Ouch! Now we’re getting into temptations I have less success resisting. I can indeed have a very critical tongue. Some days I just seem to wake up with a critical spirit. I like to blame it on having endured bad dreams all night, but who knows? Some days we’re just more critical than others.
And when that happens I can find reasons to criticize anything in sight, from the dress the news anchor on the morning show is wearing to the way my dog is whining about his dry water dish to the way someone miss-punctuated an e-mail they sent to the way my husband looked at me! Can you relate?
Actually, all that seems rather harmless compared to the very cynical and arrogant criticisms I can level on a more serious note. Ever have roast preacher for Sunday dinner? Ever sit around a table of women and bang your absent husbands over their clueless heads with your harsh criticisms, laughing all the while? Ever say, “That’s fine” with your words while giving someone a less-than-pleased “look?” Ever correct someone’s bungled words with a lofty air when you knew what they meant to say to begin with? Ever see someone else’s bumper sticker, tattoo, nose ring, t-shirt slogan, hairstyle, you-fill-in-the-blank… and mutter your criticism under your breath?
But Jesus didn’t harbor a critical spirit. And while He did indeed level a just accusation or two, He was, after all, God. I am not. And Jesus’ criticisms were only leveled at those who truly opposed not Him, but His Father (John 8:16). Then again, Jesus knew the hearts, not just the words or actions, of all men (John 7:24). I do not. I can only see and judge with wounded, jaded, plank-filled eyes (Matthew 7:2-4). Jesus had no plank in His eye. He didn’t even have a speck in His eye. He saw clearly. And He still reserved judgment for the Father instead of taking it upon Himself (John 3:17 & 12:47). Jesus was gracious.
I want to be like Jesus. I want to love instead of judge. I want to give grace instead of criticism. I want to be gentle instead of harsh.
So here are a few steps to help you…and me…
Resist the urge to…criticize.
First of all, meditate on and memorize James 5:9:
Next, as you meditate on this biblical instruction, pray something like this:
Father, You alone are the one true Judge and Lawgiver (James 4:12); who am I to judge anyone? Please forgive me the times I have criticized others for their actions, appearance, words, choices, or anything else. I want instead to have a gracious disposition toward other people. I want to give them grace because You have given me so much grace. I want to see other people as Your creation, the object of Your love, and a work in progress. I want to have hope and good will toward others instead of disdain and criticism. Please soften my heart, humble me and remind me of how much grace You have given me. Cleanse me of a critical spirit and give me a spirit of gentleness, kindness, goodness, forbearance, and mercy instead.
Finally, here are a few practical suggestions founded on biblical precepts:
- Count the graces God has shown you, grace upon grace. Reflect on how much He has forgiven you, grown you up, cleansed you, changed you. (John 1:16)
- Look for good and hope and potential in others. It’s true: some people have deliberately chosen a path away from God and they live defiantly against His standards. But God alone will judge them, and even He continues to wait patiently for them to turn back to Him. (2 Peter 3:9)
- Be slow to speak. Criticisms have a way of jumping off of our tongues without much thought. So slow your tongue down! Make a deliberate decision to speak less often and less quickly.
- Soften your heart. Has your heart become cynical and critical? Ask God to soften your heart, creating in you His fruit of love, gentleness, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control instead.
- Think of something good to say. Begin a disciplined habit of saying something good about as many things as you possibly can every day. Hey, just try it for one day or one hour even. This practice may change your habit! Don’t especially like the meal your husband cooked? “Those peas are such a bright, pretty green!” Didn’t care for the special music at church? “The soloist seems to really enjoy singing, doesn’t she?” Didn’t like the movie you saw with your kids? “I sure did enjoy doing something with you guys that you like!”
- Keep the sarcasm out of your tone. Sometimes we mask our criticism with false praise and sarcasm. God sees right through it and, news alert, everyone else does too!