A Critical Spirit – Part 3

A critical spirit is not one that a Christian mom wants to characterize her heart or her words. That groundwork was laid in the first article of this series. Last month we started evaluating, in a practical sense, how to be a mother who brings her children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord without criticizing them. Here is a link to that article.

As we move into the spiritual issues behind criticism, let’s begin by listening to our hearts, our emotions, our motives, and our words when we have that critical spirit toward our children. We want to discover what is at the root of the criticism. I can give you a few thoughts, and you will likely have some of your own.

It seems to me that the criticism often stems from a selfish focus. The thing I am criticizing in my child causes an imposition on my time, my emotions, or my energy. It may also reflect back to me my own failings or character deficiencies and therefore be even more undesirable to me in my child.

Let’s reflect on the examples from last month starting with the child who doesn’t do his chore. In the child’s failure to take out the trash, I remember my wrong thoughts when I was faced with that situation in the past. First I was frustrated because as I went to put something into the trash, it was overflowing. That in itself was an inconvenience. Then, I needed to find the child who should have taken out the trash. Usually I had plenty of other things to do, so my time was impacted. Not only did I have to get the child to do his job, but I also had to determine or deliver a consequence for not accomplishing work that was assigned to him. This impacted my emotional energy. If I had invested effort into helping my child with this problem in the past, there might be bitterness in my heart toward that child because of lack of progress.

What about the example of two children quarreling over a toy? Again we can see it takes Mom’s time to deal with the situation. It also impacts her emotions, and bitterness could be there as well, rooted in the consistency of sibling squabbles as the problems continue.

Perhaps the critical words come during times when Mom is feeling stressed, or she is tired from being up with a nursing baby or sick children. These evaluations and the information gathered from them are important in order to effect change.

I believe the key to becoming an encouraging, admonishing mom from a critical one is found in this verse: “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (Proverbs 31:26). Wisdom and kindness—they are certainly in our hearts and, for most of us, would characterize our desire for our interactions with our children, even when correcting them. How do we move toward the goal?

Wisdom will help us with wrong heart attitudes. In addition, it will allow us to direct our children in positive ways. That wisdom grows from our relationship with the One Who is wisdom personified, Jesus Christ. We must have His grace, His mercy, and His strength. That means lifting our hearts in prayer and also spending time with Him in His Word each day so that He can transform those areas of our lives that aren’t pleasing to Him and prepare us for our interactions with our children.

If you have discerned that selfishness is at the root of your critical words, then as you are reading Scripture, you will discover verses that have to do with self-denial and servanthood, such as the following:

“And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.” (Mark 10:44)

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

When a situation comes up where the selfishness wants to manifest itself, you will immediately begin to pray, asking the Lord for His strength and help. Then you can do as 2 Corinthians 10:5 says and take your thoughts captive: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

The process might sound like this. “Lord Jesus, You know I don’t want to give up what I had planned to do with this time to work with my children and help them learn to be kind to each other. However, I love those children more than anything, and I desire that they would become loving to each other. Thank You for calling me first to serve You and then to serve them. While to me it feels like self-denial to set aside what I had planned to do right now, taking time to instruct and correct them is really no self-denial at all. Would You give me Your patient, wise, and kind spirit as I now work with them?”

While this may seem simplistic, I encourage you to make yourself take time to pray like this. It allows you to move away from your selfish thoughts and attitudes, to appropriate God’s power, and to put right thoughts into your mind.

“The lips of the wise disperse knowledge: but the heart of the foolish doeth not so” (Proverbs 15:7). “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness” (Proverbs 15:2). When you have cultivated that relationship with Jesus Christ and have been learning from Him, wise words will first come to your heart and then from your mouth. However, without His wisdom, you will likely be left feeling like the fool from these verses because of the critical words characterizing your interactions with your children.

I encourage you to memorize Scripture if you are struggling with a critical attitude toward your children. Having memorized Scripture will also allow you to quickly give your children a biblical reason to eliminate negative behavior and to encourage positive behavior. Here are links to a series of Mom’s Corners about memorizing Scripture.

Perhaps you will tell me that it is too difficult to memorize Scripture or that you don’t know what verse to use at the particular moment. Consider this: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). If you struggle with those problems, the Lord has a solution. Ask Him for wisdom. He can help you memorize, and He can bring to mind the appropriate verses.

“Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands” (Proverbs 14:1). I want to be a wise woman whom the Lord can use to build my house. Do you? If so, I encourage you to decide today to spend time in the Word every day—time that will help you grow away from a critical spirit and allow you to disperse wise words to your children. Repent of a critical spirit and critical words, and ask the Lord for His strength and wisdom to help you in your weakness. We have gotten started in our quest to discover how we can raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord without being critical of them. Next month we will dig deeper.

Bitter or Sweet? – Part 6

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

I anticipate this to be the final Corner in this series on the subject of improving one’s marriage, whether it is currently bitter or sweet. If you haven’t read the previous Corners in the series, I would encourage you to do that now. Marriage is precious, instituted by God, and a type of Christ and the Church. A good marriage is a beautiful testimony of God’s grace and love. May each of us evaluate what our marriage proclaims to the world about our God. Does our marriage bring God glory or shame?

We have discussed what agape love is in marriage and practical ways to live out the love that Scripture commands a husband to have for his wife. However, the emotional component of love is icing on the cake. It is like the sweet cream on the top of my favorite brand of yogurt. How we can make our emotional love stronger is the topic of this Corner. The question is: Do I desire a greater love for my wife, and if I do, what level of effort am I willing to expend?

I have a concern about writing on emotional love. Emotional love is the less noble love when compared to agape love. Agape love is love based on choice and commitment. Agape love is God’s love for us that sent Jesus to the cross. It is a sacrificial love that affects our actions toward another. Agape love, for the most part, is separate from emotions. It is a choice. However, phileo love is an emotional, pleasurable love. The Bible primarily speaks of agape love, and therefore, we must focus our attention on agape love and minor on phileo.

How do I build phileo love upon my agape love? I have to say that I don’t believe there is any simple one, two, three step approach that guarantees phileo love for someone. I do think there are concepts we can learn from Scripture that give us important general direction. “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). The word for our love for the Lord is defined in Strong’s Hebrew Concordance as to “have an affection based on a close relationship.” We are to have a strong emotional love for the Lord God!

The following verses are key for us to affectionately love God. “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). We teach our children to emotionally love God by positively talking about Him with them through out the day and by using His Word frequently during those conversations.

When our family is in the Word in the morning during our personal Bible devotions and then in the evening during family Bible time, we see how glorious the Lord is. We see how gracious He is and how merciful He is. We see how great His love is for us all day, every day! As we reflect on these things, we are filled with a sense of emotional pleasure due to the awesomeness of our God! Focusing on the positive aspects of God that relate to us builds our emotional love of God.

David, a man after God’s own heart is a superb example of someone with strong emotional love for the Lord. Many of the Psalms that David wrote are his personal love letters for his God. “Listen” to just a few passages from the first twelve Psalms.

“But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; My glory, and the lifter up of mine head” (Psalm 3:3).

“I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: For thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

“O LORD our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth! Who hast set thy glory above the heavens” (Psalm 8:1).

“The LORD trieth the righteous: But the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth” (Psalm 11:5).

“The words of the LORD are pure words: As silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Psalm 12:6).

In my desire to love Teri more, what can I learn from David’s love for his God? David focused on the qualities of God that were applicable to his relationship with God. For my emotional love to grow toward Teri, I need to focus on her positive qualities that are applicable to our marriage and relationship. I thank the Lord for her heart to love and please the Lord Jesus. I praise God for Teri’s desire to be a good wife and mother. I thank God for her kindness and thoughtfulness. I delight in her love for me and desire to please me. I am eternally grateful for her carrying each child for nine months and giving birth to him. I am so grateful for all the years she has selflessly invested in the children’s education. She is a teammate in our marriage, and we work well together. She is an outstanding home organizer. She manages her time exceptionally well and is a wonderful example of being diligent. She is constantly seeking to grow in knowledge and grace in the Lord Jesus Christ. She is so faithful to her Lord and to me.

When I focus on Teri’s qualities, I’m grateful to the Lord for giving me her, and my emotional love for her grows. Last night I stopped by an auto parts store to pick up a couple of items. Having accomplished my goal, I was about to get into my vehicle when I noticed a good-looking car parked next to me. There was a man about my age waiting for someone in the store. Since I was struck by how nice the car looked, I commented on it to him. You should have seen him “come alive.” He became happy and animated. He just couldn’t stay seated. With an ear-to-ear grin, he jumped out of the car and excitedly started talking about his car. That man LOVED his car, and with each glowing word of praise for it, I observed his emotional delight ratchet-up a notch higher as if winding a spring tighter and tighter. We talked about his car for a while, and then it was time to go.

I know some men have been accused of loving their cars more than their wives. Hopefully if I had asked him about his wife, he would have been even more animated and excited to tell me about her. My brief encounter with that gentleman highlighted to me that when we major on what is good, there is a positive, emotional response to follow. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). However, if I allow myself to entertain critical or negative thoughts, I kill emotional love.

May we decide whether we want to grow our emotional love for our wives or diminish it. Our marriages are all the sweeter the more emotional love we have for our wives. Why not do all we can to enhance our marriages?