We all face criticism at some time or other. It is unavoidable. Anyone who speaks the truth, lives with integrity, serves God, follows Jesus without compromise, and uses the Bible as their plumb line, will be criticised. We need to accept this, and we need to renew our promise to live only for Jesus over and over again. We, ourselves, are also guilty of criticising others, and we need to know how to deal with our own critical spirit too.
Dealing with criticism from othersRejoice and be exceedingly glad Paul writes: But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. (1 Corinthians 4:3-4). Only the Holy Spirit can show us what is wrong in our lives. However, the sting of criticism is not easy to bear, and it can tire us spiritually. Destructive criticism is a form of rejection. It is negative and humiliating. Anyone exposed to this kind of criticism may begin to doubt themselves, and they will need edification. We see an example of how to face criticism in the life of Daniel. In Daniel 6, we read that those who were trying to find fault with him said, “We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God.” (Daniel 6:5). Yet, Daniel continued to kneel before God in praise and thanksgiving, three times a day! Notice that Daniel’s prayers were offered with praise and thanksgiving. In Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad…” We read also that Daniel went before the Lord in prayer and supplication (Daniel 6:11). Take note, thus, of these four words: praise, thanksgiving, prayer and supplication. This is our roadmap for facing continual criticism: praise God, thank Him, pray and petition Him (make supplication unto Him) regarding the situation you face. Die to self When we find ourselves facing continual criticism, we need to die to self. There is no alternative. ‘Dying to self’ means that we choose God above anything or anyone else in the world, and we do not allow the approval or disapproval of others to influence our actions. Dying to self is a daily process. It is a decision to choose to do the will of God; and not be deterred by the criticism of others. We need the Holy Spirit’s wisdom for each situation we face. Forgive them Living under continual criticism requires that we must forgive continually and choose to love those who criticise us. The Lord’s principle of ‘seventy times seven’ will be severely tested, and we cannot do this in our own strength. Rather, we must hand over the matter to God. We need to forgive those who are criticising us, and ask the Holy Spirit to give us His love for them. We read in Romans 5:5 that it is the Holy Spirit who pours out the love of God into our hearts. Only this love from God will enable you to be victorious. Don’t be defensive It is important not to defend yourself, but rather to allow your actions to speak in your defence. Although, it is also true that as believers we must be prepared to carry injustice (1 Corinthians 6:7), when we do, God Himself will demonstrate our innocence at the right time (Luke 18:8). It goes without saying that we should always weigh up any criticism we receive against the truth of the matter, as God sees it. So often, we get angry and feel unfairly treated, but we may not realise that there are things in our lives which offend or hurt others. We must regularly ask God to show us what in our lives is not pleasing to Him, the things that cause offence, hurt others and undermine our integrity. Loved and accepted Finally, we must allow God to show us how He sees us, and how He feels about us. When we experience His love and acceptance, we are emboldened to live a life that is pleasing to Him, being a witness of His love and doing what He predestined for us.
Dealing with your own critical spiritYou can recognise if you have a critical spirit through your remarks, and if you have a disposition or behaviour that is destructive and lacking in grace and love. The words and/or actions of someone with a critical spirit not only destroy other people but themselves also. Criticism, in essence, is a shortage of love and acceptance. More specifically, it is fear. Many people struggle with a critical spirit, and there are various triggers that can create this, such as being belittled, wronged or disempowered through culture, circumstances or legislation. It is from a position of helplessness that rebellion rises up, and one way of giving expression to it, is to be critical. Criticism, therefore, often arises from feelings of rejection or hurt, or as a result of feeling diminished in some way. It may initially seem fair to voice your criticism, as it serves as a release valve, but very soon, this can lead to bitterness, degradation of one’s self and eventually self-destruction. Having a critical spirit means you place all the blame on someone else’s shoulders, which often leads to passivity – others ‘owe’ you, you are always the ‘victim’ etc. Worst of all, it is impossible for such a person to feel truly happy, as there is always something which ‘isn’t right’ or ‘makes them unhappy’. This is a lethal combination, and it very self-destructive. A critical spirit can also result from jealousy, spite or a feeling of ‘failure’. Such individuals experience that others have ‘something’ they don’t possess, and they believe that this ‘lack’ puts them in a bad light; they feel humiliated and unworthy. In such cases, criticism is an ‘equaliser’: I don’t want others to be ‘bigger’ or ‘better’ than I am! We often make assumptions regarding another person’s actions too hastily and this leads to us feeling ‘threatened’.
How can I be set free from a critical spirit?
- Know that God loves you, and that His love is a perfect love. Human love will always be lacking and it will never totally satisfy us. God has shown His love for us, having died for us. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:13). The first step is to accept this love by telling God directly that you accept His love. God’s love is never conditional. He loves you, despite who you are or what you have done. He is not ashamed of you! He is not shy to call you His ‘friend’. This is such a deep and important truth, that it brings great freedom to each person who believes it and accepts it, and who takes God at His word.
- Acknowledge you have a critical spirit and make a conscious decision not to speak ill of anyone or to criticise anymore. For as long as you deny having a critical spirit, you will be under bondage to it. However, you need to do more than merely acknowledge it. In God’s eyes, it is sin! Often, we justify our critical nature as “having insight” or “good judgment”, “wisdom” or the “gift of discernment”. Too often, we justify our actions when we should view them as God does and confess them as sin.
- Whenever you criticise someone, you will experience that you feel spiritually depleted afterwards. It drains all the spiritual power out of your life. It is hard to pray freely when you have spoken negatively about someone! Ask God to fill you with His Spirit, and to give you a spirit of self-control. Without the power of the Holy Spirit, you will not be victorious.
- When you next find yourself thinking negatively about someone or are about to criticise them, choose to look at their positive aspects instead. Pray and ask the Lord to show you their ‘other’ side, what is good and positive about them. Write it down or tell someone. This will help you not to judge (and ‘sentence’) them too harshly or ungraciously. When you have nothing positive to say, decide to say nothing at all! This may be difficult at first, but there is no other way.
- It also helps to look at your own life and notice that many of the thing you accuse others of, you yourself are guilty of! This is something we find hard to accept, yet in many instances, it is so. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the ‘plank in your own eye’ (Matthew 7:3-5).