How do you feel when you receive criticism? If you're anything like me, your face may get hot, your ears start to burn a little bit, and a cold, clammy feeling creeps into your stomach. It's not a pleasant feeling, is it? After that, maybe you feel a defensiveness rising up in you, and from there, who knows where it will go?
Let's be honest: very few humans enjoy receiving criticism. Oh sure, we can tolerate constructive criticism in a controlled environment, such as in a writing class where all the answers are measured,somewhat expected, and come from people to whom we feel equal. But what about the criticism that seems to come out of the blue, with words that sting, and maybe from someone we honestly do not respect all that much? That can be a recipe for relational disaster. It is also, dear friends, a perfect opportunity for us to believe the gospel even more, and for us to expect Jesus to show up!
I asked my pastor husband about this topic. As you can imagine, he had no shortage of examples of having to deal with critics. He remembered one time in particular where he went through three stages.
Stage 1: Temptation to use mean words to tell the other person off. Who do they think they are, anyway? Come on, you know you've felt it.
Stage 2: Temptation to shut down the conversation by throwing Bible passages at the person.
Stage 3: It may take a while to get to this stage. As we grow in our security in Christ, in maturity and in our deep knowledge that no accusation of a person can ever really get to the depth of our sin, we can get to Stage 3 more quickly. In this stage, one moves from seeing things only from one's own point of view to seeing things from the critic's point of view. As John said, "I was afraid of the pain of the criticism, but was finally able to see that God might be trying to show me something about myself through this."
John told me that as he worked through the pain of this particular accusation, he felt God changing his heart, giving him a willingness to believe what the Bible says: namely, that we are all necessary parts of one body, and we need each other. As his heart softened, John asked himself, "Is this person seeing something true in me to which I am blind?" We all have blind spots; we all need others in our lives to show us the parts that need changing. Sometimes Jesus may speak to us through the person from whom we really do not want to hear.
As he was able to look at the criticism more objectively, John saw that this particular criticism was not valid. But that is beside the point. The important part was that his pride melted enough so that John could take an honest look at himself, and try to see things from the critic's point of view, as well as God's point of view.
Kevin DeYoung, a pastor and author, writes this:
"I haven't fully figured out how to handle criticism, but first I try to listen and understand what my critics are saying. Then I consider the source - their attitude, their track record, their motives. Finally, I ask the Lord for wisdom to know if I should pay attention or forget about the conversation [how many of us WISH we could forget about critical conversations!]...but the first step is to listen. We may just learn something. And if we see a fault, let's be quick to admit it." (DeYoung and Kluck, Why We Love the Church, p. 75)
Sounds pretty easy, right? If we see a fault, let's be quick to admit it. Oh, if only it were so easy!
So here is where I need to remind you and me of the gospel. Guess what? Even if your critic's claims against you are unfounded, you've got plenty of other sin to go around. Their measly accusations are nothing compared to the actual offense of our sins toward God. So you see, you're worse than your critic even sees!
BUT -- and this is a big BUT -- if you are in Christ, your sinful deeds no longer describe you. They have been removed from you, as far as the east is from the west, and now all the GOOD and RIGHTEOUS deeds of the Lord Jesus are your new identity. You are clothed in a bright white robe of righteousness which can never be removed or sullied. You are hidden in Christ. As such, you no longer need to fear criticism or accusations. You are free to honestly look at your short-comings (because some of your critics will have a point...) and then gaze fully on Jesus, who protects you, restores you and changes you to be more like him. That is his business, and he will do it!
So, let's love the church by receiving criticism as best we can, with maturity and full confidence in the Lord, who has us in the shadow of his wing!
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
I Thessalonians 5: 23, 24
This is the 16th part in a series. Go here to read the series from the beginning. Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics.