The Right Reaction To Criticism

September 4th, 2012

The only people who never receive criticism are those folks who never do anything. Criticism is a natural thing and part of life. We shouldn’t be surprised that people - even close friends and family would criticize our methods, our goals and even our motives. Whether the criticism is deserved or not really isn’t the question. The way we handle or deal with criticism and critics shows a lot about our Christian character.

Criticism is something none of us like to receive it, but it will come anyway! Regardless of how well we live our life or try to conduct ourself in front of others, there will always be those around us who will find something to criticize.
Who can forget the life of Job? Here was a man that the Lord called "perfect and upright, and one that feared God and escheweth evil." Yet, when various calamities fell upon his life and Job's friends came to be with him, all they could find to do to Job was to criticize him. Notice what they said about this man of God, They called him "a hypocrite" in (Job 8:13). They called him "a windbag" in (Job 8:2). They said "You're just getting what you deserve" in (Job 5:8-15). They told him that he had "a bad attitude!" in (Job 5:17). Yet, through it all, Job stuck with the Lord and never turned on God. As a result, he was restored and blessed by the Father.

I have experienced my share of criticism. Maybe you’ve been there too. Or soon will be. Undoubtedly, people are watching our lives. They are making judgments about us. We can’t change that— but what we can do is control how we react. Recently a preacher friend called me for some advice. He was being criticized by some folks who had left his church. He was very hurt and disappointed. I tried to encourage and advise this good man of God. When the conversation was over I got out a pen and paper and reevaluated the steps to follow to have The Right Reaction To Criticism in my own life and ministry. The following are a few of the practical thoughts I have contemplated and heard others teach that I jotted down. 

1. Carefully Examine The Source Of Every Criticism. Some may be valid, but many are not! Ask yourself, "Who is the one saying this thing?" Very often, critics are so caught up in themselves, how they feel, what is happening to them and how they are being affected that they cannot see things objectively. The best way to deal with this is to do what Jesus did that is mentioned in Acts 8:32 - He opened not His mouth!  Criticism often has the effect of injuring the critic more than the one criticized! One fellow put it this way, "If criticism had has any real power to harm, the skunk would be extinct by now." The danger of being criticized is that it can cause you to develop a spirit of bitterness toward the criticizer. The surest way to fuel the fire of criticism, as well as the speculation that the critic may be right, is to go on the defensive. The best response to criticism is no response at all!
2. Control Your Emotions. Don’t react with haste. Remember, feelings are not your friends. In fact, one of the most important fruits of the Spirit mentioned in the Bible is “temperance” or self-control. If our emotions are in control, we will likely react wrongly to criticism. Unfair and unjust criticism always has a way of striking you right in the heart. It is painful, when you have done your best, to know that someone is observing your life to find fault. It is natural to be bothered by criticism. However, criticism should never be allowed to control your life.

3. Decide Not To Take Criticism Personally. Look at it objectively and try to learn from it. Ask yourself, "Is there any truth to this?"  When criticism comes our way, one of the main things we need to ask is, "Is this true?" Instead of reacting defensively against our critic, we should try to put ourselves in their shoes for a moment and try to see the issue through their eyes. It may be that they are right, at least to a degree. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

4. Reject False Criticism. Sometimes we are criticized with no justification. This is a painful experience. But, potentially we can deal with it more easily than criticism which is justified. If we don’t react to the criticism we give it no credibility. If we feel the necessity of fighting it – in a way, we give it more importance than it deserves. By remaining silent we maintain a dignity that others will come to respect.

5. Respond With Kindness And Graciousness. Sometimes we fall into the trap of “fighting fire with fire”. We want to make sure that our words are as ’hot’ and volatile as those fired at us. This will not lead to success or a good outcome. All that does is ‘heat up the problem’ even more.  (Proverbs 15:1) Respond to the suggestions not the tone of the criticism. The problem is that people may make valuable critical suggestions. However, there tone and style of criticism means that we respond not to the suggestions but remember there confrontational manner. In this respect we need to separate the criticism from the style of criticism. Even if people speak in a tone of anger, we should try to detach their emotion from the useful suggestions which lie underneath.

6. Value Criticism. The problems is that quite often, we only value praise. When people speak kind words we feel happy. When people criticize we feel miserable. However, if we only received insincere praise and false flattery, how would we ever make progress? If we wish to improve and develop we should invite constructive criticism and appreciate their suggestions. Keep An Open Mind - As much as we might not like to admit it, our critics can sometimes be right... and we would be well served to listen to their criticisms. You don’t have to ‘agree’— just listen.  If there are some errors in the facts, graciously point out the ‘real truth’ in the situation as you see it, without criticizing the ‘attacker’ or trying to defend your actions. If you find you are ‘wrong’ in the situation, be quick and certain to offer an apology.

7. Let The Criticism Make You Better. Abraham Lincoln, said that ‘the best way to destroy your enemy is to make him your friend.’ That is not always possible. But it is possible to deal with criticism wisely and productively. In the end, the critic may not like you or ever see it ‘your way’. So be it! How we respond to criticism goes a long way toward defining who we are.

Colonel George Washington Goethals was the primary supervisor responsible for constructing the Panama Canal. This feat of engineering called for the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico to be linked by a canal dug across the country of Panama. Since its completion, ships have saved millions of combined miles by being able to go through the canal and avoid the trip around the tip of South America. While the work was being done, Colonel Goethals had to endure severe criticism from back home which predicted that he would never be able to finish, what his critics called an "impossible task". This man refused to listen to his critics and pressed ahead with his work.
One day a subordinate asked this question, "aren't you going to answer your critics?" "In time", the Colonel replied. "How?", the man asked. The Colonel smiled and said, "With the canal!" His answer came loud and clear on August 15, 1914 when the Panama Canal opened to traffic for the first time.