We face expectations in everything we do and everywhere we go. Our employers demand us to do our job to a particular standard. Our spouses look at us to fulfill a particular role within the household and amongst the family. Even our followers and friends on social media are looking for us to maintain a particular image and share information which will selfishly satisfy them. These expectations unwilling place us under the constant eye of everyone we are surrounded by. And where attention is fixed, criticism arises – criticism that is both good and bad, correct and incorrect, helpful and hurtful, as well as life giving and destructive. In this week’s message, guest speaker Bishop Keith Butler, examines how we are called to embrace both the positive and negative criticism we all inevitably face, while encouraging us that as we stand firm in the face of adversity, we will walk into greater life.
Our solution to navigating criticism resides in everything opposite of our common reaction to judgement. Our tendency when faced with criticism is most often to defend ourselves, because whether it is positive or negative, warranted or unwarranted, criticism if we let it, speaks directly to our pride. We quickly respond and validate why we may have done things differently than our boss asked us to, why we didn’t consult our spouse before we disciplined our children, or find ourselves defending our values and beliefs when our integrity is challenged. We are quick to respond because we don’t want to look weak, incompetent and unsure to those around us. In our innate understanding that we have been created to be successful, strong and brilliant, we’ll do anything to ensure we appear as such, especially when we’re criticized for doing what is right. Yet scripture reveals as we are quick to respond and validate ourselves, we’re allowing the word of God placed in us to be scorched by the nature of the world, causing us to fall away and stumble in offense (Mark 4:17).
Our response to criticism should be one which abandons our need for self-preservation and embraces our purpose to exist for others; when faced with criticism, we are called to take it patiently, for this is acceptable to God (1 Peter 2:20). When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior we become purified and innocent before the Father. We are no longer judged according to our sin, but are rather judged according to the finished work of Jesus on the cross; we’re judged according to a man who faced all temptation and walked away sinless, and was still persecuted unto death (Hebrews 4:15). When we defend ourselves we take our eyes off the righteousness we have in Christ and place our identity in the hands of man. Our belief in who we are quickly shifts into what others say about us. Yet, as we patiently take criticism we embrace the identity we have in Christ – an identity of power, love, right standing, honor and value – over the need to please those around us. We establish peace within ourselves, resting in who God calls us to be.
Yet God calls us to patiently take our criticism for more reasons than bringing peace within our souls (mind, will and emotions). Enduring such criticism not only abandons the need to please man, but also opens the doors for us to focus on others rather than ourselves. We do this by being slow to speak, slow to anger and quick to listen. As we are slow to speak, slow to anger and quick to listen, we open our ears to ways we can better serve those around us. We’re able to filter through the negative and positive criticism, understand our criticizer’s heart towards the situation and meet their needs over satisfying our pride. Patiently taking our criticism establishes the value of everyone within us. We often hear, actions speak louder than words, and responding with love and grace, instead of repaying their evil words with our own, shows even our worst enemies they are important. We naturally begin to bless them, rather than curse them.
And while our lives will be flooded with joy and peace as we no longer let the criticism of man affect our emotions, we must remember we have the same power to bring destruction into one’s life as we criticize them. Most often, our criticism of other people dwells in our tendency to see one another’s faults before our own. Often times, we believe looking within ourselves and adjusting what may not be perfected is too painful, causing us to deflect our own imperfections and insecurities onto those around us. The lack of desire to better ourselves, in turn destroys those around us; however, God does not leave us on the journey of transformation by ourselves. He’s promised He will complete the good work in us which He started (Philippians 1:6). And just as a father disciplines his son for the sake of seeing him grow up to be a man of value, honor, respect and responsibility, God has the same desire. God does not discipline with an iron fist for the sake of punishment. He disciplines us with gentleness because He loves us and wants to see us walk in power, honor, love and grace. He disciples us because he sees us as His sons and daughters (Hebrews 12:5). Embracing our own process of being more like Christ and allowing God to speak to our brokenness, enables us to be sympathetic and graceful towards those who are on the same process as ourselves. And in the moments of life when we do have to give feedback to those around us, we are able to speak to them in truth and love, as the love for them already exists within our hearts (Ephesians 4:15).
- What are some major criticisms you have faced and/or are currently facing? How did you respond? How have these criticisms influenced your life?
- What is your typical reaction when you are being criticized? What causes you to react this way?
- What are things you can do to help listen when you are being criticized – both with positive and negative criticism?
- How does listening to your criticism allow you to grow in your strengths and weaknesses?
- In what ways can you help others by patiently taking your criticism?
- What are some of your own insecurities and/or faults that cause you to be quick to criticize others?
- What are things that may cause you to hold back from allowing the Holy Spirit to transform you?
- When you have to give critical feedback to others, how can you ensure you speak with love and remind them they are valued?
Thank God for being your judge and for judging you according to the finished work of Jesus. Thank God that you are righteous before Him and that He is faithful to complete the good work He started in you (Philippians 1:6). Ask God to still you mind, will and emotions when you are being criticized. Pray that God would strengthen you to lay aside your pride and see if there is anything in your criticism that may help lead you into a greater life. Thank God for the opportunity to bless those whose persecute you, and for giving you the courage and boldness to do so. Pray that God would continue to reveal the treasure in those around you. Ask God for opportunities to serve those who come against you, so you may tender their hearts through love and grace.
As your group members open up about criticism they have faced and/or face – criticism which have shaped who they are – remind them they are in right standing before God and are adored by their Father. Remind your group members that regardless of what they may have done or what man thinks of them, there is nothing that can separate them from the love of God. (Romans 8:38,39). Encourage your group members to pursue a life which pleases God, reminding them that as we live for Him, He will establish our favor with man. Lead your group members to scripture that will fill them with the love and kindness of Christ so they can effectively and passionately speak life into those around them.