How To Handle a Critic

Some of [the Pharisees] were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely….[The ungodly] are grumblers and fault-finders… (Mark 3:2; Jude 16)

Recently, I ran across an article written by Charles Lowery entitled, “Arrows in the Back.” A long-time pastor, teacher, and professional counselor, Lowery knows what he’s talking about when addressing the stinging barbs of criticism. Here is an excerpt:

A new arrival in heaven was surprised to see a suggestion box along Main Street. He turned to a more seasoned resident and asked, “If everybody is supposed to be happy in heaven, why is there a suggestion box?” The experienced tenant replied, “Because some people aren’t really happy unless they complain.” Critics are everywhere, even in the church. They weren’t born again – they were born against. At the beginning of every meeting you feel like calling on them for a word of criticism just to get it over with. Someone has said that any fool can criticize and condemn and complain, and most fools do. For every step forward, there is an equal and opposite criticism. All leaders are criticized. Winston Churchill received a standing ovation, and a lady commented how flattering it must be to receive that kind of applause. “Yes,” he said, “but also know that if it were my hanging, the crowd would be twice the size.”

IMPORTANT: There is a difference between a “critic” and a friend/boss/spouse who’s admonishing you and/or attempting to help you with constructive criticism. Fault-finders, however, rather than CONstructive, are DEstructive.

So, how do you handle a critic? (Here are some suggestions.)

1. Respond rather than react. Remember, God is always on His throne. Quickly access His resources (wisdom, patience, restraint, compassion, etc.) to resolve the situation. J. Oswald Sanders once wrote, “[A leader’s] humility will nowhere be seen more clearly than in the manner in which he/she accepts and reacts to [criticism].”
2. Understand this axiom of professional counseling: “hurting people hurt people.” If you know someone who is “infected” with a spirit of criticism, know that there are issues within that person that go far deeper than meets the eye, causing them to be habitually critical. Jesus said, “The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” (Matthew 12:34)
3. “Let It Go”, or “Not to Let It Go” – That Is the Question. Solomon wrote, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:4-5) Confused? Commenting on this “mirror-like” passage, Dr. Paul Koptak writes, “This famous pair of contrasting sayings show that it is not always easy to know how to make a fitting response to a fool.” Interpersonal conflict is messy. (I know – I don’t need to tell you that.) I heard one preacher, speaking on this topic, say, “Fault-finders are like mud-throwers. And how do you treat mud that splashes onto your jeans? Wait for it to dry. Then simply dust it off.” So, do you confront? Or, let it go? Pray. Talk to Jesus about it. Ask the Lord what He wants you to do. He wants you to lean on Him. Be patient. He’ll show you the way. (cf. Proverbs 3:5-6) In the event that God does instruct you to confront the critic….
4. Find the critic and speak the truth in love. Granted, many times critics are “ghosts.” They are as adept at being invisible as they are criticizing. But, on occasion, you may have the benefit of knowing exactly who is “shooting the arrows.” (cf. Ephesians 4:15)
5. Do NOT retaliate. Confrontation does not mean retaliation. The former is driven by truth and love. The latter is driven by anger and vengeance. Keep in mind who “owns” our vengeance. “Vengeance is MINE, I will repay’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) Chuck Swindoll offers, “One of the knottiest situations a [person] can put himself into is personal retaliation.” Be “kindhearted, and humble in spirit;” Peter wrote, “not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead.” I like Eugene Peterson’s rendering of Romans 12:19 in The Message: “Don’t hit back.”
6. Much prayer – much power. Swindoll, again: “Nehemiah, a target of strong criticism, fought his [critics] through prayer.” Frankly, this is where to start.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

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