How do you handle criticism? How does one protect himself from the "scourge of the tongue" (Job 5:21)? If you are going to be successful in the Lord's work, you must find God's hiding place from one of the most painful weapons in Satan's arsenal: the critical tongue.
The fact is, for better or for worse, people are going to talk about you. You cannot do the will of God without causing changes, and changes will always cause some to stumble. In fact, Jesus said we were to beware when all men speak well of us. He said we cannot serve two masters; if we are to truly please Him, we cannot be distracted by trying to please everyone else.
At the same time, there is a demonic strategy that is set against those who teach God's Word and minister to His people. The enemy's campaign is not only aimed at destroying the shepherd; he also seeks to scatter the sheep. If Satan's attack is successful, everyone involved will come out of the battle with less love and a hardened heart.
I find it amazing that individuals can react so differently to the same teaching. One will be uplifted and encouraged while another may not only miss the Lord's blessing, but also actually be offended by an isolated statement.
It seems that for every person who takes the hammer and chisel to make an idol of a preacher, there is someone else with a hammer and spikes ready to crucify him. Unless that man is sustained by the Lord, the pressures against him can be overwhelming.
Most people fail to remember that a minister is just like any other Christian. He or she is not Superman; bullets (and words) do not bounce off his chest. He is not invulnerable to cruel and malicious talk. He is an imperfect person called to serve the living God in the body of Christ; but he is nonetheless just a person.
For most, church is a place where people go to express their worship of God, to be taught, and to have fellowship. But to the man or woman of God, the church is God's garden. Most of the real work a pastor does is not in the pulpit but in the unheralded service of cultivating love and trust in personal relationships.
In God's eyes, the church is much more than a meeting place of casual acquaintances or doctrinally united believers. To the Father, the church is a living temple, a human house for the Spirit of His Son. The Bible says that when He placed us in our particular church it actually gave Him pleasure (1 Cor. 12:18). Together with the Holy Spirit, the pastor and elders work to bring the church into a right relationship with God's love and then to spread that love throughout the entire citywide church.
God has provided honorable ways for people to transfer from one church to another. If someone wants to leave a church to start their own, there are proper ways to receive God's anointing and be sent. (See Acts 13:1-3.) It is not necessary to find fault and cause a church split. When things are done correctly and in order, people are edified.
But when relationships are severed and destroyed through malicious gossip, or when a developing trust is turned into mistrust through backbiting and criticism, God Himself is angered (Prov. 6:16-19). And if God is offended, how much more difficult is it for His servants to remain aloof from the conflict that sin causes.
So how does a man or woman of God find the balance between his basic need to survive and his responsibility to please God? The answer is to put on Christ's love.
A number of years ago I went through a difficult time during which a handful of people made me the target of ongoing criticism. There is a type of constructive criticism coming through people who love you that teaches and helps you to prosper, and there is a different type of criticism that comes through an embittered spirit that is not meant to correct you but to destroy you. It was the latter relationship that I had with these people.
To be honest, I am sure that there were areas in my life that were out of balance; some of their complaints were justified. Much of what they had to say, however, was said to others behind my back. Our congregation was being destabilized by these individuals. Try as I did, nothing I could say or repent of would silence them.
For three years I sought the Lord, yet He would not vindicate me of their accusations. Instead, He dealt with me. He reached deep into the very substructure of my soul and began to touch hidden areas of my life.
At issue with the Lord was not my sin, but my "self." The Bible says our sins are ever before us (Ps. 51:3); these I could see. But I had no perspective on my own soul. The Lord allowed this criticism to continue until it unearthed something deeper and more fundamentally wrong than any of my doctrinal interpretations or sins. It unearthed me.
The Holy Spirit began to show me how easily I was manipulated by people's criticisms, and especially how much my sense of peace was governed by the acceptance or rejection of man. As much as I prayed, God would not deliver me from my enemy. He saved me by killing that part of me that was vulnerable to the devil, and He did it with the accusations themselves.
I will never forget the day it dawned on me that both God and the devil wanted me to die, but for different reasons. Satan wanted to destroy me through slander and then drain me with the unceasing activity of explaining "my side" to people. At the same time, God wanted to crucify that part of my soul that was so easily exploited by the devil in the first place!
It was a pivotal day when I realized that this battle was not going to be over until I died to what people said about me. It was probably at this point that I finally and truly became a servant of God.
Today I stand in awe of what the Lord did during those terrible yet wonderful months. He knew a time would come when the things I wrote would touch the lives of millions of people. To inoculate me from the praise of man, He baptized me in the criticism of man until I died to the control of man.
Do not misunderstand me: I still honestly pray about things submitted to me by others, and I am accountable to other leaders. I even have staff people whose assignment is to give me a critical analysis of my life and work. But I am no longer ruled by man. I live for God's pleasure, and if I happen to please man, that is His business, not mine.
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