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Dealing with criticism

January 2021 | by John Thornbury

‘Save me from all those who persecute me; and deliver me, lest they tear me like a lion, rending me in pieces, while there is none to deliver’ (Psalm 7:1-2).

How do you react when you are criticised for who you are or what you do? Do you automatically become defensive and start screaming and attacking your critics? Or do you go away and feel sorry for yourself, sinking into a pool of doubt and discouragement?

How we react when people ‘tear us’ (as David says) depends a lot on the source. Sometimes criticism comes from friends who genuinely want to help us. At other times it comes from people who do not like us and would like to humiliate us or bring us down.

Dealing with criticism is especially important for people who are in public positions, seeking to lead or teach others. Teachers. politicians, and ministers need a strategy.

Be prepared

We should take it for granted that what we are doing is not going to be acceptable to everyone. I have noticed that some people are so sensitive and vulnerable to complaints that they simply cannot take it. They become hurt and give up (resign, escape).

Many times people have come to me and sought advice about entering into the ministry or taking a leadership position and I have said this: in the work of the Lord, one needs a clear mind, a soft heart, and a tough hide.

We need clear minds to analyse the situation we are in and plan a strategy. We need soft compassionate hearts, for God cannot use anyone who does not love people.

A layman told me a few years ago about a pastor they had dismissed: ‘He does not like people.’ That is a fatal flaw if true. But we also need tough hides, for we cannot let all the complaints derail us from serving God.

Be honest

Looking back over my life, I have to admit that sometimes I have profited more from criticism than from compliments. We should thank the Lord if we have around us people who are really trying to make us better by pointing out where we can improve. Proverbs 27:6 says, ‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.’

I would suggest that if someone criticises you, then smile, take the accusation away, and think about it. You may decide there is some truth in it.

A man once came to Spurgeon and accused him of being conceited. His reaction was quite human. He said, ‘Sir, since I have begun to preach there has not been a building big enough to contain the people who wanted to hear me. Upon my honour, it is a wonder that I am not more conceited than I am.’

I suspect that later he got on his knees and confessed to God that perhaps pride was a snare for him.

Be humble

A man once said to me (I think he was only kidding): ‘I only was wrong once in my whole life: one time I thought I had made a mistake, but I hadn’t.’ Frailties, faults, and weakness are a characteristic of every person who ever lived, save the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is, I believe, good for all people in power to occasionally apologise when they really know they have blown it. I have been guilty on occasion of being too harsh with one of my children, and I had to go apologise and ask for their forgiveness.

James 5:16 says, ‘Confess your trespasses to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.’ Relationships in government, the home, and the church would be a lot smoother if there were more confessing and apologising.

John Thornbury served for many years as a pastor in Baptist churches in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, USA.

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