Criticism doesn’t feel good. It sometimes attacks us at a place where we already experience insecurity. Ouch! How then did Brother Paul learn to get joy from insults and other kinds of attacks? They always brought him low, the very place where he could access grace. It is never found in the highlands, only in low places.
When we react to a judgmental word, we prove the need for it. When we live like our apostle friend, a word of correction and a word of affirmation do the same thing—produce a grateful heart. Affirmations build us up, “thank you kindly.” Difficult words humble us, showing us our weakness, which is where the veteran missionary learned to live.
Paul wrote: “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9, 10). Several truths surface:
God doesn’t waste anything. He is an economist. As a friend says, “Everything counts.” We give thanks in all things, because we have come to recognize the sovereignty of God. He truly controls the universe, including your universe. So when Shimei cursed David at one of the lowest points in his life, he could say, “Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord has bidden him” (2 Sam. 16:11).
One goal of a Christ-follower is to come to the place where criticism connects us to the grace of God. Not there yet, but I choose to be. I don’t want to justify my reaction to criticism, as if I am allowed to grumble because the attack was unkind or this person really meant to hurt.
Whether the criticism was accurate or not did not matter to Paul. God could always use it to bring him low, so he could appropriate more grace. We desperately need grace. Because God is on the throne, He causes all things to work together for good, but only if we cooperate. Our reaction proves our brokenness and perhaps our need for what is bringing the reaction. Healthy people learn not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good. It’s a much better way to live. What a gift to give to our spouse, our children, our friends.
This requires a strong view of the reign of God. The next time you get criticized, try to take it as something to thank God for. He is going to use it to develop your character. You prayed to be more like Christ. He is answering your request. Surprise, it doesn’t happen the way you thought, with things going your way. It happens through pain, just as Jesus “learned obedience through the things that he suffered.” Welcome to the process!
Even our reaction to criticism brings a gift, showing us areas of emotional ill health. This wake-up call demonstrates that something inside needs to change. So instead of quieting the accusing word, we quiet the turmoil the word created. That comes when we let God heal us and bring us emotional stability.
When we find ourselves occasionally thanking God for critical words, we’re getting it. When we don’t react but express gratitude, we passed, overcoming evil with good, rejoicing in all things. Hey, Paul did. You’re next!