It is good to follow Jesus.
But that doesn’t mean it is going to be easy.
There’s a reason Jesus calls it picking up your cross and describes the process as dying to self. Death can be very painful.
It’s painful when your circumstances don’t work out the way you want, definitely. But what may be even more painful is the criticism you will face for attempting to do the right thing.
What do you do?
Stay humble, don’t make it about you, and look for opportunities.
When we moved to Africa there were lots of things that didn’t work out the way we wanted. We were passionate about doing certain things that the people around us weren’t very passionate about. Whenever I had the chance I would try to preach or motivate, and for some reason, it wasn’t very motivating for them. I remember feeling confused and disappointed.
Now looking back however, I realize, it wasn’t that unusual.
For one thing, God wires people differently for a reason. It’s part of His plan for getting accomplished all the different things He wants to get accomplished. You don’t need to make everyone into your image, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily need to make you into theirs either. And so, we began looking around asking what can we do? We are here. People aren’t that excited about what we are excited about. But, still there were opportunities. There are always opportunities! We went up to a township called Stinkwater and began doing children’s Bible clubs. I started preaching in different churches and getting to know different pastors. We visited different orphanages. We were trying to do anything we could do, and yet, as we were doing all that, sometimes people would criticize what we were doing and, even worse, why we were trying to do what we were trying to do.
For most of us, as that’s happening, that feels like a big deal.
But really, in the big scheme of things, it’s not. You are not the first person to be criticized. You are definitely not above criticism. The goal of ministry is not for you to be worshiped anyway. You don’t have to justify yourself. You can speak the truth, certainly you should, but don’t make it about you. Do whatever you can to live at peace with the people around you and do the next right thing.
More specifically, make sure you have listened and truly understood the criticism they are making. When we are invested in a ministry, it feels personal. And when things feel personal, we usually get emotional. And when we get emotional, we often misinterpret what people are saying to us. Maybe not. But maybe. So before you write them off, slow down and do whatever it takes to understand what they actually are trying to tell you.
Remind yourself that you are saved by Jesus’ work and loved by God who knows more about you than anyone else. We often overreact to criticism because other people’s opinions of us have become the place we are looking on a daily basis for our identity and security. Rejoice that you are saved by what God thinks of you not what the person who is upset thinks of you.
Think carefully about the criticism you are receiving. And humbly!
One of the dangers when you are doing something you believe is right is not listening to good and godly counsel. Everybody is wrong! I am right! That’s not usually true. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean simply because someone is correcting you they are necessarily right.
It would be easy if you knew who you should listen to simply by whether they were religious or not. But the fact is Jesus was deeply criticized by who? The religious leaders of his day. Paul was attacked by people who claimed to be spiritual. And down throughout church history we find men like Luther, Calvin, Whitefield, and Spurgeon repeatedly abused by people who should have known better.
It is foolish to automatically put yourself in the place of men like this the first time you are criticized. It can be a great way to avoid helpful criticism. Oh, they are just attacking me because I am so spiritual. What? On the other hand, some criticism is not really coming from the Scriptures as much as it is coming from a place of guilt. That is just reality. People may see you doing something and they are not doing much and they feel guilty and instead of repenting, they come up with another way to deal with that guilt and one of their methods is coming up with all kinds of reasons why what you are doing isn’t right.
Therefore one of the most important things you can do when you are criticized is too carefully evaluate your life in light of Scripture. Perhaps the person criticizing you is using Scriptural passages. Look them up. Pray about them. Think! Maybe they didn’t give Scriptural passages, but try to think of what principles you may have violated and be willing to repent for any actual sins you may have committed.Without gossiping or presenting spin, you might even go to someone who is not a yes man and ask in a general way focusing on the principle rather than the specific situation whether they have seen you regularly committing that sin.
Commit to trusting God that He can take care of your reputation and be slow to work too hard at defending it yourself unless it is really necessary for the gospel’s sake. View this as an opportunity for self-denial and embrace the opportunity to be humbled. Remember that anything that causes you to trust in the cross more and yourself less can be and is a good thing even if it does really hurt.
Understand these attacks on you actually are a good test of what you really are about. It’s easy to say you are about Jesus. But are you about Jesus? Do you remember the story of Paul in Philippians 1? His experience was much harder than most of what we might experience. He was in prison for preaching the gospel and yet there were people who were seeking to make his life more difficult while he was in jail. But what did Paul say? “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18) Paul was able to rejoice even as he was misunderstood and slandered because Paul’s life wasn’t about Paul, it was about Jesus.
If you are being criticized, it can be appropriate to express sorrow for any ways in which the other person has felt pain as a result of your actions. After all you should be sorry at the very least that they are hurting. But it’s best not to ask for forgiveness unless you are convinced you have sinned. Otherwise asking forgiveness can become a means of manipulation.
You might lovingly ask the person if they have considered that there is another interpretation to the situation. Here you may need to walk carefully because unfortunately the way some people rebuke can make this seem like you are being defensive and make it harder for the other person to hear. Perhaps say that you are happy to think about what they are saying, leave it at that, and then ask if you can get together later and at that point share your perspective. You might ask them if it would help them for you to share some other facts that might aid them in looking at the situation.
Learn what you can from their poor confrontation, try as hard as you can not to make the same mistakes when you need to confront others, then try not to get distracted, die to self, move on and start asking, how can you serve Jesus?