Most of us have been through seasons of discouragement from criticism. A poor grade on a test. The boss calls you in for a dreaded performance review. Your friend pulls you aside for coffee. And you realize you’ve got to either change or lose the respect of a friend, or a job, or somehow go the way of the dodo.
When you aren’t cutting it, and they let you know, it is seldom a happy experience. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant” (Hebrews 12:11). But God refines us and tests our faith through adversity and hardship. Because of our sinful nature, the cliché is true. “No pain, no gain.” He calls His Word a sharp, two-edged sword, piercing and discerning our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). Like a surgeon’s scalpel to the skin, biblical criticism wounds us to help heal us. It can leave scars. It takes time to recover from the shock.
But if you receive it well, criticism can also help. I am learning to…
- See myself more accurately.
Criticism isn’t always accurate. People have misplaced expectations of us all the time. Criticism can be well meant or motivated by a hidden agenda. It can be off-base on its merits, or true. Whatever the motivation and the merits (two separate things!), as the receiver of criticism I’m rarely the best judge of an evaluation about me. We all need others to help us see our weaknesses and mistakes. I shouldn’t dismiss criticism just because it offends my wounded pride or forces me to change. Neither should I find friends who will automatically feed my resentment and defend me regardless of the merits of the criticism. In the multitude of counselors there is wisdom. Don’t just listen to your critic. But don’t ignore him and listen only to your cheerleader, either. Develop friends who will shoot straight with you, and help you see yourself more accurately.
- Adopt a more contrite spirit.
When someone cuts you down, how do you respond? Do you pop back up fighting mad? Do you stay down and wallow? In our sinfulness we are tempted to both. And both are selfish responses, not from the Spirit. We shouldn’t exalt ourselves just to get away from that low feeling. You were patronized, condescended to. So you want to give back as good as you got. Neither should we lay down in self-pity and refuse to get up again. Self-pity is not biblical contrition. No, we always need a God-ward focus, and especially in the face of criticism. It’s easy to feel we don’t deserve it, when we get criticized. And maybe we don’t deserve the specific charge. But we deserve far worse in our sin. Consider David’s posture before enemies when he was innocent of certain slanders. Psalm 7:3-5: “O Lord my God, if I have done this: If there is iniquity in my hands, If I have repaid evil to him who was at peace with me, Or have plundered my enemy without cause, Let the enemy pursue me and overtake me; Yes, let him trample my life to the earth, And lay my honor in the dust.” David isn’t defensive, but he doesn’t just roll over and accept any false charge against him out of a false humility, either. He looks to God and considers himself soberly. So a contrite heart doesn’t admit to anything accusers dream up. But whatever you know to be true in the criticism, acknowledge quickly as David did before Nathan in the Bathsheba incident (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 51).
- Rely on God’s grace more than my ability.
God has given you all you have and all you are. It is by His grace that you stand and do anything. We are weak and fragile instruments in God’s hands, jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7). If we are strong, it is because He has made us so. If we are weak, it is to show His glory, and we can rejoice in that.
So, the next time you face discouraging situations or critical people, look to God who is sending you this trouble. Ask what HE wants you to learn in this. Seek counsel from others. Pray for wisdom and pour out your heart to God.
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” – Hebrews 12:11.