If you were to spend a few days with me, you would learn quickly (probably from my telling you) that my main love language is words of affirmation. As Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a compliment.” But more than compliments, I thrive on encouragement. On a regular basis, I wander around the Washington State University campus longing for an encouraging word from anyone. Friend or foe, stranger or acquaintance, anything from anybody would do; heck, even a thumbs up from a squirrel would be great. But, despite my desire to receive it, more often than not, I forget to affirm others. 

I know, I am a terrible person. But, not only do we need encouragement, it is also biblical and can help us from falling into sin. 

Look at what the author of Hebrews says in chapter 3, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” There have been times when I have hoped for a kind word while serving on a team, but after a period of time of not receiving one, my heart started to harden. Honestly, those times have caused me to wonder if I am serving in the right place and to start thinking negatively of my team or the people I serve with. 

Because of its importance, Paul would send encouragers to churches in different cities specifically to strengthen the people; in 1 Thessalonians, he sent “Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith.” 

If you find yourself in the same boat as me, the problem may be that we are expecting affirmation from individuals who have been caught up in the day-to-day routine of life and forgotten the importance of verbal praise. I would submit that rather than expecting people to change, we need to be the catalyst for culture change in our organizations. 

In his book, “The Character of Leadership,” Dr. Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, gives us four principles for inspiring passion: 

-Accept people as they are 
-Relate to people on their terms 
-Meet the needs of people 
-Serve people with abandon 

All of these values can help us to love, strengthen, and encourage people more, while allowing us to feel more passionate in the different areas of our lives. Maybe we could start a culture change in our organization by using these four concepts to relate to our coworkers, friends, enemies, and yes even squirrels. Begin by loving people for who they are, learning how they want you to relate to them, meeting their needs instead of expecting them to meet yours, and serving them selflessly. 

You may not see any fruit from your endeavors, but the greater hope is that we find serving is more encouraging than receiving in the end. But, I am willing to bet that it will change their demeanor towards serving you. And who knows, maybe even the squirrel will give you his peanut someday.

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