A Critical Spirit – Part 1

I remember years ago eating lunch out with my mom when we were shopping one day. We were having pizza, and I ordered a large soda with my meal. When the drinks were delivered, I was disappointed to discover that my cup wasn’t filled to the brim. Quite quickly I muttered, “They sure were stingy with my drink. Look how much more they could have put into this glass.”

My mom smiled and responded with, “Wow. I was just thinking what a huge glass of Pepsi that was.”

Have you ever known someone who seems to find something negative in almost every person or situation? Not only do they think those thoughts themselves, but they also share them with whomever is nearby. Do you enjoy being around that person? What about you? What kind of thoughts do you allow into your mind? Are they critical, or are they edifying?

In the soda cup example, I had the critical attitude, while my mom had the positive one. There were certainly two ways to look at that glass. One view would cause negative feelings, agitation, discontentment, and unhappiness. I was finding fault with the one who had prepared my drink and served it to me without that drink being as full as I thought it should have been. The other way of looking at the glass of soda would most likely lead to a peaceful heart, contentment, gratitude, and pleasure.

Do you know what the dictionary definition of criticism is? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it is, “to find fault with; point out the fault of.” With that definition, consider these verses: “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:8-10). “To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men” (Titus 3:2).

One of the goals we have for our children is that they would learn to edify rather than criticize. We have even listed that goal in our family vision statement with these two verses: “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another” (Romans 14:19). “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Teaching our children to edify rather than criticize would begin with my personal example.

A critical spirit can cause damage to relationships. Consider the mother who generally points out her children’s failures, while continually picking and nagging at those children. Does that draw the child’s heart to the mom? No, the outcome of criticism is likely to be a child who draws back from the mother, trying to protect his heart from the pain of more disappointment that is bound up with the negative words from the mom’s mouth. Critical words play a role in those kinds of attitudes.

What about the wife who speaks to her husband of each thing he does that she doesn’t like or doesn’t believe he does very well? Even if she is not yelling at him, what do those critical words do to their relationship? What does he come to expect in the relationship? Does that draw his heart to her? What if she were to only point out seventy-five or fifty percent of those aspects of his behavior that displease her? Would that make it better? “A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike” (Proverbs 27:15 ). I wonder if it is possible that criticism could be part of what can make a wife contentious.

How do you feel about the friend who regularly tells you of others’ failures or spends her conversation with you complaining about her husband or children? When her focus is on these details of life, does it make you want to seek her out for fellowship? Does it cause your heart to feel burdened or joyful?

On Friday, Steve and I were enjoying a lunch date at our favorite, local Mexican restaurant. When we were finished eating, he reached across the table, took my hand, and told me how much he loved me and loved being with me. While those words brought much joy to my heart, the Lord also used them to bring conviction.

In that moment, I was instantly returned to the conversations between us while we ate, and I recalled a couple of things that I had said that could have been construed as critical comments. Having begun to work on this Mom’s Corner, criticism was quite fresh on my mind. I realized how much more pleasant it would be for Steve during our times of communication if I didn’t put any negative thoughts into his mind through critical words.

Remember that there is harm that comes from criticism: first to others but also to the one who thinks and then speaks the critical words. Criticism separates relationships as we observed in a mother/child relationship and in a husband/wife relationship. It will be true of other relationships as well. It causes those who are the recipients of the criticism to form a shell of protection from the critical words which then distances a relationship. If I am listening to a person who is prone to criticism, I soon find that their poison infiltrates my mind even if I try to resist it.

In my walk with the Lord, it has been my desire to move away from a critical spirit to one that edifies. I would like to look at the process of gaining victory over a critical spirit in next month’s Mom’s Corner. In the coming days, I encourage you to listen carefully to yourself. Are your words critical, or are your words edifying? Maybe you could benefit from evaluating criticism with me from a biblical viewpoint. If you have allowed a critical spirit to become a part of your life, then you might consider letting the Lord prune it away from you as we study this topic in more depth. I think this would be a worthy goal for each of us: “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (Proverbs 31:26).

Bitter or Sweet? – Part 4

To listen to this Corner as a podcast, please see this link.

We are continuing with the topic of improving one’s marriage, whether it is currently bitter or sweet. If you haven’t read the previous three Corners, I would encourage you to do that now. Marriage is precious, instituted by God, a type of Christ and the Church, and not to be trifled with. As with anything of significant value, great care must be expended to protect and enhance it.

In Scripture, we discovered that husbands are commanded to love their wives with “agape” love. What is most amazing to me is that I haven’t found anywhere in Scripture where a wife is called to “agape” love her husband. I understand that we are commanded to love our enemies, and in some rocky marriages a wife may feel like an enemy. We are also to love our neighbors as ourselves, but I’m referring to a mention where the wife is specifically told to “agape” love her husband.

One thing a wife is instructed in Scripture is that she should submit to her husband. “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives” (1 Peter 3:1). Let’s be clear about submission in a marriage. It is a voluntary offering by a wife as unto the Lord. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). It is not to be commanded or demanded by a husband.

We discussed previously how humanly impossible it is for a husband to love his wife with “agape” love at all times, but equally so would it be for a wife to submit to her husband all the time. Yet, God would not command it if He didn’t expect us to make that “the standard.”

“Since God has directed, and He will give grace to both parties, are there things that husbands can do to make it easier for their wives in those times when submission would be her appropriate response? Absolutely! First, let’s define the term “subjection” as found in 1 Peter 3:1 and “submit” in Colossians 3:18 and Ephesians 5:22. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines that word in the Greek as a military term “to rank under.” In essence, it means to obey. It presents a beautiful picture of how a wife’s submission strengthens the marriage, just as a soldier’s willingness to obey his commander’s orders strengthens an army. In the same way that God placed the husband in the home as the leader and final decision maker, He has put the wife in the home to be the follower. It is not difficult to see why God called the wife to obey and respect (we will talk about that next month) the husband because those are necessary qualities of a follower. The husband is to love his wife since that should cause him to be a careful, gentle, and compassionate leader. Neither husband or wife is going to be one hundred percent successful in their God-given roles and will therefore at times disappoint the other. In spite of his bad choices, she is still to obey her husband in the Lord. He is to love his wife even though sometimes she might not follow him and other times remind him of his failures.

The most obvious way Dad can sweeten the marriage and make it easier for Mom to follow him is for Dad to be a man of God, a follower of  the Lord Jesus, and a wise decision maker. There was a two-part series of Dad’s Corners about making wise decisions and here are the links: Part 1 and Part 2. One aspect  the articles highlight is how our pride can cause us at times to make stupid decisions and then that pride also prevents us from acknowledging our error. That is certainly a recipe for making it difficult for a wife to cheerfully follow. On the other hand, humble leadership can be a soothing balm to her soul since his humble acknowledgement of failure eases any potential reaction she might have.

The more we are in the Word, the more we understand God’s will for our lives. There are many decisions we will immediately know the answer to if we are daily in the Word. One man years ago told me he was praying about whether to leave his wife. I told him that was unnecessary. If he was reading his Bible, he would see that God had already told him, “No! Don’t do it.”

We are to see everything in life through the “grid” of Scripture. Christian wives desire husbands that know the Word and lead their family accordingly. If she is to submit to her head, shouldn’t her husband cheerfully submit to his Head, the Lord Jesus Christ? My wife’s head can be seen, but my Head, the Lord Jesus, must be followed with eyes of faith and a close walk. My Head is infallible; her head makes mistakes. We are to follow our Lord and Shepherd. “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice” (John 10:4). Are we doing all we can to listen to Him and hear His voice? If we do, it makes it much easier for her to follow, and it sweetens the marriage.

One way that makes it especially easy for a wife to follow is when she is prized as a helpmeet with valuable abilities and insights. A wise husband will recognize that God often works through his wife and gives her insights that he might not have. Most Christian women have a keen spiritual sensitivity, and God may give your wife cautions and insight at times that He doesn’t give you.

This weekend, God gave us an example of this. I had plans to attend a graduation event with three of the children. It would involve a four-hour drive, and we would be driving home very late Saturday night to avoid the cost of a motel room. Teri came to me and shared a concern about being on that particular road late at night with potential drunk drivers. She asked that we consider staying in a hotel and coming home on Sunday. Because of my respect for Teri, I opted for the motel room. The only way to prove it was of the Lord would be to drive home and see if something bad happened. However, I want to be someone with a sensitivity to the Lord and how He might direct: therefore, I accepted her counsel. Men, your wife is a God-given jewel of greater value than rubies. Be easy to follow, and you will have a sweeter marriage.

Let’s consider an example as to how difficult it can be for wives when their husbands are making bad decisions. I have heard many Christian dads exclaim their displeasure in governmental authorities’ decisions these days. Those decisions are serious with far-reaching consequences impacting the lives of unborn babies, family welfare, educational policies, national sovereignty, and national financial stability to name a few. Just as we dislike following governmental leaders who are making poor decisions for our country, consider how a wife feels about following a husband she believes to be making bad spiritual choices for their family.

We are going to be much easier to follow when our hearts are brought low in humility with the reality of how serious our decisions are. Similar to the difficulty in turning this nation around, poor decisions will affect the lives of our children and likely their children after them.

God has given a wife the job of being a helpmeet and follower. Do we appreciate how difficult her job is? She is called to follow her husband as unto the Lord even if he makes bad decisions. However, it makes for a happier wife and sweeter marriage if we will make it easier for her. Are we men of God following our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ?