There is a lot of talk these days about the mean spirited criticism that can be found on Social Media. If you watch any late-night TV you may have seen Jimmy Kimmel’s response to all of this with his Mean Tweets where he has celebrities read some of the actual mean tweets that they have received. I was going to show some clips of those today, but as I previewed them, none were really appropriate – that’s how mean they were. While facebook, twitter and comments to online websites have provided us with a quick and anonymous way to be critical of others, harsh and mean spirited criticism is nothing new. It is well documented that Moses was harshly criticized many times while he was trying to help and lead God’s people and that criticism came from his own people and his own family. The criticism could have destroyed Moses if he had not learned how to overcome it. By looking at the life of Moses today, we can also learn the key to overcoming criticism in our lives.
The first criticism Moses faced came immediately after he led the people out of Egypt and God had rescued them at the Red Sea, Exodus 15:22-27. I mentioned this passage a few weeks ago and continue to find it amazing that just 3 days after the people had seen the hand of God provide for them through the parting of the Red Sea – a miracle God did with water – that the people have lost sight of God’s power and willingness to provide for them and are critical of Moses for not giving them water.
But it’s not just water they complain about, it is also food and this time when they grumble against Moses it gets a little more personal, Exodus 16:2-3. After all Moses had done to free the people from slavery in Egypt, they had the audacity to tell him they would have been better off if they had stayed in Egypt. After all the hard work Moses had put into their freedom when he clearly had not asked for the job, those words and their attitude must have hurt.
The people continued to criticize Moses every time something went wrong or the people had some need. In Exodus 17 the people needed water again and so they grumbled and were critical of Moses. When Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to meet with God the people criticized Moses because he was taking so long. It was at Mt. Sinai that the criticism actually turned to rebellion because they took Aaron aside and convinced him that since Moses had been gone for so long they wanted someone else to lead them and something else to worship. So Aaron and the people made an idol, a golden calf that they could worship. The people criticized Moses again after spies came back from the Promised Land saying the land was filled with fortified cities and strong enemies. Because they didn’t trust God to help them defeat their enemy, the people criticized Moses for bringing them out of Egypt in the first place. Numbers 14:1-4.
So we can see that the criticism Moses faced wasn’t a onetime thing, it was an ongoing part of his life. The people constantly criticized Moses for what he did and how he did it. With conditions as difficult as they were for the people travelling in the wilderness, I’m sure the criticism was harsh, pointed and personal and it wasn’t just the people or crowds who criticized Moses, it was his family as well; look at Numbers 12:1-2. While we aren’t sure why Miriam and Aaron or so upset, it is clear that they are jealous and so now they start to pick apart Moses’ life and his choices. While we don’t know if Moses ever heard their criticism, we do know that God did.
Let me just stop for a moment because while we are going to go on and look how Moses overcomes this criticism, it is important to see that our criticism of others does not go unnoticed. God hears it. God hears the words of our hearts and the comments we make under our breath or behind people’s backs and we are held accountable for them. While we think we can say things anonymously today, there is no communication that is really private. Nothing that we post, tweet, blog, email or even share with others in a personal conversation is ever really private. We see this on a daily basis as politicians, celebrities and all kinds of leaders are getting into trouble for comments they have made which they thought were private. Just this week a doctor was sued for half a million dollars for comments made about her patient while he was under anesthesia. No words today are really private, but beyond what might be captured and secured through some type of technology, God holds us accountable for our critical words and attitude which means we need to guard against a harsh and critical spirit.
For Moses, criticism came from every direction and those words could have destroyed him if he had not learned to overcome them, so let’s look at what Moses did the first time the people were critical, Exodus 15:24-25a. For Moses, one of the keys in overcoming criticism was to cry out to the Lord. If we were to go back and look at every situation where the people criticized Moses, we would find that Moses found strength and power in overcoming that criticism by turning to God first.
Moses never allowed the criticism of the people to shift his focus from God. Moses never allowed himself to turn away from God and really consider or spend a lot of time thinking about what was said, he kept his focus on God. Moses always looked to God and Moses always asked God for the help and strength and patience needed to keep leading the people. To overcome the harsh and critical words of others we also need to look to God first and ask God for the strength, patience and truth that is needed to overcome the words that we have heard. The key to overcoming all criticism is to not turn and consider all that is being said but to turn to God first, but let’s be honest, that is often not our first response.
If you have ever gotten an email that has been harsh or critical, our first impulse may be to send a quick reply defending ourselves and advocating our position with that same harsh and critical tone. I will admit that I have done this a few times. I have actually written documents defending myself or the church’s decision on something and while I may not try to be intentionally mean spirited, the words were often written with the same harsh attitude that was used on me. Fortunately instead of hitting send I have either hit delete or on a few occasions I really liked what I wrote so I sent the document to myself. The ease of communication these days makes replying in the heat of the moment too easy which doesn’t allow us to take time to think, reflect and ask God for his help and perspective.
To overcome criticism our first response needs to be to stop and pray. Before we formulate a response, before we get angry and start defending ourselves, before we hit back with our own criticism of others, we need to turn and ask God for strength to hear the truth, patience to deal with others and the wisdom to know how and even if we should respond. If we are willing to keep our focus on God instead of turning to consider all the words and attitudes of others – we will experience so much more peace and contentment.
When I first received some criticism in ministry, I was hurt and offended and my immediately reaction was to defend myself, but some very wise pastors told me to do two things. The first pastor told me that instead of defending myself I needed to stop and define for myself who God had called me to be as a pastor. I needed to turn and in conversation with God remember who I was and who God wanted me to be. As I did that, my focus shifted from the criticism of others to the call of God in my life. My eyes and heart got back on God.
The second pastor told me to look at Jesus and learn from him how he handled all the criticism he faced in life. Jesus faced a lot of criticism and like Moses he faced it from adversaries, friends and family and the brilliance of Jesus is that many times he respond to the criticism by not responding at all but simply kept his eyes on His father in heaven and kept going. At Jesus’ trail when he was criticized and questioned by the religious leaders and the roman officials, most of the time Jesus stood silent. He didn’t defend himself; he didn’t respond to their words, he simply kept his eyes on God. This pastor’s advice has helped me shift my focus from the problem to the one who provides the solution – Jesus. I have used this advice more than once. When criticism has come I have tried to turn and look to Jesus first and learn from him how and when and if a response is needed.
Turning to God first is often not our first response in the face of criticism, but it can be learned trait if we are willing to discipline ourselves in this area.
Moses not only turned to God first, but his turning to God again and again helped keep Moses humble and it was his humility that helped Moses overcome criticism. It was in the face of the criticism Moses faced from his family that it says, Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth. Numbers 12:3
It’s hard to see the humility or meekness in Moses at times because he was such a strong, visible and powerful leader, but his humility can be seen in how he faced criticism. When people grumbled against Moses, he didn’t turn on them and lash out at them and he didn’t defend himself and tell everyone how right he was and much he had done for them and how ungrateful they had been. When the criticism came, Moses humbled himself and carried that criticism to God.
Humility can help us overcome criticism. First of all, it is humility that allows us to actually listen to what others have to say to see if there is any truth in their words. The reality is that when the people grumbled to Moses about not having food or water, that was true, there was no food or water and so in humility Moses listened beyond the critical words and carried the concerns of the people to God. While the attitude of the people may not have been the best, there was truth in what they said and because Moses could hear that truth it kept the criticism from destroying him or causing him to respond in anger. Many times there is truth in what people say to us and we have to listen hard through the harsh and mean spirited words to hear the real concerns or fears of those who are criticizing us, but if we can hear those concerns and respond in grace to those issues, we will overcome the criticism and help bring peace.
Again, when I first faced criticism in my ministry, I had to listen beyond the mean things people said so I could hear their concerns for their church. When I got a letter saying I was doing the work of the devil, I knew that wasn’t true, but I did have to stop and ask myself if what I was doing to try and help the church do was right and in line with God’s will. I had to do some soul searching and ask God if I was in line with His will and I had to evaluate my own heart and motivations and actions. If we are willing to be humble before God and others, we can defuse the critical spirit and bring about a spirit of cooperation and trust that can move us all forward.
A great example of this has been the humility and grace seen by the people of Charleston, SC. In the wake of the shootings last week we have seen a spirit of humility from victims and leaders and people have been asking themselves what it is that God wants them to do not what is it that God wants others to do. The humility seen in this situation has brought about a peace and a spirit of cooperation that many would have said would never have been possible. Humility can defuse a situation and free us from the hold that hate and anger can have on us when people become critical.
Again, we can look at Jesus to see how his humility helped defuse difficult situations. When the disciples were critical of Jesus for welcoming children in his presence, Jesus continued to humble himself and called children around him and took the time to bless them. While the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest and asking Jesus for special places of honor and power, Jesus was washing their feet. Jesus’ humility helped him overcome the criticism of all those around him and his own humility filled his life with an overwhelming sense of peace that helped him deal with more criticism to come.
It is amazing how humility can overcome hate and bring us peace. The more we humble ourselves, the more peace we have in the face of criticism. It’s not that we are weak and allow ourselves to get beaten up; it actually takes a lot of strength to be humble and listen to and at times let go of the harsh words others have said about us. So overcoming criticism takes humility and humility can be something we learn. It’s actually very easy to learn how to be humble; we just need to serve others. The more we serve our family and friends and the more we serve God through the church and by helping others, the more we move ourselves out of the way and make room for God.
The life of Moses shows us that humility is learned through service. Moses was humble because Moses served God and Moses served the people. Moses gave up his own safety, security and his own quiet life as a shepherd to lead God’s people out of slavery and through the hardships of the wilderness and that service worked to keep Moses humble.
The life of Moses shows us that overcoming all criticism happens when we look to God first and when we allow that habit of keeping our focus on God to develop a humble spirit within us. If we can learn this action and develop this attitude, we will find peace even in the face of persecution and contentment in the face of criticism.
Overcoming All Criticism
1. Moses faced a great deal of criticism in his life. Read the following passages and reflect on how Moses worked at overcoming criticism.
• Exodus 15:22-27
• Exodus 16:1-18
• Exodus 17:1-7
• Exodus 32:1-20
• Numbers 12:1-15
• Numbers 14:1-25
2. Moses overcomes criticism my keeping his heart and mind focused on God. Use the following practices to help you keep your heart and mind on God in the face of criticism:
• Count to 10 before you respond to any criticism
• Ask God for help
• Ask others for their wisdom before you respond
• Look at how Biblical leaders responded when facing criticism
• Remember Jesus’ response when he faced harsh and unjust criticism
3. Identify one confidant who can help hold you accountable to looking to God first. This week, ask them for their support.
4. Humility can also help us overcome criticism and humility can be learned through service.
• Find one way to serve someone this week.
• Identify a mission or ministry that you can give your time to during the next moth
5. Identify 5 times when Jesus humbled himself during his life and ministry. Use these examples as a focal point in your own pursuit of humility.