Saturday, February 20, 2016

Praise and Exhort: Both are Biblically Mandated

God often speaks to me as I teach my art class -- through the children, or some story they tell, or some concept of art that can be applied to walking righteously in daily life.

I loved the beautiful pictures the kids produced in the class Thursday. Class ended, but one student remained. Her mom was stuck in traffic, and was a little late picking up her daughter. That was fine. As I cleaned up, I chatted with the sweet girl. She reminded me of myself at that age. Shy, horse lover, art lover.

The mom hustled in and was very apologetic for being late. Then she shared with me that she really appreciated the art class, and especially the "critique" which I have the kids do at the end. The kids line up their art work, and then we comment first on what we love about the work, followed by suggestions to make it even better.

This mom said it is very hard for youngsters not only to receive praise, but to graciously receive and give constructive criticism. She said her daughter was initially concerned that she would hurt feelings if she pointed out a flaw in other's work. But the Mom was grateful for the way in which I was training the kids to do so. Because it was sandwiched in mounds of praise, the kids were not crushed by the single area to improve that other students helped them discern.

It brought me back to my college days, in art school. That was the first time I critiqued or was critiqued by fellow students. It was terrifying. First, I was certain I had nothing of value to say about someone else's artwork. Secondly, I was sure my artwork would be the worst of the whole classroom of art majors.

Neither was true.

I learned very quickly that all of us have valid opinions of what grabs us in a creative work. Oftentimes, our unique perspective enhances what others think about an artist's work. Secondly, I discovered that fellow students were very astute in picking up the flaws that made my work less powerful. Almost always, I was not able to see the flaw till it was pointed out.

Additionally, everyone had areas in which they could improve. If I could swallow my pride and listen, I became a better artist as a result. I also discovered that even the best artists in the class were not perfect. There was always something that could be better.

This describes exactly the ongoing "spiritual critique" by God. The Bible is filled with His overflowing love of humankind. However, every parent must admonish his child to spur him on to maturity. God is no different in His role as Heavenly Father. He loves me, but He will refine and chastise and teach me to my dying day. He knows the human heart is deceitful, and He will do whatever it takes to help me see the lie...and stretch for the truth. He will not let me remain childish in my spiritual walk.

My art teacher in college was excellent in teaching effective critique. Critique must always be sandwiched in positives. The beauty and value of the work must always be mentioned first and should be effusive. More positives should be mentioned than negatives. No more than one, and maybe two areas to improve upon should be mentioned. If time permits, end with a quick comment of another wonderful aspect of the piece.

I know this, and do this unconsciously when appraising student's art. But do I do it in my personal human relationships?

No. Not often enough.

I am quick enough to notice problem areas, but not nearly vocal enough about praiseworthy areas.  The Bible says we are both to "encourage" and to "exhort". To ignore areas that need to change is to allow stagnation and in the spiritual life, sin to thrive. To ignore building others up is to allow despair and worthlessness to creep into wounded hearts. Both  encouragement and admonition are necessary. Neither should be neglected. Praise, and exhort.

"My daughter cannot wait to come to class," the mother said, "Whatever you are doing is working."
 I cannot tell you how good it made me feel to hear those words of encouragement.
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Ephesians 4:29

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

Hebrews 3:13 

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.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.



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