Woman drinking and washing from a fountain
Woman drinking and washing from fountain of water like praise
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life…”

—Proverbs 10:11a (ESV)

This post is for praise-givers. That includes you, because all of us humans were created to praise God. That’s not controversial. But the next bit may be.

You are also called to praise people.

The Case For (People) Praise 

Like wind and waves, people praise is both powerful and dangerous. Words of praise may reveal idolatry, or they could be flattery. Both are destructive.

But this piece is not to make those points. Rather, it is to say that not praising the good is bad.

Not praising the good is bad.

Tight lips in sight of good is a double failure. We fail to honor God and to bless others. Our mouths were given by God to nourish, feed and heal. When we refrain from praise, we starve our brothers and sisters.

This should not be. The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.

A fountain is a constant spring. It is not stagnant but pure and clean. It refreshes the body. Words from the righteous refresh the soul.

One way we fit our mouths to be fountains is to praise the good we see in others. We praise them,

[F]or being godly, for being Christlike, by commending them for God’s glory, applauding them for doing something good in the strength God supplies (1 Peter 4:11). This is how we complete the loop when Jesus teaches us that people should let their lights so shine that others see their good works… and what? Glorify their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). 

Sam Crabtree, Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise Of Those Who Are Not God

Author and master-encourager Crabtree goes further. He says that when we fail to observe and verbalize the good we see in the lives around us, we fail to give God the glory he deserves.

Let those words settle.

3 Right Reasons To Praise

If that wasn’t convincing enough, here are three more reasons to praise people.

1. We praise people because God is honored when we honor what he honors.

Praising people, by calling out where God is at work in them, glorifies God. All that is commendable in people is commendable because it is an expression of Christ. We’re called to praise His wondrous works (Psalm 105:2). We were called to declare God’s praises (1 Peter 2:9).

2. We praise people to encourage others in doing good. What is praised gets repeated.

Which might explain why the kid who is starved for praise at home and school goes to the gang for applause. When we praise the good we see in others, as echoes and reflections of Jesus Christ himself, people are affirmed. They feel loved and fed. The odds are that they will seek to repeat that good.

3. We praise people because praising the good in others brings us joy and renews us.

We become sensitized to see the good, and our minds are renewed. What’s more, we lift the morale and build relationships. All our relationships at work and at home, in friendship and marriage will benefit when we shout out what’s good. When our mouths become fountains, joy flows.

Plus: You gain a hearing.

People who practice praise build a platform from which to be heard if criticism must come. But if you’re Ms. Nitpick or Mr. Fault-finder even your good words will likely fall to the ground.

Theologian John Calvin wrote,

We readily believe those whom we know to be desirous of our welfare…Our goodwill…is made manifest by commending them when they reflect Christ.

Praise earns trust. It is one way to build the the bridge of trust that will bear the weight of truth.

2 Right Ways to Praise: Be Precise & Tie It to Christ

Praising people is an effective way to reinforce their Christ-like traits.

This sort of praise is not to complement natural features, like ringlet curls or broad shoulders. But it’s also not praising what money bought: the lakeside cabin or the pretty pedicure. Such compliments are not wrong, but they are not the highest praise.

Christian affirmation is precise and tied to Christ.

The highest praise is precise and tied to Christ. Praising the praiseworthy means noticing the qualities of Jesus loved out in those around you. We can think of this kind of praising people as a horizontal form of worshiping God.

When we see reflections of the Creator in his human creation, we don’t let these God-sightings pass. We call out the good.

We heed the words of Anna Cumins’ poem,

Don’t save your loving speeches for your friends till they are dead; do not write them on their tombstones, speak them rather now instead. 

But to praise the praiseworthy, we must know what is praiseworthy. If we want to spot a rose-breasted grosbeak, we’ve got to know what a rose-breasted grosbeak looks like. To spot the good, we’ve got to know the God who is the source of all good. Knowing God and his Word not only tunes our hearts to sing his praise, but prepares our eyes to see the praiseworthy in his creatures. 

Get this: God even modeled for us how to praise people.

Be On the Look-Out

He names Noah as righteous (Genesis 7:1). He calls Solomon “very great” and “majestic” (1 Chronicles 29:25). Jesus commends the woman of great faith (Matthew 15:28), marvels at the faith of the centurion (Luke 7:9), and affirms Nathaniel for his honesty (John 1:47). 

As we read God’s Word we learn to praise people in a God-centered way. We discover, for example, that “a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Not a rich, stunning, athletic lady, but a woman who reveres God.

The best praise is grounded in the fact that if people do anything commendable, it was God who brought it about. “It is God who is at work within you both to will and to act” (Philippians 2:13). God is at work in his people around you.

So let’s be on the look-out.

God-honoring affirmations might look like this:

  • When you see a friend’s attention to detail, commend it. Say, Wow! You were so thoughtful as you planned this lesson. Our God loves order, and you planned this so well. 
  • When you spot Sarah whose growing self-control said no, shout it out. Say, Way to go! I saw you pass up those treats for the joy ahead. The Spirit’s at work in you.
  • When you see Pete persisting with the rascally 7th graders at youth group, praise him. Say, You must have the patience of Job to let those kids pelt you with popcorn. God at work in you. Bravo!
  • When you see your son kneel and help a kid who tripped and skinned his knee, affirm him. Say, Sam, I am so proud of how you are cared for Dan. That was like Jesus who cares for you.
  • When a niece tells the truth when it’s hard, shout it out. Say, Lucy, you acted like Jesus just now. You told the truth. Jesus was full of grace and truth. That was impressive. 

If our people praise is God-centered like that. it doesn’t subtract from the praise God deserves. It adds. Our earnest desire to praise God increases our desire to praise the people as they reflect his character.

This is not flattery. It is not exchanging compliments calculated for our advantage. Rather, it is knowing what God counts as good and then spontaneously calling it out as we see it.

When we do this, we honor God and encourage the good in others and we are transformed. The mouth of the righteous becomes a fountain of life.

But what if we don’t affirm people when they reflect the work of God in them?

What If We Don’t Praise People?

First, God is robbed of the praise he deserves.

Second, praiseworthy people are deprived of the encouragement that fuels more good works.

Those are obvious. This last one might not be: tight lips contribute to a miserly heart. I may become a grumpy, bad-tempered crank who either envies God’s good work in others or takes it for granted.

May it never be!

Let’s not rob God or starve his body. When we affirm the good in others, we praise the Giver of all good gifts from whom all blessings like a fountain flow.

Yes, praise is due.

Dear Lord, would you please help me honor you and bless others by affirming the work you are doing in them? Help me commend what is commendable in those around me so that you, Heavenly Father, are glorified. Help me give praise when it is due and so exalt you. Amen.

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