When you experience criticism are you defensive? Do you get angry? Maybe you internalize your anger and become discouraged?
Many pastors and caregivers, and others I talk to have a hard time responding to criticism because they take it inside and feel bad or they protect themselves by shutting down emotionally, which leaves them isolated and depressed.
I can relate. For much of my life I felt inadequate whenever I experienced criticism from someone. (Because I was already in a posture of self-condemnation.) So I put pressure on myself to succeed and to try to get people to think well of me, trying to prop up my own self-esteem. But all that performance pressure and people-please just created a lot of anxiety!
Thankfully, I have learned a better way to respond to criticism.
Watch and Pray to Deal with Criticism
Jesus taught Peter to “watch and pray” in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:41). This was a favorite place of prayer for Jesus and he went there to prepare for the greatest trial of his own life: being crucified!
Jesus warned Peter that a trial was coming his way and he needed to prepare himself in prayer ahead of time — he needed to practice relying on God’s strength and not just his own abilities in anticipation of a difficult test. In the garden Jesus invited Peter to watch and pray with him, but Peter kept falling asleep!
Peter didn’t watch and pray. He wasn’t ready to act in God’s grace and power. So he panicked a cut off a soldier’s ear! Then when a little girl accused him of being a follower of Jesus’ he denied knowing Jesus three times!
Watch and Pray with your Christ Shield
Anticipate the next time you will be judged, gossiped about, unduly pressured, or mistreated in someway. Picture the person who you’re vulnerable to be hurt by… Talk to God about what tends to happen and how you feel…
Then incorporate Psalm 3:3 into your prayer: “You are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.”
I like to use David’s prayer this way: “You are a shield around me, O Christ; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.”
As you pray imagine this being actually true for you in your situation of distress: see the Spirit of Christ all around you like the full body, semi-circle shields that the Roman soldiers of old used to protect them from the flaming arrows of the enemy. In your mind see that the arrows don’t pierce your heart, they hit the shield.
Place Yourself in the Kingdom of the Heavens
Yes, you may still be criticized or pressured and your circumstances may be difficult. But you are learning not to depend on or react to the visible situation of your circumstances – you are focusing on the spiritual reality that “The Kingdom of the Heavens is Open to You Now.” You are placing yourself in the realm of God’s Kingdom and there Christ is with you protecting your heart and caring for you – the real you!
Your identity is in Christ! So you are not receiving the wound or criticism or the pressure to perform into your being. Instead you are appreciating that God bestows his glory on you! You are relying upon and receiving God’s blessing.
You can lift your head high! And because you’re appreciating the grace and glory that God gives you can share it with others — even those who have offended you.