A critical spirit will not survive where humility is thriving. If we want to root out critical speech and thoughts, we must ask God to give us humble hearts. We must see ourselves as finite creatures and God as the only truly omniscient One. We must surrender our plans, ideas, strategies, and advice to the Father and trust His sovereign providence to make things right—or to leave them alone—for His glory.
I promise I’m not critical. I just happen to know how to do things the right way, and I want to use my gift of correct-ness to help others. Is that so bad? Actually, it is. And, actually, I am critical.
From grammatical errors in the book I’m reading to what songs we should sing (or not sing) in church to how my husband chooses to do the dishes (yes, he does the dishes, and I’m still critical!), I often have a critical heart. My heart loves to be right and has firm opinions what exactly that looks like in almost any circumstance in which I find myself. I hope that maybe you can identify at least a little bit.
A critical heart bears fruit like complaining, gossiping, authority-questioning, arrogance, and other nasty traits. While I see this first and foremost in my own heart, I also see it in society at large. National news sites teem with clickbait headlines lambasting political figures and celebrities; social media overflows with articles, tweets, posts, and memes aimed at criticizing one foible or another. Late-night comedy and satirical sketch shows exist in order to be critical for the sake of comedy.
Let’s face it. We love to be critical.
A heart that rejoices in finding fault in others may align with contemporary culture’s values, but it falls short of the character of Christ. As followers of Jesus, we must fight our sinful critical flesh and renew our minds to be transformed into the image of our Savior. This change can happen because we are already new creatures in Him; the old has gone, and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). Not only that, but we’ve been indwelt with the Holy Spirit, so we do not fight alone. But fight we must. And the first place we must “wage war against our fleshly passions” (1 Pet. 2:11) is on our knees before the throne of grace. After we finish, we take up the sword and go about our day fighting to put our flesh to death (Col. 3:5); but first, we must seek the aid of the God who fights for us (Deut. 3:22).
If, like me, you want to crucify your critical heart, here are four requests to bring to God and traits to put on in that fight. If you want to remember them, just memorize Colossians 3:12.
Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, (Col 3:12)
Request #1: “Give me a heart of compassion.”
According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, compassion means “a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.”1 At first glance, perhaps this definition seems far from the topic of being critical, but let’s take a deeper look.
When I’m being critical of someone else, I’m thinking chiefly of myself (and how I’m right). I may deceive myself into thinking that I’ve got the greater good of the family or church or organization at heart, but, in reality, I’m concerned about my own interests. Just ask a football fan on any given Monday morning between September and January. If their team lost, they will have plenty of “constructive criticism” for the coach, quarterback, and most of all, the officials. Are they concerned with the individuals whom they’re critiquing? Or are they angry that their Sunday was ruined by a lopsided score?
A critical heart says, “I can do better” and doesn’t care about the heart of the person being attacked, criticized, or maligned. A critical heart is totally outcome-driven—an outcome that pleases me.
On the other hand, a compassionate heart wants to reach out to a hurting individual. A compassionate heart recognizes that the person being criticized is an image-bearer of the living God and an eternal soul with an eternal destiny that may hang in the balance. In short, a compassionate person looks beyond the outcome and sees the person. Sounds a lot like Christ, doesn’t it?
Christ didn’t avoid Samaria like other “good Jews”; He went right on through so He could talk with a woman at Jacob’s Well (John 4). He knew that the Sabbath was made for people, and not the other way around (Mark 2:27). He told Martha she was worried about too many things as she bustled about the house making sure everything was perfect and commended Mary for sitting at His feet (Luke 10:38-42). Jesus cared about people, not outcomes.
Give me heart of compassion. Forgive me for critical thoughts and words. I have been too concerned with the outcome of a situation and forgotten about people.