Listen to the Critics!

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Statler and Waldorf, everyone’s favorite Muppet Show critics.

I think one of the toughest things to do as a human being is take criticism well.  Pride is very much a part of our nature, it’s a mask that we think can hide us from hurt, and receiving criticism requires us to take off the mask.

But take off the mask we must. That’s why popular mantras that call us to ignore the critics are not, in my opinion, entirely helpful. No, I’m not saying you should let the opinions of Internet trolls and everyone else you know rule your life. What I am saying is if you don’t at least consider the views of your critics you’re missing out on an opportunity to learn. And if you’re not learning, you’re not growing.

Proverbs 29:1 says this:

Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery.

I recently read through the book of Proverbs, and that is one of the only times the sudden destruction-type language comes into play. Isn’t that radically different from the popular wisdom of the world?

This is so important to me because I generally don’t take criticism well. I work hard and have generally always been good at what I put my mind to. Things that are difficult for others have been, by God’s grace, been made easy for me, so when someone comes at me with a critique of my work I tend to get defensive instead of receptive.

It’s also important to me because I don’t want to be suddenly destroyed. I don’t think Proverbs 29 is necessarily saying that God is going to execute some sort of divine judgment on you if you ignore a comment about how you shouldn’t wear navy blue workout pants with a black t-shirt (my wife may or may not have criticised me about this once).

No, I think it just means that people who don’t take criticism well are proud, and pride comes before the fall.  If I ignore financial criticism, my finances will suffer. If I ignore my wife’s criticism, our relationship will suffer. If ignore criticism in the church, my ministry will suffer. If I ignore spiritual criticism, my relationship with Jesus will suffer.

How do you react when you’re criticised? What areas of your life do you get most defensive about? Approach criticism with humility, because if you do it’ll sharpen you instead of harm you!

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Love is…etc.

1 Corinthians 13 is probably one of the most well-known passages in the Bible.  It’s been read aloud at countless weddings, printed on bookmarks, and sewn into pillows.  It was even the subject of a bet between Owen Wilson’s and Vince Vaughn’s characters  in the movie Wedding Crashers.

The passage I’m referring to is the one in which Paul spells out the definition of love — “Love is patient, love is kind…”  We’ve all heard it, but that might be part of the problem.  It’s become such a familiar part of our culture that its details have become lost.  It’s an invaluable gem hiding in plain sight.

I really began evaluating my personal definition of love a few months ago when night after night I left work with a whole lot of stress and just a little patience.  I was overwhelmed, and to my family I constantly seemed tired and irritable.  Even worse, at times I even made them feel like they were the cause of my irritation.  I would look forward to seeing my wife and son all day, but by the time I walked through the front door the wick on my candle was all but burned out.

"Love is patient..."

“Love is patient…”

Then God hit me with just a single piece of the love passage — “Love is patient” — and it convicted me.  It’s so easy to say you love someone, but when your actions are suddenly challenged by God’s standards it’s a humbling experience.  Suddenly I didn’t see 1 Corinthians 13 as a pop culture reference, but rightfully as the Word of the God who is love personified.

And he is loving.  What’s one way I know?  He’s patient with me.  Like a good dad who doesn’t respond harshly to every immature thing his children do, God waits out my failures and patiently teaches me to be more like him.

So what’s your definition of love?  Take some time to read 1 Corinthians 13 and evaluate your own standards to see how well they align with God’s.

Learning from Literature

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Moby Dick

One thing my friends and family know about me is that I’m not just a Faith Nerd, but I’m a literature nerd too. So I absolutely love it when the two passions meet, as they do in the following quote from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:

Yes, there is death in this business of whaling- a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me.

What book quotes get you thinking about your spiritual life?

Busy Lazy

 

I recently made a horrifying discovery while reading the book of Proverbs: I’m lazy.

It’s not surprising I didn’t notice it before.  The L-word was hidden behind a Google Calendar that is so packed with meetings, programs, and phone calls it looks like an old-school game of Super Breakout.  Yet when I read Proverbs I get the sense that avoiding laziness has less to do with filling a calendar and more to do with how I use the time I’ve been given.

lazy busy breakout google calendar

Sometimes my Google Calendar looks like a game of Super Breakout.

For example, Proverbs 12:27 advises, “Lazy people don’t even cook the game they catch, but the diligent make use of everything they find.”  I’m not a hunter, but I suspect this verse is about more than food.  I think it’s about following through, and being thorough in everything I do, though if I’m honest I have a tendency to set my work aside once the easy part’s done.  I set it aside and say “I’ll finish this up tomorrow” and convince myself I’m not being lazy because I’m moving on to another project.

So I’m not always lazy, I guess, but that’s exactly why such a deficiency has hidden in my blind spot for so long.  I’m selective in my laziness. I’m busy lazy.

Another convicting passage for me is found in Proverbs 24, where the text describes a wise man’s view of a dilapidated vineyard owned by a lazy person.  The vineyard is covered in weeds and its walls are crumbling, and the wise man concludes: “A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber.”

What powerful imagery!  Do I want to be stripped of everything because I’m too lazy, or too disorganized, to maintain that which I’ve been blessed with?  I’m much better at starting new things than maintaining that which I’ve been given, and that’s not only bad stewardship, it’s flat-out lazy.

So I’m grateful for God’s grace, which reminds me that I have the opportunity to repent of my laziness, not so I can fill my calendar even more, but so I can make the most of the time He’s given me.  I’m grateful that the wisdom of Proverbs still reveals the foolishness of my heart nearly two decades into my relationship with Christ.  And I’m grateful that though my work sometimes go unfinished,

I serve a God who “began the good work within [me]” and “will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6).