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. Give me the mind of Christ that I may remember that the people I criticize are souls destined for either heaven or hell. And may I love them instead of critiquing them. Thank you for loving me though I was a sinful, rebellious, disobedient mess. Help me have compassion on others as You have had on me.
Request #2: “Give me a heart of kindness.”
Let’s return to the dictionary for a look at kindness: “the quality of state of being kind [of a sympathetic or helpful nature].”2 Often when criticizing others, we do so under the auspices of being “helpful.” And, as I’m sure you noticed, helpful was part of the definition of kindness. I readily admit that sometimes it is both kind and helpful to show a person where he made a mistake or how she got something wrong. After all, if I mess up a recipe, I want to find my mistake so that I don’t do the same thing again. However, not all criticism is so altruistic.
A truly kind heart is, once-again, more concerned with the other person that with itself. I’m being truly kind and helpful when I approach a person (whether in person or online) as I would want to be approached and speak as I would like to be spoken to. Kindness rules the day when I genuinely want the other person to grow and improve, whether I get credit for helping or not. Usually, my critical heart just wants to make itself known for things to be done my way. I think I know better, and I consider myself kind if I bite my tongue and say nothing. Nope, wrong again.
Kindness must be a posture of the heart that seeks the well-being, success, comfort, and joy of another person without worrying about itself at all. Again, this sounds a lot like Christ.
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death — even to death on a cross. (Phl 2:5-8)
My critical heart is often unkind, if not in word or deed, then in thought and attitude. I don’t seek the well-being of others; I seek the idol of control and being right. Father, kill this idolatrous attitude and give me the mind of Christ and a heart that is kind like His. May I learn kindness not as a way to manipulate a situation to get my own way but as a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Request #3: “Give me a heart of forbearance.”
In most modern translations, the end of Colossians 3:12 lists the virtue patience. The KJV uses the archaic but helpful term longsuffering. The Greek word makrothumia, represented by these two English words, could be defined as “forbearance…self-restraint before proceeding to action.”3A forbearing person has a long fuse. He can let a lot go before being moved to any type of vengeance or anger. This person doesn’t have to be vindicated; instead, she can trust God to act. While this quality may typically be applied as the opposite of an angry heart, it also fights against the critical heart.
In my spirit of criticism, I want to go on record as being right. Usually I haven’t been “wronged” so much as I see as situation as wrong, and I want to be the one to fix it. I know what it takes, and I want someone to recognize that my ideas are better—even if that person is helpless to actually do anything about the situation that needs fixing.
I need forbearance to stop my critical tongue and bear with the situation. I don’t have to be the one to fix what’s wrong. I can enjoy what’s right, and patiently await the opportunity (should it arise) to offer a suggestion of change. A forbearing heart won’t rush the timing of this opportunity but will allow God to work it out (or not) according to His providence.
Thankfully, God doesn’t treat me with the impatience with which I attack situations. Though countless areas of my life need sanctifying, my forbearing heavenly Father does not tackle them all at once. He patiently works on just a manageable few at a time, all the while shaping me into the image of Christ. His timing is perfect, never rushed, never impatient. May I adopt this attitude as well.
I am quick to judge, quick to speak, and quick to critique. I think I have all the answers, and I want to make them known. Give me a forbearing heart to bear with a situation, even if I think something needs fixed. Help me to trust You to fix it and Your timing to get it done. Rid me of my desire for vindication, and give me a heart of patience, like Your Son who patiently waited for Your time to make His Kingdom known.
Request #4: “Give me a heart of humility.”
This final request comes at the end not because it’s least important but because it encompasses all the others. I cannot have true Christ-like compassion, kindness, or patience without a heart that is also humble. Humility heads off my critical heart before it can even get out of the garage.
A simple definition of humility is “having an accurate view of self.” My critical heart thinks too highly of itself. I become convinced that I know best, when, in fact, I may not be right at all. A humble heart will realize that it doesn’t have all the facts and that maybe things could be done another way. A humble heart also submits to God and says, “Your will done, not mine.” A humble heart lets God be God.
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.
Teach me to have an accurate view of myself and to know that You are God, and I am not. Help me accept my limitations and surrender my critiques to You. Give me the heart of Christ who prayed, “Not my will but Yours be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Please put to death the prideful arrogance of my critical heart and make me humble in heart like my Savior.
3 Spiros Zodhiates. The Complete Word Study Dictionary, “makrothumia.”