Cure for a Critical Spirit

I am a pretty good editor.

Now, that may sound like boasting, but hang in there with me and you’ll see that it really isn’t.

I’m pretty good at finding errors in written work, as well as other kinds of things. For example, I’m often the only one in a room who sees that a picture is crooked, or a rug is folded in one corner. I notice when someone’s grammar or sentence structure is wrong, or they pronounce a word incorrectly. I’m not one to correct people (except in my head) but I do notice. Now, there’s nothing wrong with understanding grammar rules or wanting home furnishings to look right. The problem comes when the desire for things to be right (AKA my way) translates to my relationships. When others don’t do things my way, and my heart responds sinfully, then I know that I have developed a critical spirit.

Those of us who tend to see what is wrong in our environment may be prone toward this type of sinful attitude. Our desire to “edit” may become a tendency to be judgmental of others. For example, we may see a mom struggling with an unruly child, and begin to judge her parenting based on that single observation. We may think we know what she can do to fix the problem when, in reality, we have no idea what the overall dynamic of that relationship is. As a result, we form an opinion of her that is less than positive, and we begin to relate to her in that way.

Critical Spirit Exposed

This critical spirit can show up in group settings, too. Mary is in a Bible study with some other ladies from her church. She enjoys the study, but there are a couple of ladies in it who irritate her. One of them never has the homework done, but attempts to join the conversation—with many inaccurate statements—having not read the required material. Mary also gets irritated with the leader for not admonishing this woman to do her homework. She leaves each week grumbling under her breath about the lack of leadership in the group.

Marriage is another area where a critical spirit may show up. Joyce has been married for over 30 years to a wonderful Christian man who loves her and would do anything for her. He often likes to make the bed, just to surprise her, and he always does the dishes after dinner. Joyce is outwardly thankful, but after he leaves for work, she remakes the bed because he doesn’t tuck the sheets properly or fluff the pillows. (Perfectionism is often the sinister sister of a critical spirit.) She sighs and shakes her head each morning as she corrects his mistakes. I’ll leave to your imagination her response to his dishwashing.

I hope by now that you’ve come to the conclusion that a critical spirit has no business in the heart of a Christian. I know that I struggle against this tendency on a daily basis but, by the grace of God, I believe I am having some victory. I have found that, in order to cure, or put off, that critical spirit, I must put on:

Love

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  ~ 1 John 4:7-8

No matter how you try to rationalize it, you cannot line up a critical spirit with love. Consider these excerpts from 1st Corinthians 13:

Love is patient: Ask Joyce if it is patience that makes her sigh and shake her head as she remakes the bed.

Love is kind, and does not envy, parade itself, or think in a way that is puffed up. Ask Mary if kindness enters into her grumbling about her Bible study group; if she thinks she would be a better leader; if she feels superior for having done all her homework.

Remember the lady in the story at the beginning of this article, who critiqued the parenting of her sister in Christ? Ask her if she isn’t thinking evil of that other mom.

We could go on in this passage, but I think you probably get my point by now: A critical spirit is unloving.

Humility

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  ~Philippians 2:3

This verse is especially convicting for me, and is, in fact, my go-to memory verse when I’m tempted to give in to that critical spirit. Selfish ambition and conceit are pretty much synonymous with a critical spirit. The Blue Letter Bible says that the Greek word for conceit is kenodoxia, meaning vain glory, or groundless, empty pride. (Interestingly, this is a feminine noun!) Beyond critiquing another’s work, a critical spirit says, “Not only are you doing it wrong. I can do it better.” If you’re thinking of arguing with me on that, think back to the last time you were critical of someone, and you will see that there was an element of conceit in your thinking of what would be a better way—your way—to do whatever you were critiquing.

Gratitude

In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ~1st Thessalonians 5:18

One other godly attitude which must grow if we are to overcome a critical spirit is that of thankfulness. When we judge others’ behavior, appearance, or work, we are expressing a belief that we deserve something more. When Mary critiques the Bible study leader’s skills in leading the group, she is expressing her entitlement to good leadership. Entitlement is the opposite of gratitude. When Joyce remakes the bed, she is expressing a lack of gratitude for her husband’s thoughtfulness and desire to serve her.

Instead of being critical, we should thank the Lord for these individuals He has placed in our lives. Even if we can’t bring ourselves to be thankful for what they do, we can be thankful that their presence in our life is challenging us to grow and change to become more like Christ (see James 4)! Regardless of the situation, there is always something for which to be thankful instead of critical.

Prayer

“…Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” ~Matthew 26:41

I know that this is an area of significant temptation for me, so I must pray diligently that the Lord would set a guard over my heart in this area. The spirit is indeed willing, but my flesh wars against it, and wants to win. Though it’s listed last here, prayer is probably the most important thing to put on as we are putting off a critical spirit. We must include a prayer for help every morning as we commune with the Lord, and we also must continue to pray throughout the day that He would help us in this area.

I will probably always enjoy editing, and I doubt I’ll stop straightening pictures. There are some things about being able to see what’s wrong with something, which are actually good and useful. I do find this to be a helpful skill when trying to figure out where someone’s thinking went wrong in a counseling situation, for example. But a critical spirit that judges others simply cannot be tolerated. With the Lord’s gifts of love, humility, gratitude, and prayer, we can have the victory!

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