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Breaking Free from the Effects of Criticism



Go, Thou, and do Likewise!

After a church service one morning in which the minister had preached on spiritual gifts, he was greeted at the door by an individual who said, "Pastor, I believe I have the gift of criticism."


The pastor asked, "Remember the person in Jesus' parable who had the one talent?" The person nodded their understanding. "Do you recall what he did with it?"


"Yes," was the reply. “They went out and buried it."


The pastor suggested, "Go, thou, and do likewise!"


No one has to chase after criticism. Criticism has a way of finding you. Like a determined bumble bee, criticism lands firm, leaving it’s stinger deep into the soul. While no one enjoys being basted and bludgeoned by someone’s critical words, it’s very hard on a young minister, especially when it’s unjust and unfair.


A minister learns early that while ministry gifts are committed to the Lord for His use, the fact is, those gifts are performed before an audience of very human people. Often those people are affected by emotions, stylistic preferences and other filters that sometimes affect receptivity.

A minister learns early that while ministry gifts are committed to the Lord for His use, the fact is, those gifts are performed before an audience of very human people.

Don’t believe the old adage about sticks and stones, broken bones and words that don’t hurt. Words do hurt and the inflicted wounds can last a long time. The only way to avoid hurtful words and unjust criticism is to live by the philosophy attributed to Aristotle, “Say nothing, do nothing and be nothing.”


But who really wants to live that way?


Years ago, a minister phoned me attempting to speak with a broken voice. Someone had anonymously and mercilessly criticized him on a social media forum. He was ready to quit and wanted to know what he should do. My response was simply, “Welcome to the club, don’t take it personally and remember to tell them, ‘thank you’ because believe it or not, this can work to your good.” And in his case, it did.


While any of us can benefit from constructive criticism when given appropriately, it does seem that as time goes by, the more some people are becoming emboldened to say any and every critical thing they want, just or unjust. They give no thought to the consequences or the negative effect it has on those at the receiving end of the criticism.


With the increase of multiple internet community forums, came an increase in anonymous “drive-by” social media assassins and trolls sitting at their computers allowing poisonous bullets to fly off the end of their fingertips through their keyboard. They take aim at their target behind a cloak of secrecy, bellowing things they would likely not say to their face.


How To Handle Criticism

Have you ever wondered why criticism hits so hard and it’s effects last so long?

One reason criticism can be so difficult to bear is because it stays with us longer than praise. Remember the last time you received a compliment and were criticized on the same day? Which made the greatest impact and had a more lingering effect? You likely remembered the criticism far more than the praise. There are a number of other reasons as well. Criticism leaves one feeling judged and attacked, causing those criticized to worry about losing love, relationships, jobs, and good reputations. We typically associate criticism with loss and that makes anyone feel defenseless.

Have you ever wondered why criticism hits so hard and it’s effects last so long? One reason criticism can be so difficult to bear is because it stays with us longer than praise.

We’re left with the question, How should one handle it when on the receiving end of negative and unjust criticism?


Anticipate it

You’re not alone. Every leader faces criticism and if you’re going to lead and even live, it will come. It’s been said that there is no such thing as opportunity without opposition. No one can serve effectively until you know how to handle criticism. I’ve heard it said that “There is no single key to success, but there is one master key to failure and that is trying to please everybody.” Remember that no one in the Bible went without criticism. Not even Jesus himself.


Why? Because as has been pointed out by others, vision is a very easy thing to criticize. By its very nature vision attracts criticism because most of the time it represents change and to make it worse, vision can be difficult to defend. There is always somebody, somewhere willing to devalue your vision, even a God-given vision. Just ask Noah, Joseph and Nehemiah.


Consider the Source

The source of your criticism will often reveal more than the criticism itself. Some disburse criticism so they can put themselves up while putting others down.


While Nehemiah was busy rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem, his critics, Sanballat and Tobiah were just as busy ridiculing his work saying hurtful things to demoralize Nehemiah and his workers. They said, “What are these feeble Jews attempting to do?” “Why, even if a fox ran up the wall it would fall down.”


Nehemiah’s critics had a vested interest in wanting to see him fail. Sanballat and Tobiah derided and mocked the Jews as being feeble yet shuttered at the thought of the Jews becoming strong and formidable against them.


Always remember that your success possibly goes against some other persons self-serving agenda.


Pray About It and Accept the Constructive Criticism You’re Due

While criticism can be taken as hurtful and demoralizing, God can help you purposely turn it into something positive. Sometimes very honest and blunt people don’t know how to convey their evaluations in a more pleasing way so it naturally comes across as biting criticism.

While criticism can be taken as hurtful and demoralizing, God can help you purposely turn it into something positive.

When possible, turn negative criticism into a helpful review and see it as an opportunity to improve. After all, in some ways we’ve all been getting criticized since grade school. Whether yours were A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s or F’s, those report card marks were given to give your parents an idea of where you needed improvement. At some point, things clicked and you decided to build on your strengths and improve on your weaknesses and it helped bring you to where you are today. Do the same with criticism. Say a big “thank you” to the critic and make it work to your good.


Whenever Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was about to implement a plan, he would always take the plan to his greatest critics to examine. His critics, of course, would usually proceed to tear his plan apart showing him why it would never work.


Someone asked him why he wasted his time showing it to a group of critics instead of taking it to advisors who were sympathetic to his ideas. He answered, "Because my critics help me find the weaknesses in the plan so I can correct them."


In the same way, God can use a judgmental person to reveal our blind spots so we can make the necessary changes. If we truly want to be pleasing to the Lord, we will accept the exposure of our faults so we can correct them, even if the revelation comes from a hateful individual.

...God can use a judgmental person to reveal our blind spots so we can make the necessary changes.

Smile, Choose Who Speaks Into Your Life and Keep on Going

When criticized, we are usually tempted to begin a dialogue with our critics, or even those who are simply parroting another critic. We waste time, energy and thought trying to respond to questions for people who really aren’t interested in answers at all. Without realizing it, we shift our attention away from being vision-centered and allow ourselves to become critic-centered.


Proverbs 26:4 offers excellent advise. “Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are.”


Learn from Nehemiah. Never leave the wall you’re building to fight the enemy. You could spend all your time putting out fires and never get your job done. You could spend all your time greasing squeaking wheels and never accomplish all that God has called you to do.

Learn from Nehemiah. Never leave the wall you’re building to fight the enemy. You could spend all your time putting out fires and never get your job done. You could spend all your time greasing squeaking wheels and never accomplish all that God has called you to do.

Leonard Sweet said in his book, Soul Salsa:

“Who do you want to please the most? If it’s God, then you can survive whatever is thrown at you. If it’s people, then you can count on betrayal, loneliness, mistrust, and failure. Wait for applause, and you’ll wait forever. Wait for consensus, and you’ll wait forever. Wait for people’s approval, and you’ll wait forever.”


Ken Crockett relays the following great anecdote.


A man and his wife once pulled into a gas station to refuel their car. As the tank was being refilled, the station attendant washed the windshield. When he finished, the driver of the car said, "The windshield is still dirty. Wash it again."


“Yes, sir," the attendant answered. As he scrubbed the windshield a second time, he looked closely for any bugs or dirt he might have missed. When he finished, the man in the car became angry. "It's still dirty!" He yelled. Don't you know how to wash a windshield? Do it again!"


The attendant cleaned the windshield a third time, carefully looking for any place he might have missed, but could find no messy spots anywhere. By now, the driver was fuming. He screamed, "This windshield is still filthy! I'm going to talk to your boss to make sure you don't work here another day. You are the lousiest windshield washer I have ever seen!"


As he was about to get out of the car, his wife reached over and removed his glasses. She carefully wiped them with a tissue, then put them back on his face. The driver embarrassingly slumped down into his seat as he observed a spotless windshield.

Remember that critical people view others through their own dirty glasses. They see everything from a critical perspective and become angry at what they perceive to be dirt on other people, when in reality they are looking at others through the disappointment of their own hearts.


Zig Ziglar has a pretty blunt yet somewhat comical way of analyzing the way we should treat critics and hurtful criticism. Mr. Ziglar said, “Don't be distracted by criticism. Remember, the only taste of success some people have is when they take a bite out of you.”


Conclusion

The bottom line is this. Don’t allow your life to be sidelined by criticism. Believe me, there will always be plenty of criticism, but you can choose to build on what is worthwhile and discard the rest with a smile. And remember, if you give to Jesus all the praise that comes to your life, He will be more than glad to answer the door when criticism comes knocking.


Dr. Timothy M. Hill

General Overseer

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