February 15, 2017

Why You Can Be Thankful for Criticism

Written By Cary Schmidt

Do you ever face criticism? Some critics are compassionate and purely motivated—I’ve written about which ones I receive here. I’ve also written about qualities of unjust criticism, here, and why leaders should care about criticism, here. Today I want to take a different view—and not because I’m presently receiving any criticism. I have in the past, but perhaps you are right now, and this post may encourage you.

The title of this post seems so paradoxical! Should we really be thankful for criticism? Notice I didn’t say I like it, enjoy it, or relish it. I said I’m thankful for it.

Honestly, most of the criticism I’ve received, I’m not aware of. I get “whiffs” of it from someone who relays a bit of it, but I’ve never investigated or pursued it. If it comes directly to me, I usually respond and thank the person for having the courage and integrity to come directly to me. That’s rarely the case.

That said, looking back over many years of critics who have “come and gone” at the boundaries of my ministry world, I know you can be resilient in the face of unjust criticism.

Here are a few quick thoughts about why we can be thankful for criticism:

Criticism always helps me more thoroughly vet my decisions or direction.

Whether credible or not, a critic always creates a moment of deeper thought and evaluation. Criticism doesn’t have to have emotional power over me, but it should always create a minute to “take heed” and just recheck, “God, am I still following you?”

1 Timothy 4:16 “16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”

Criticism always develops a deeper motivation.

Criticism presents an opportunity to examine and deepen my motivation. Unjust critics attempt to judge motives and usually misjudge them; but a heart anchored in pure motives will not live in “fear of men” and will always be strengthen by the test of criticism.

Nehemiah 6:3 “3 And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?”

Criticism always disassociates me from caustic Christians.

This is one if my favorites! Unjust critics unwittingly do their victim a deeper favor. Their message sets them apart from the one they criticize. Being mocked by a carnal person is not always a bad thing. While your unjust critic is attempting to build a constituency by erroneously discrediting you, he is also distinguishing himself from you. I always appreciate the healthy distinction this creates, and I think Nehemiah did too.

“But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews.” —Nehemiah 4:1 

Criticism always strengthens a God-given call and resolve.

Nehemiah knew He was doing what God told him to do, and therefore his carnal critics merely poured fuel on his fire. What a beautiful thing God’s Spirit does in using critics to fuel the fires of His call. Success is not “making everybody happy.” Success is obeying God.

“And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.” —Nehemiah 6:11 

Criticism always deepens dependence upon God.

Loving critics are always trying to help you, but unloving and pharisaical critics are always trying to dishearten you and those you love or lead. Here’s the key—only you can give critics that kind of emotional power. Only you can allow your heart to become that emotionally vulnerable. God would strengthen both your heart and your hands, and He can use criticism to reveal His wonderful fortification in your life. In this, your critics help you by deepening you!

“For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.” —Nehemiah 6:9 

Criticism always grows my love for my only Lord.

The only reason unjust criticism is influential or hurtful is if you somehow “need”your critic’s approval. You don’t. Jesus is my advocate, never my critic. He absorbed and crucified everything about me that’s truly worth criticizing (of which there is plenty!) and now He leads me forward in full acceptance and grace. In light of the gospel, unkind earthly critics are just not influential over God’s loving Lordship and leadership in my life. I love living in light of the truth that I answer to Jesus not to my critics. He is my only Lord.

“Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.” —Nehemiah 5:19 

“Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.” —Romans 14:4 

“There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” —James 4:12 

Criticism always increases my joy.

Sounds bizarre, I know. But consider. The inevitable outcome of all of the above principles is that God’s will unfolds in my life as I refuse to allow criticism to discourage. His call is fulfilled. His word grows. His people are served and helped. Good things happen in others’ lives when I obey God rather than my critics—and this always gives greater reason to rejoice. So, yes, criticism can increase joy. Don’t you know Nehemiah’s joy was sweeter for having endured the assault on his soul, just as Jesus endured “for the joy that was set before Him…”

“Now it came to pass, when the wall was built, and I had set up the doors, and the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed,” —Nehemiah 7:1 

In conclusion: 

Unjust or carnal critics are like minor, blustery snow storms—just a lot less beautiful. Their cold winds bluster through in a brief moment of uneventful pause. They fly in, dump stuff on you (or others), and time moves them on. Then the stuff they dump melts away in the warmth and light of God’s truth.

It’s not worth being emotionally impacted or distracted by unjust or unfriendly criticism. But it is worth being thankful for! After the snow comes and goes, no harm is done, and your whole world is more clear, more fruitful, more stable, and more resolved by God’s call upon your life. You will flourish in God’s strength and grace, and your critics helped to produce that flourishing. That’s why you can be thankful.

Press on in obedience to God. Soon enough the snow will melt. Until then, be thankful that God is allowing you to make enough of an impact, that someone feels the need to bluster about it.

God will use their blustering to water the seeds you are planting.