Whenever I say I am doing a two or three part or even week long series, I regret it as soon as I have the thing posted. I start out wondering what I will add to make enough of a post, and then as the thoughts are spinning, I think I should have made it a week.
Those who were in our adult Sunday School class can tell you. Most of our 6 weeks series lasted F.O.R.E.V.E.R.
So I am taking the pressure off of myself and just jotting down a few thoughts before I have to knock out some house chores and head out for time with the Fab 4 this afternoon.
I want to revisit Oswald’s quote from yesterday to anchor my thoughts:
Criticism is one of the ordinary activities of people, but in the spiritual realm nothing is accomplished by it. The effect of criticism is the dividing up of the strengths of the one being criticized. The Holy Spirit is the only one in the proper position to criticize, and He alone is able to show what is wrong without hurting or wounding.Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest; updated edition edited by James Reimann; Discovery House Publishers; June 17
As we look at his words, he is acknowledging that criticism is just normal to our human experience.
To me it begins with a critical eye on myself. I examine me from the viewpoint of what I hope and dream to be and to accomplish and then it is just a downward spiral as I never quite measure up.
So I start looking around me and noticing my fellow sojourners. I hold them up to the microscope I had been examining myself with and they are either hitting it out of the park, or swinging and missing.
Where they are doing better than me, I up this “dividing of strengths” that Oswald mentions and I see absolutely nothing good in my efforts, personality or character.
Ah…but then they fall short on something and the critic in me can pounce on this weakness and somehow my flaws become less glaring.
A sick cycle, indeed and one that I can assign as only my problem…which drives me deeper into the sin pattern that started the whole thing. Because the whole problem with all I just described is that I had set up an idol of an image of what I think I should be.
And anytime we use I, I, I several times in a sentence…we probably have uncovered an Idol.
I love that Oswald reminds me in his writing that this is not just a Laura problem. This is an issue with human nature.
Sigh…misery loves company, right?
We all have different categories where we are criticizing ourselves and those around us in an unhealthy and, as the devotion points out, unspiritually profitable way.
Whether we are criticizing ourselves with an internal lashing, or criticizing those around us – the term “dividing up the strengths” to me means that we are separating out the dross and making it be the sum whole of all the parts of a person’s character.
We have lost sight of the refining process of God on the individual life and we have written that person off as a one-dimensional creature. But no one is this narrow.
Every person, while created in the image of God, has inner wirings that differ from us, experiences that have molded and shaped the character of their soul. Every person has strengths and weaknesses. Every person has needs and either a spirit that has been regenerated or one that is dead in its sin.
And only God knows the entire story from beginning to end. Including your story and mine.
So what do we do with this natural critic that sits over our life like the judge at a tennis tournament?
Watching the ball bounce and calling it in or out…blowing the whistle…head turning to the right and left with no compassion or passion, the critic in us fills in the ruling for actions and conversations around us and thoughts and feelings within us.
It is pointless to try and blindfold this part of our nature. We can try or we can lamely sugarcoat all of our words spoken to sound like we don’t notice any of the transgressions of our own doing or those of others that affect us, but to me this is not honest living.
So I have to acknowledge:
I have been given a mind to notice things and I have been given a spirit to discern things…but my vision is skewed and my insights are faulty.
When I sense something amiss in myself or in someone else, I do need to pay attention.
I need to have been studying what God’s character is like so I can measure up the words and actions of others against that to see if correction of course is needed.
I have to be careful to surround myself with His words instead of the words of a world that thrives on dividing strengths. The world likes to create heroes and then tear them down. I don’t want to follow suit.
It is crucial to remind myself constantly that I am NOT the Holy Spirit and so I have often found that simply turning to God when I am noticing a critical spirit at work in me (and again, this can be critical of myself OR critical of others) and just praying, “God, what is going on here? Because I see this _________. What do You see?”
And then I get quiet and I listen.
I force my own thinking and going over the details to cease and I listen in my spirit for what God might say.
This usually leads me to prayer about it, or a gentle voice asking me some questions that help me process a deeper understanding of the missing of the mark by me or by someone else. I pray for His love to fill my heart and to show me the fullness of the individual or for myself.
At times I can feel the entire world is judging me and I am falling short. This too is an inner-me problem, though…because I have obviously removed myself from that judges seat and allowed either people I know or the nameless, faceless public to climb up to an exalted position in my life.
Again, I have displaced God from His rightful place.
And it’s not that others do not have the right to discern and speak out; but as Oswald so beautifully says…only the Holy Spirit can SHOW us what is wrong in a way that doesn’t hurt or wound. So when I sense I am being critiqued by others, I can take that to God as well and ask Him to reveal any truth about what I am perceiving and then invite Him to expose lies or help me change if change is needed.
Conviction is not fun, comfortable or easy – but it leads to repentance and repentance leads to life, healing and wholeness.
We cannot stop the world view regarding this, but we can recognize when we are acting like the world in our judgment and criticism – and we can seek God to help us learn to invite Him into what is wrong and trust His work to bring about transformation.