We’re a very sick culture that loves to raise people up and then, tear them down. It’s true. How else could you explain the popularity of various media outlets that primarily exist to tell you how fat some celebrity got or how big of a wreck this persons marriage is. We have television programs that are dedicated to people who say and do really foolish things.
Why? It’s this really seeding pessimism and the self-righteousness in us that loves to do that because we feel like if they came down, then we’re as good as they are.
We live in the age of criticism. It’s cool to be cynical and negative. So how are we to survive the inevitable?
As a young pastor I remember, distinctly, a dear, older pastor friend of mine giving me the following advice:
“When you preach, make sure all the stories you tell about yourself are about your victories, not your failures because you don’t want to give the impression to your people that you’re a sinner and open yourself up to criticism. That’s the only way you’ll survive ministry”
I said nothing at the time, but I remember thinking, “Okay. Well, that’s going to be tough, you know, because I’m a sinner. And I’m imperfect. And I’m frail. And I’m selfish. And I need accountability. I need other elders to hold me accountable. And I need my wife to speak truthfully to me – nicely.”
This is one of the ways to survive a culture of criticism. You can shut down, do nothing risky, open yourself to no one, pretend that you have it all together and disengage from real community (of course, people will still find something to criticize eventually).
That’s one way and it’s the wrong way.
ANOTHER BAD METHOD
The biggest danger of receiving criticism is not to your reputation, but to your heart. You feel the injustice of it and feel sorry for yourself, and it tempts you to despise not only the critic, but the entire group of people from which they come.
“Those people…” you mutter under your breath.
Then, of course, this mentality leads you to believe that you’re better than the critic(s). All this can make you prouder over time. Whenever contempt and superiority accompany our thoughts, it is a sign that grace isn’t an active agent in our lives.
So . . . is there a good method?
Yeah, there is. It requires a closely guarded heart and a realistic perspective (both things that are difficult to obtain and maintain) but a good method does exist.
What is it? Well
1. EXPECT CRITICISM AND BE OK WITH IT
Our world is filled with critics, but it is not filled with solutions. That’s why talk radio is so perennially popular. People love to call into a radio station, complain about everything, but never have to do anything to fix it.
People love to criticize because they think they know better. So, expect criticism and be ok with the fact that no matter how well you plan, no matter how hard you work, no matter how much you try and avoid it, things are going to come up that you didn’t anticipate. Things that you didn’t know. Things that you can’t know. Things that are completely out of your hands.
So, expect criticism and learn to be okay with the fact that you’re not perfect.
Then, after you receive the criticism . . .
2. CONSIDER THE SOURCE
You have to have very selective hearing. When people critique, you consider the source. If it’s someone who loves you and loves God, then pay close attention. If it’s someone who just loves to cause trouble and make criticism, and it isn’t part of making solutions, consider the source.
Regardless of the source, make sure you . . .
3. DON’T JUST SHRUG IT OFF
No response is not the right response.
Even if you say to yourself that you are just ‘shrugging it off’ and that you are not going to respond to the criticism, you almost always will conduct a full defense and refutation in the courtroom of your mind, in which you triumphantly prove how awful and despicable your opponents are.
But that is a spiritual trap.
Don’t do it. Even if there is not the slightest kernel of truth in what the critic says, which leads me to . . .
4. LOOK FOR A KERNEL OF TRUTH.
You should look to see if there is a kernel of truth in even the most exaggerated and unfair broadsides. Even if the criticism is partly or even largely mistaken, look for what you may indeed have done wrong.
If the criticism comes from someone who doesn’t know you at all it is possible that the criticism is completely unwarranted and profoundly mistaken. I am often criticized not only for views I do have, but also even more often for views (and motives) that I do not hold at all.
Chances are, however, that the criticism stems from a real area that you can work to improve.
5. REMEMBER YOUR OWN MISTAKES.
Remind yourself of examples of your own mistakes, foolishness, and cluelessness in the past… times in which you really got something wrong.
Humility makes all the difference in the world.
6. PRAY FOR YOUR CRITIC.
I don’t mean, “devour their bones, burn them with fire from heaven, may wild beast descend on them while they sleep,” prayers.
Pray and thank the Lord for the person who criticized you. Thank Him for the opportunity to grow in relationship with that person. Thank Him for the challenge to grow in and practice grace. Thank Him for the reminder of what Christ endured and endures on a daily basis in our world. Pray and thank the Lord for your critic.
You may also, depending on the person, need to pray for the critic. Pray that he or she grows in grace. Pray that God would bind that persons heart to you in love. Pray that God might minister greater clarity to them so that they might gain a fuller, more God-honoring perspective. Pray that God would use them in your life to weed out sin and the flesh.
Criticism will come? How will you survive?