home to experience non-controlling compassion. So will you.

 

DISCOURAGEMENT–A SIN?

Really? A young man I mentor spent a large portion of his life discouraged. It had never occurred to him that it might be sin. Seemed like it was a condition brought on sort of naturally by adverse circumstances. You accept it and work your way through it. But if it is sin, then it can be overcome, because that is what Jesus died for. Made sense to him.

Some would say, “It can’t be sin because you can’t help it.” Could Elijah have helped it? He ran south under the threat of Jezebel. He surrendered to discouragement. It seemed out of character for one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament.

What about John the Baptist? “He must increase and I must decrease.” As he starts to decrease, it doesn’t feel good. Could he have avoided it or was discouragement inevitable? He received a gentle rebuke from Jesus. He didn’t have to give in to discouragement. He could have kept his eyes on Jesus during his imprisonment, but discouragement blinded him.

Can you avoid it or do circumstances stack up in such a way that losing your joy, your fire, your concentration, your ability to praise the Lord at all times evaporates? Satan has something to do with discouragement. He steals, kills and destroys.

Here are two ways to not be discouraged.

1.YOU DECIDE NOT TO BE. “Oh, come on. Not that easy.” Okay, how does a person overcome the temptation to cross the line and sleep with his girlfriend at 1 AM in her apartment? He decides. He leaves rather than playing with fire. It’s all in his mind. Same with any sin. You choose not to. After giving in too often to discouragement, I chose not to be discouraged when a ministry we had for ten years was going down–little by little. I had to lock the door on discouragement each week. I knew it was not inevitable. It wasn’t going to help me. It was going to render me incapable of helping others during this difficult time. It is selfish for a pastor, a parent, a leader, a mother, a young adult to give in to discouragement. When my friend saw it as a decision, it encouraged him that he could do it–and he did!

2. YOU SPEAK IN TONGUES. “Are you really saying that? You just speak in tongues?” Yes. The Bible says, “He that speaks in a tongue edifies himself.” That is one incredible Scripture that we read, smile at, and go on. Wait a minute. Do you know anyone overdosing on encouragement, that needs a little discouragement in his life? Okay, do you know anyone who is battling discouragement on a daily basis and needing to be built up? The infallible, unalterable, unchangeable Word of God tells us we are built up when we speak in tongues. “Doesn’t work for me. And it doesn’t build me up that much. I don’t feel any different actually.” Right, and because you don’t, you only do it once in a while, and you do not do it in faith. The greatest apostle the world has ever seen said, “I am glad that I speak in tongues more than you all.” Do you think that has anything to do with his response in the back of a dungeon, locked in clamps unjustly, beaten without cause, and it’s midnight? He leans over to Silas and says, “Do you know any good choruses?” He was choosing not to live by his circumstances but by the Word of God. It will work for you as well.

ARE YOU SLOW TO SPEAK?

We are by nature slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. Where does that get us? In trouble–much of the time. We prejudge a situation, address it too soon, and in reaction. We don’t weigh it and pray it before we say it–and we often spout out half-truths.

I like Mike Bradley’s response (not reaction) when a celebrity messed up the Star Spangled Banner before an NBA game. People, of course, jumped on her quickly for disrespecting our country.  Mike said that she probably tried her best and feels badly that she performed poorly. Call it grace. She did apologize and said she loves our nation and wanted to make it special. She was sorry and embarrassed that she had blown it. (And she is not the first one who has). I think that Mike’s response may have reflected the heart of God more than a truckload of others.

My knee-jerk commentaries are too often misplaced judgments rather than a message combining truth and grace. What rubbed off on people when they encountered the Son of God was “grace upon grace” (John 1:17). That means heeding the admonition of the brother of Jesus, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19,20). What does it produce? Hatred, judgment, criticism–really bad fruit.

I have often said to myself, “I should have listened more before I opened my mouth and gave my less than sterling opinion.” Keeping one’s mouth shut is a helpful discipline for people who enjoy talking–like me. “Slow to anger” means not going from a two to a seven in five seconds. Five minutes would prove better. What about five hours? No one is slower to anger than God. Put the brakes on your anger–and you just became more godly.

The strong conclusion from James, “There put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness…” (21a). Whoa! Where did all that filth come from? An unchecked mouth opening the door to the free flow of bitterness. He goes on, “…and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (21b). So we are receiving rather than reacting. And we are doing it with humility rather than speak in pride and judgment. The infallible word from heaven is being planted in our souls where it can take root and grow up in righteous living.

People who respond rather than react…

  • care more about the people than their own opinion
  • are good listeners
  • have allowed the Holy Spirit to slow them down in their speech

People who react rather than respond…

  • cause some train wrecks
  • care more for what they think than listening to what others think
  • need to slow down their anger

Thank you, Brother James for helping us get a grip on our life.

10 TRUTHS ABOUT TONGUES

…from I Corinthians 14.

  1. We are speaking to God (2). Call it prayer. We are making sounds we don’t understand, and Scripture says that our words are aimed directly toward heaven. I am blessed, offering a perfect prayer without my mind involved. Powerful. Prophecy is to people, tongues is to God. When we pray in tongues, we have an audience of One. He is listening and responding, though we usually don’t know what we are praying.
  2. What to some is foolish babbling is speaking mysteries, a strong New Testament word about revelations hidden for ages but now made known to the people of God. Glorious that He allows us to utter great mysteries.
  3. Paul says that they are mysteries “in the Spirit,” a wonderful place to be. One way to live in the Spirit is to speak often in tongues.
  4. The one who speaks in a tongue “builds himself up” (4). I don’t know anyone overdosing on encouragement; most I know could use some. Speaking in tongues can lift you out of discouragement, give you spiritual muscles, prepare you to enter into other gifts, and open you to further revelation. Astounding.
  5. Paul says, “I want you all to speak in tongues” (5). He had found great value in it and wanted many to experience it. We have yet to mine the depths of its riches. Keep exercising it, and God will show you more.
  6. Speaking in tongues is a language (Acts 2). Those filled with the Spirit at Pentecost were speaking and Jews from around the world who came for the festival days understood. Miraculous. After I taught at a seminar in Bergen, Norway, I spoke in tongues while the pastors met in small groups. A young man from Serbia came to the mic and said, “Paul is speaking my language and is telling us to be courageous,” which was the theme of my teaching. How long does it take to speak a new language? About three years–unless you are filled with the Spirit. Then it may happen instantly. Incredible!!
  7. Two different kinds of prayer: with the mind and with the spirit (15). We do not use our mind when speaking in tongues. That means that when we need our mind for other activities (driving, reading the Bible, making breakfast), we can still speak in tongues and not be distracted. What a versatile gift!
  8. The greatest apostle of all time said, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all” (18). He found great blessing in it and wanted to encourage others to use it. He knew that some had shelved it, not knowing its value. It helps bring revelation of truth, release people from oppression, and do spiritual warfare, to name just a few benefits.
  9. Tongues can be a sign for unbelievers (22). It happened at Pentecost. The disciples were doing the impossible in speaking known languages, and it got the attention of thousands.
  10. I Corinthians 13 teaches that tongues without love is useless. We fly with two wings–the gifts and the fruit!

THE AFFIRMATION OF THE FATHER

Jesus is different from us. The Pharisees did “all their deeds to be seen by others” (Matthew 23:5). Not Jesus; he looked for the praise from only One. And God was more than willing to grant it to him. Two times are recorded in the Scriptures in which God spoke out affirmation from heaven. The first was at his baptism, when God said, “You are my beloved Son. In you I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17). It must have proved deeply satisfying to the Son. He had lived in fellowship with the Father from eternity but had chosen to willingly go to earth and serve as the sacrificial lamb. Now for perhaps the first time, he heard the audible voice of his Father commending him as he prepared to launch his public ministry.

The second time came when Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration with three of his disciples. They would play leading roles in the New Testament church. Peter was blessed by the experience, in which Moses and Elijah showed up to meet with Jesus. Peter identified Jesus with these great men of the past, thinking he was giving Christ a notable place. Then a cloud hid them from view, and the Father spoke, not to Jesus but about him, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). Peter got the point. Jesus was not a great man among great men. HE is singularly great, and unlike anyone else receives the verbal affirmation of his Father at the commencement of his ministry and again near the climax of it. Peter later referred to this glorious experience, remembering when “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

When a pastor friend, Jeff, said at a monthly mentoring meeting that he wrongly sought the approval of others too much, we agreed with him. We all struggled with an over-the-top need for affirmation. But then Dan asked, “Isn’t it right and even necessary to have the affirmation of others?” It was a balancing question to offset our weakness. So what do you think?

The affirmation of a father helps his children to rightly believe in themselves. A lack thereof may create a skewed image in a child struggling to discover a true identity. The affirmation of an employer can help a worker know how well the job is being done and even provide motivation for greater work. The praise of a pastor can help the sanctification process along, when it feels like we aren’t getting it. The commendation of a teacher helps a student stick with the geometry until it is mastered.

The value of affirmation can hardly be overestimated. We need to be affirming, not flattering but diligent to “encourage one another and build one another up” (I Thessalonians 5:11) and especially “the fainthearted” (14). At the same time our ultimate, if not immediate, need is to find comfort and strength from the Father, the all-sufficient One. Then when others withhold words, we don’t fall into discouragement. We go to a Father who affirms his children like he did his only begotten Son.