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Handling Discouragement – Part II

Category Articles
Date February 16, 2004

Continued from Part I of this article.

So ask yourself, What are the critics saying that might help me improve myself and my ministry? Is there a kernel of truth in this particular criticism that, if changes are made, will make me a better minister?

If critics say something constructive, absorb it, confess your fault, take the lead in self-criticism, ask for forgiveness where appropriate, make changes for the better, and move on. If they offer nothing constructive, be kind and polite, and move on.

Don’t ever get self-defensive or angry, but turn the other cheek, as Jesus advised. If your conscience is clear, a simple, straightforward explanation may be helpful in certain cases, though respectful silence is often more appropriate and effective (Mk. 14:61). At all costs, don’t strive to justify yourself; refuse to descend to the level of the negative critic.

Don’t take every whisper seriously, get sidetracked into fruitless controversy, or spend your energy trying to appease or persuade implacable critics who foster animosity. But do ask: Why am I being misunderstood? Do my sermons, attitudes, “hobby horses,” and personal traits somehow combine to send a mixed message? Am I only implying what I should make explicit, or am I ignoring certain problems that should be addressed? Often your critics will be at least partially right in one or more of these areas; at the very least, they will teach you patience, make you more like Christ, and keep you from pride. They can save you from yourself and lead you to greater dependency on God.

Whatever results the criticism yields, once you’ve dealt with it and implemented the necessary changes, do not let it fester inside of you. Develop the attitude of Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, “Criticism makes very little dent upon me, unless I think there is some real justification and something should be done.” Either way, deal with the criticism quickly and efficiently, and put it behind you. Remember, pessimism develops when we harbor the memory and hurt of criticism, allowing it to fester inside.

7.Consider Scripture. Some ministers are so delicate that they cannot endure criticism without crumbling. They need to develop better emotional muscle. Other ministers are so battle-hardened by the ministry that their hearts are, as someone said, like “the hide of a rhinoceros.” They need to develop the tender heart of a child. Actually, we need both; we need to cultivate the heart of a child for biblical criticism and the hide of a rhinoceros for satanic criticism. That combination is possible, not in our strength, but only through God’s grace molding our hearts by His Word.

We need to memorize and meditate upon texts such as Ephesians 6:10, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might,” as well as Romans 12:10, “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love.” We ought to read and plead upon such texts every day, and let them permeate our minds and souls. Only as Scripture conforms us to the image of Christ will we find the right balance of strong tenderness and tender strength in the face of criticism.

8.Consider Christ. Hebrews 12:3 says, “Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself.” Peter is more detailed: “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. 2:21-23). If Christ, who was perfect and altogether innocent, was spat upon, mocked, rejected, and crucified, what can we imperfect pastors expect? If one of Jesus’ handpicked apostles betrayed him for a paltry sum, and another swore that he did not know Him out of fear for a servant maid, why should we expect to carry on our ministries without ever being betrayed or deserted?

What’s more, if our critics happen to be in error and we are suffering unjustly, shouldn’t we thank God that they don’t know how bad we truly are? No matter how much we are criticized, we are never criticized as much as our sin merits, even if we are innocent of the accusation levelled against us.

If we have Christ, who, being innocent, suffered infinitely more for our sake than we shall ever suffer for His sake, we have more than enough to cope with any trial (1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 4:7-12). Drink deeply of the love of Christ, and you will conquer pessimism and be able to love your critic.

9.Consider biblical saints. Allow me to illustrate this point only from the example of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians. There he defends himself from the charges of the Corinthians who were challenging his leadership and criticizing him for not being a super-apostle, being physically weak, and having contemptible speech. How does Paul respond to these criticisms in chapter 10? He takes refuge in Christ. “We are Christ’s,” he says in verse 7. He shores up his identity in Christ’s person and His work, according to the Scriptures and his own experience. Then, he strives to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Finally, he submits his every weakness into God’s hands, accepts those weaknesses, and trusts that God will use him even as a broken clay pot to let the gospel light shine through him. Let us go and do likewise.

10.Consider love. Love the one who criticizes you in these ways: For Christ’s sake, become better acquainted with those who criticize you; you cannot love those you don’t know. Seek to understand them. Assure them that you want to learn from them and that you want iron to sharpen iron. Thank them for coming directly to you with their criticism.

Be willing to forgive any injury done to you. Failure to forgive will keep the pain alive. It will sour your preaching, cripple your ministry, and hinder your prayer life. As Spurgeon says, “Unless you have forgiven others, you read your own death warrant when you repeat the Lord’s Prayer. Forgive and forget. When you bury a dead dog, don’t leave its tail sticking up above the ground.”

Pray with your critic. If he visits you, always begin with prayer, and ask him to close in prayer, unless he is still bitter at the end of the visit. (In the case of a woman or child, you should probably offer the closing prayer.) Be very careful to pray to God and not against your critic in your prayer. Go the extra mile to ask the Lord to forgive you and to help you change in any area that needs forgiveness and change. Be as specific as possible. Pray with integrity and humility.

And then pray for your critic in private. It’s difficult to stay bitter against a person for whom you pray. The Lord delivered Job from his hard feelings toward his judgmental friends when he prayed for them. Praying for those who defame you produces peace of mind and freedom from most of the pain of criticism.

Feel pity for your negative critic. How unhappy such a person is! What damage habitually critical adults do to their children! How seldom do the children of critics become stalwart sons and daughters of the church! How tragic to be a parent who causes “these little ones to stumble”! Critical parents will have so much to answer for on the Judgment Day. Thank God that you are on the receiving end, not the criticizing end. That, too, is only by grace, for our natural hearts are no better or different.

Finally, put away anything that inhibits love. As Peter writes, “Lay aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings” (1 Pet. 2:1). Show kindness and attention. I feel so strongly about this that someone said, “The best way to get attention from our minister is to become his enemy!”

There’s another side-benefit to this for yourself as well. You will discover that when you lovingly serve your critic rather than resentfully retaliate against him, your own wounds will heal more rapidly. If your critic rebuffs your attempt to serve him, reach out to serve others-comfort the needy, lift up the fallen, support the weak. That will be excellent therapy for you.

11.Consider the long haul. No president in American history was so respected and yet so reviled as Abraham Lincoln. Thousands opposed his views on war and slavery as well as his attempts to keep the nation united. One day a friend pulled Lincoln aside and told him that the criticism had reached such a crescendo that it was as if Lincoln were surrounded by scores of barking dogs. Lincoln responded, “You know that during the time of the full moon, dogs bark and bark at the moon as long as it is clearly visible in the sky.” Puzzled by Lincoln’s response, the friend asked, “What are you driving at? What’s the rest of the story?” Lincoln answered, “There is nothing more to tell. The moon keeps right on shining.”

You see, Lincoln believed he was right and that his policies would in the long run win over critics and unify the country. As pastors, we can waffle too easily under the pressure of “barking parishioners” when we know we are in the right. To obtain temporary peace with a few disgruntled members, we are prone to abandon long-term biblical vision that shines on our churches and ministries like a full moon. Don’t do that, brothers. Don’t be intimidated by criticism. Don’t allow a few critics to force you into their molds, so that you live timid and hesitant lives, doing nothing, saying nothing, and worst of all, being nothing.

Remember, the fear of criticism is usually a greater threat than criticism itself. Even as you feel the fear of man, let the fear of God propel you forward and upward. Retain long-term vision by fearing God more than man. In the long haul, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again.”

12.Consider eternity. On the other side of Jordan, our faithful Savior will be waiting for us who will never let us down. He loves us even though He knows everything about us, and He will take us to be with Him where He is forever. He will wipe away every tear from our eye and will prove to be the Friend who sticks closer than a brother. All wrongs will be made right. All injustices will be judged. All criticism will be past. All evil will be walled out of heaven and all good walled in.

Because of Jesus Christ, we will enjoy perfect fellowship and friendship with the Triune God, forever knowing, loving, and communing with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. As a woman seeing her newborn forgets the pain of delivery, you will forget all the trials of your ministry when you embrace Immanuel.

In heaven, there will be perfect unity. We will commune with the unfallen angels and the saints of all ages in absolute perfection. There will be no denominations, no divisions, no disagreements, no misunderstandings, no theological arguments, no ignorance. There will not be a hair’s breadth of difference among the saints. We shall all be one even as Christ is in the Father and the Father in Him. There will be a complete, perfect, visible, intimate oneness.

Three great truths shall become perfect reality for us: first, we will understand that all the criticism we received here below was used in the hands of our Potter to prepare us for Immanuel’s land. Second, we will see fully that all the criticisms we were called to bear on earth were but a light affliction compared to the weight of glory that awaited us. Third, in heaven we will be “more than repaid” for every affliction we endured on earth for the sake of our best and perfect Friend, Jesus Christ.

Oh, happy day when this mortality shall put on immortality and this corruption, incorruption, and we shall ever be with the Lord! Let all the criticism our Sovereign God calls us to endure in this life in His infinite wisdom make us more homesick for the criticism-free land of Beulah where the Lamb is all the glory. There,

The bride eyes not her garment
But her dear Bridegroom’s face.
I will not gaze at glory,
But at my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth,
But at His pierced hand.
The Lamb is all the glory
In Immanuel’s land.

Developing a Positive Attitude

Brothers, do we have a positive view of the ministry? We have the most important and significant vocation in the world. My father often said to me, “Your calling is more important than living in the White House!” We never have to wake up in the morning and ask if our ministry is a worthwhile pursuit. As Richard Baxter says, “I would not change my life for any of the greatest dignities on earth. I am contented to consume my body, to sacrifice to God’s service, and to spend all that I have, and to be spent myself, for the souls of men.”

We are ambassadors of the King of kings, and we have His promise that His Word shall not return to Him void (Is. 55:10-11). Christ is our intercessor at the right hand of the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the advocate in our heart. God will not allow criticism beyond what He provides grace for us to bear (1 Cor. 10:13). Every criticism, like any other hardship or difficulty, will eventually work for our good (Rom. 8:28).

Stop your worldly complaining. Count your blessings. Persevere in the good fight of faith. You have the best of assurances in that fight-the promises of God; the best of advocates-the Holy Spirit; the best of generals-Jesus Christ; the best of results-everlasting glory. Follow Fred Malone’s advice, “We must quit expecting people to respond properly, making them our tin gods of life and death. This is idolatry, to live and die upon our people’s behavior. Paul said, ‘Having received mercy, we faint not.’ The comfort of God’s mercy received is the only lasting motivation I have ever found to labor on in trial.”

“Lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet” (Heb. 12:12-13). For every look you take at yourself and your circumstances, look ten times at Christ, as Richard Baxter advised. You can start complaining when you have given as much for Christ as He has given for you. Gird up the loins of your mind, and stand fast, for your Savior is greater than both Apollyon and the times. Your Sender will not desert you. Hold fast your profession-even when friends desert you-by clinging to your High Priest who is holding fast to you. Trust Him. He’s a Friend that sticks closer than a brother; He will never desert you. Don’t put your trust in princes or in a dying, fallen world, but in the Prince of peace. Look Christward; lean Christward; pray Christward; preach Christward.

Put your hands again to the plow, despite your weakness and hurts. “Continue with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you,” Spurgeon advised. Pray more and look at circumstances less. “Bury not the church before she be dead,” John Flavel quipped, and I would add: “Bury not yourself nor the church before you and she be dead.” Believe Christ’s promise to His servants in Isaiah 54:17, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.”

Don’t resign; re-sign. Renew your commitment to Christ and His cause. You do that the same way the backsliding Ephesians had to “re-sign” when they left their first love. You:

Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen,
Repent of your worldliness and backsliding,
Return to your first love, ministry, and do the first works (Rev. 2:5).

Don’t give up on the Lord. He is not done with you or your ministry. Serve this great God with faithfulness and zeal. The world may not be worthy of you, but God is. Serve your Master with all your heart and every gift that you have.

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