Editor’s note: We are continuing our blog series on mentoring using the Mentoring Pillars written by the late Jim Feiker, a former member of SEND International. This eleventh pillar talks about how powerful affirmation can be in a mentoring relationship.
Every one of us is a flickering flame. We need people to both cup their hands around us to protect the flame from going out and to fan it into a stronger burning flame. They can do so by giving verbal affirmation. Encouragement, affirmation, exhortation, admonition, and blessing are all words used interchangeably in Scripture.
A study of men and women of God suggests that God uses both affirmation and the deprivation of it as tools in our formation. God uniquely designs adversity, pain, suffering, trials, and his discipline as well as adversity to shape us into His likeness. They are gifts from his loving hand. In this mentoring pillar, affirmation will be our primary focus.
David blesses his family
“And David went home to bless his family.” Two times in Scripture at least,1 2 Samuel 6:20; 1 Chron. 16:43 this phrase is mentioned about David. After he had led his soldiers into victory, David chose to go home and to bless and affirm his family. Nothing was so important to him at a time when his family needed to see him and he needed to be with them. Their relationship brought mutual encouragement. He found blessing from his family, and blessing his family was a supreme role to him as a father. David knew that no one could honor and bring verbal affirmation as powerfully as he could.
All of us know people who come from a family which was blessed by a father and mother, where grace filled the home. We know them, for they dispense grace and bless every one of us.
Breathing life into a person’s heart
Encouragement means to breathe new life into another person’s heart, to inspire and fill the heart with courage and hope. It is to highly honor and respect them. It is speaking God’s hope, love, truth, grace, or wisdom into another person’s life.
Personal affirmation, which can be verbal or nonverbal ignites or fans the flame (a dream, gift, or vision) within a person’s life by words, presence, prayer, or by meaningful and appropriate touch.2 2 Timothy 1: 6 It is depositing powerful seeds into the life of those you mentor and reminding them of the promises of God.
Affirmation always stirs the spirit of a person, nourishing it to grow. Through affirmation, people are blessed with God’s promises and with future hope. It always builds up their faith and courage in God. Affirmation may come from God directly or through other people. We best affirm a person by elevating their view of God, reminding them how God sees and thinks of them. We help them see their personal design, their character, and gifts. To truly affirm requires that you have a relationship with a person. As someone has said, “We impress people from a distance; we impact them up close.”
Affirmation from God
Two of the important shaping processes of God involve His affirming us, either personally (divine affirmation) or our ministry (ministry affirmation). Divine affirmation is having a sense of being valued and honored by God. It means we recognize that we are special to God, that he delights in us, and is giving us his nod of approval. Ministry affirmation is knowing from God that what you’re doing is on track. It is God assuring us that He is with us in our ministry and will make it succeed with His blessing.
We all need this in our leadership. This affirmation brings new power, courage, and confidence in God and what he wants to do with us. It is one thing to receive affirmation from God in the Scriptures. This is for all believers. It is another major thing to be verbally affirmed by God Himself in a personal encounter with Him. We need His personal anointing and touch in our lives.
David found encouragement from Jonathan early in his life (1 Samuel 23:16). But later he learned how to find his encouragement in God alone (1 Samuel 30:6). It is ultimately God who is the source of lasting encouragement. He brings us comfort in the middle of adversity and trial. Then he uses that same comfort and encouragement to overflow through us to others (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4).
God touched Daniel’s life in three instances, telling him that God highly esteemed him. These words gave Daniel strength as he heard God’s powerful affirmation of him (Daniel 10: 11, 19).
A study of the Father’s affirmation of Jesus (Luke 3:22) provides the following observations. Divine affirmation came to Jesus in three incidences – his baptism, the transfiguration, and at Lazarus’s tomb. Each revealed the importance of affirmation by the Father. The Father made verbal affirmation a vital part of his son’s journey in doing his will. He said, “You are my Son, my Son that I love, in whom I am well pleased.” In this way, the Father affirmed Jesus in his personhood well before he had begun his outward ministry. If Jesus needed affirmation from the Father, how much more do we and others need it?
Affirmation from people
Hebrews 3:13 testifies that believers urgently need daily encouragement. We need to give it daily and regularly in view of Christ’s soon coming. Hebrews 10:24-25 says affirmation takes careful thought on how to spur others on in love and action. We have all experienced and heard genuine words that were planted in our hearts by someone who loved us. As we plant powerful words of affirmation, as seeds in another person, they will often take root, explode, and will be remembered for a lifetime, and be passed on to future generations.
This note sent to me recently illustrates how planting words of affirmation in peoples’ lives is so powerful.
“I appreciate your planting great words within me, and one that comes to mind quite often is that men of the Bible did not often finish strong. My hope is that we, together, will finish strong. Love, Tim.”
How we can affirm others in mentoring
Elevate a person’s view of God.
Enabling a person to increase in their view of God is paramount. A. B. Tozer said that every problem in the Christian life can be traced back to a wrong view of God.3 The Knowledge of the Holy, p.6. The world’s philosophy and Satan devalue a person’s view of God. That was Satan’s strategy with Adam in the Fall. Affirming is not just making people feel good about themselves or highlighting their competence. Only a high view of God will instill courage in a person’s life. Right thinking about God is essential for producing right living.
Verbally validate their true worth before God.
This occurs by reminding people who they are in Christ, who they belong to, how God now sees them in Christ, and what their inheritance is in Christ (Ephesians 1:15-19). We find true worth in recognizing who we are in Christ and to whom we belong. God has demonstrated in many ways that we are of great value to Him. Reminding people of this is contagious in building up their confidence in God. It also encourages them when we assure them that God Almighty is in them, for them, and with them. Let them know that victory is certain in Christ (the final outcome is known, and we win) and that the promises of God are true and will be fulfilled.
Share statements of our praying for them in very specific ways.
Paul encouraged the believers in many of his Epistles through specific ways that he always prayed for them on a continual basis (Philippians 1:3-7; Colossians 1:9-12), and how others were specifically praying for them (Colossians 4:12). In 2 Timothy 1: 3, Paul encourages Timothy (his co-laborer), by saying that he was continually praying for him night and day. Prayer is vital affirmation.
Reflect to a person their personal design and desires.
This involves telling people how God has creatively and uniquely designed them, confirming things that will further define how God has made them (Philippians 2:19-22) and wants to use them. This would include things like their calling, giftedness, learning style, cognitive thinking, the best context for ministry for them to flourish, and ways you see God using them. “It is so obvious to me and to others that God has blessed you with a gift in this area, and that God’s hand is upon your life.”
Indicate specific ways they are progressing and growing.
This could include growth in their character, walk with God, and ministry effectiveness.
“I have noticed in the last year, how you have grown in being more confident and sure of your calling from God.”
“You have really grown in this area in the last six months.”
“You have made a vital contribution to this team by doing this.”
Be very specific with them in noting their evident growth in Christ and especially growth in their character.4 For examples from Paul, see Philippians 1:5, 7, 1 Thess. 1:3,13, and 2 Timothy 1:5 It is also very affirming to share with others how God has used them in your life and in the lives of others (1 Thess. 1:6-8). To deliberately go out of our way to find something good to say about those we are mentoring, something that is true, shows we have observed them, love them, and are paying attention to them.
Affirmation in mentoring
Closely monitor two things in mentoring – a person’s fear level and their discouragement level. We find the couplet of “fear not,” and” neither be discouraged” repeatedly throughout Scripture (Joshua 1:9; Isaiah 41:10). Thus, we see that they are interrelated, and spill over on each other. Discouragement is the cancer of the soul. Moreover, fear debilitates and cripples a person from believing God and taking risks. These two are master strokes of the enemy, for we are most vulnerable when fear and discouragement begin to control us.
Verbal words of affirmation have great power in shaping a person’s character and confidence in God. This especially is true, if those spoken words come from a significant person who the person respects and loves, like a loving, safe mentor. These words will continue to shape them for a lifetime.
Particularly needed now
Affirmation has always been a vital need in people’s lives. But in this present generation, we are seeing a high need for affirmation, especially with young men who are coming from homes where they have not received a blessing. These young men feel that they were not the “apple of their father’s eye,” or have never heard their fathers tell them that “they had made it” in becoming a man. It is true that a boy stays a boy until his father tells him he is a man. Many of the young men we mentor have never heard that from their fathers and therefore need to hear it from older men.
The power of affirmation
The following story, picked up from the Internet, keenly illustrates the power of affirmation.5 Editorial note: This story can be found on many different websites. Here is one example. Apparently, it is a true story, according to Snopes.
A class assignment
One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers.
That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper and listed what everyone else had said about that individual. On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Before long the entire class was smiling.
Really?” she heard whispered. “I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!” and, “I didn’t know others liked me so much,” were most of the comments.
No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. The teacher never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another. That group of students moved on.
Several years later
Several years later, one of the students was killed in the Gulf War and his teacher attended the funeral of that special student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature. The church was packed with his friends. One by one, those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin.
As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” he asked.
She nodded, “Yes.”
Then he said, “Mark talked about you a lot.”
After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates went together to a luncheon. Mark’s mother and father were there, obviously waiting to speak with his teacher.
“We want to show you something,” his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.”
They all kept the papers
Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him.
“Thank you so much for doing that,” Mark’s mother said. “As you can see, Mark treasured it.”
All of Mark’s former classmates started to gather around.
Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.”
Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.”
“I have mine too,” Marilyn said. “It’s in my diary,”
Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her purse, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. “I carry this with me at all times,” Vicki said. Without batting an eyelash, she continued, “I think we all saved our lists.”
That’s when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.
Affirming others is powerful. So, keep dispensing God’s grace. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).