A few weeks ago now, I lost my cool. It was political. It was current events commentary from a political point of view that smacked of the ridiculous to me. Made me grumpy. Made me feisty. Made me mad.
But that’s all just details. The point is… I knew better. But I was grumpy. And I let my frustration at the state of the world push me beyond my better judgement. So I posted that snarky, sarcastic thing I was thinking.
I knew better. I posted it anyway.
The first comment on Facebook came from a close friend. One word. “Dislike.”
Here’s the thing… It came as a rebuke, but it also came as a confirmation of what I was already thinking. Namely, that posting that thing I was thinking was not edifying or God-honoring. It was sarcastic and judgemental. It was wrong.
So I logged into my Twitter account. Deleted. Opened up Facebook. Deleted. And then I started a conversation with my “Dislike” friend… Thanking him for the smack. Sometimes, we all need a light smack, after all, and I was due for a little correction from another brother. It stung at first, but I quickly came to see it within the context of Ephesians 4:15, “Speak the truth in love…”
“Dislike.” No one wants a dislike, right? “I dislike what you are saying.” Or worse… “I dislike the way you think.” Or worse… “I dislike you right now.” Or worse… “I dislike you pretty much all the time.”
So what’s the difference between criticism that tears down and the Spirit-led kind that builds back up? How do know which critical voices to listen to, and which ones should be ignored?
“Wounds from a friend can be trusted…” (Proverbs 27:6)
(1) Consider the source. This may or may not seem obvious to you. But it has made a world of difference to me, both in my personal life and in ministry. Several years ago, when I was the director of a local church choir, there was a woman in our soprano section who had an endless well of “corrections” to offer me. Apparently, I was not good at this. She knew better. And was being dragged down under her bus. When I mentioned it to my Senior Pastor and expressed my discouragement, he wisely encouraged me to simply “consider the source.” It was true… she was a complainer by nature and provoked contention in several areas of her life. Perhaps, he suggested, her voice should hold a little less weight as I weighed my ability to direct the choir. Perhaps, he suggested, the 30 some other people who weren’t complaining but were thriving in choir were a better indicator of my ability to lead. Consider the source.
And so I did, in the case of my “Dislike” friend. He loved me. He walks closely with the Lord. He is universally held in high regard for his character, his humble spirit, his willingness to stand firmly for what he believes, and his desire to honor God and love people. His was a voice worth listening to. A “Dislike” from him carried a lot of weight in my book. And I knew it was being offered in love. Not as a weapon.
(2) Consider the tone. My dislike friend could have skewered me. He could have posted pointed comments about my poor judgement, and taken me to task for stooping to a self-righteous, sarcastic attitude. And he would have been right. But being right doesn’t give us permission to lambaste one another. He chose one word. “Dislike.” That was enough. Made me stop and think and reconsider.
If you are receiving criticism and it’s cutting sharply into your heart, take the tone into account. Does God’s refining discipline come with a harsh, accusatory, discouraging venom? No. God’s uses the wise counsel of other brothers and sisters (by His Spirit) to correct and protect His children. But in the same way that loving parents discipline their kids for their good, without crushing their spirit and wounding their hearts, so, too, does God refine His kids. Consider the tone. He says in Proverbs 15:1 that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger…” In my life, the most effective corrections I have received from friends and loved ones have been spoken softly. Simply. Without hyperbole. A gentle word that is intended for my good. Want to know whether to lean into criticism or to let it roll off your back without effect? Consider the tone.
(3) Consider the Truth. If what is being said about you is not true… and you know it… let it go. There is no value whatsoever in replaying criticism in your mind that is not fair, not accurate, not true. The devil is called the “Father of Lies,” and “Your Accuser” in Scripture. He’ll try whatever he can to bring voices of discouragement to your life. To make you feel unworthy and weak. But in Jesus, you’re not. In Jesus you are a redeemed saint – not perfected in this life, of course – but your identity is rooted in your relationship with Jesus. And HE sees you as a spotless child of God.
On the other side of the coin, if criticism from a trusted source rings true… lean into it. Listen. Is God speaking to you? Maybe someone with an outside perspective on your life has some insight into your character – or your behavior – that you can’t see yourself. Consider honestly whether the criticism leveled at you is true, or not. If not – reject it and move on. If it IS, then drop your defenses. Own it. Let the truth work on you. And ask God to help you make a change for the better.
(4) Consider the fruit. Still not sure what to do? When I’ve received criticism and am having a hard time trying to decide what to do with it, I sometimes take a step back and see what it’s doing to my heart. If it’s causing discouragement that leads to immobility and self-judgment, that may be a clue to me to let it go. It could also mean that I have personal issues in dealing with criticism, of course. But the point is, the FRUIT of the criticism says much about its source.
When my good friend left me that well-placed “Dislike,” it led to repentance, and a change of behavior. It also prompted me to seek him out – to ask forgiveness and to admit my error. It gave us a platform to communicate, and his words that followed were life-affirming, uncompromising, and God-honoring. We left the proverbial table (ala Facebook chat) as BETTER friends – not divided. Not in conflict. God’s corrective and protective voice causes growth and redemption. God is life-giving, affirming, and His voice leads to freedom. And deeper joy. Want to know whether that criticism from a friend should sink into your heart and live there? Consider the fruit.
So now I can say, unashamed… I know I shouldn’t have posted that one thing I thought of that one day. I knew better. When I look back on it, I would like to personally apply my own “Dislike” to the memory. But to my honest, humble, concerned, Spirit-led friend? Yep. “LIKE.”
Does this ring true to you? How do you handle criticism?
This work by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License