I am convinced that one of Satan’s most masterful plans is to create division in the church through the tactic of criticism and discouragement. It’s actually very simple. He doesn’t mind if people in the church try to serve the Lord – as long as he can ensure that a select group of people (who typically do not serve much) criticize those who do. It’s one of the main reasons why a lot of people who answer the Lord’s call to preach often do not retire in the same field. It’s one of the many reasons why a am some people grow up in church and then decide to leave the church as soon as they can. It’s why you see so many single women sitting alone in church services, wishing their spouses were beside them. Talk to anyone who has been a Christian for more than 5 minutes, and they will have a story to tell; a story about words that cut to the core; a story of why their loved one left the church long ago; a story about the discouragement that they have faced while they were just trying to serve their Lord. Remember this profound quote? “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” There’s so much truth to that and yet I am most certain that if you do none of those things you will still be criticized.
Let me encourage you with this, fellow co-laborer in the Lord…if you are serving the Lord, you WILL see the ugly side of ministry…and you WILL be criticized…and it WILL happen in any church you are apart of…but it’s all part of Satan’s masterful plan. The Christians or non-Christians he decides to use to accomplish this purpose are just a tiny part of the equation. It’s very possible they don’t even know they have discouraged you. Perhaps you have even been the one to discourage others. Satan is just that powerful.
I remember helping my husband head up a youth conference that had hundreds and hundreds of attendees from all over the country. It was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been a part of with many, many teenagers committing their lives to the Lord. Yet in the midst of this move of God, we were dealing with everything from grown men gossiping to complaints over the song selections. It’s actually pretty astounding how Satan can even use a small complaint to completely discourage you – even when God is doing such powerful things. You can have an amazing morning church service with a baptism following the service that makes you feel like you’re floating on clouds and then bam, someone complains about the error in the bulletin or someone complains about that kids’ program not being up to par or someone took something you said the wrong way. It doesn’t take a huge problem. It just takes a complaining, critical spirit. It’s infectious. It bleeds from the complainer to the victim. Then on the way home from church, instead of being filled with gratefulness over the wonderful service, you’re snapping at your spouse and kids. You realize your grumpiness showed up out of nowhere…that you’ve been infected. You can’t get your mind off of that silly little complaint. Gone is the gratefulness over the moving of God and in its place is a bitter spirit. For some, these types of things push them out of the church. For others, they try to push through it, but there are many days when they wish they didn’t have to show up and face the potential for more complaints. This. This is how Satan wins. If he can win our minds and our spirits, he’s got us. He knows that if you don’t actually physically leave the church over this, he can usually get you to quit emotionally. But don’t quit, friend! Don’t quit! This is to be expected and I can PROMISE you that it is happening in every church across America. How do I know? Because it’s been happening for centuries and we have the Bible as proof.
In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul referenced a “thorn in his side”. You can read all day long of the theories that people have over what this meant. Was it a physical ailment? A limp? Poor eyesight? We may never know this side of heaven exactly what he was referring to, but I have my own guess among the many others. When Paul talks about his “thorn in the side”, he then further describes it by saying, “…the Messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” “Buffet” simply means to “strike, blow or contend against.” This could be a physical ailment that kept him from being exalted too high in the eyes of the people. But I had to ask myself, when reading Paul’s writings, if he could be referring to all of the criticism he received that caused great contention as he tried to serve the Lord. After all, Paul used to PERSECUTE Christians before he became one himself. Can you IMAGINE the talk that happened behind his back? To further back up my thoughts, critical people are definitely “messengers of Satan” and critical people definitely keep you humble. Paul said that on more than one occasion, he begged the Lord that this “thorn in the side” would depart from him. Instead of answering Paul’s prayer the way he was wanting, God responded with one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible. “And He said unto me, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Mostly gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” We know that no matter what it truly was that ailed Paul, God had chosen to not remove this “thorn in the flesh”, but to give him His abundant grace to endure it.
Now here’s the most astounding response imaginable: Paul says, “Therefore I take PLEASURE in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” “Reproaches” can be defined as an “expression of rebuke or disapproval; to discredit or to disgrace.” Hold the phone. So I’m supposed to take PLEASURE in the criticism I get from others? I’m supposed to take PLEASURE in the current hardship I am facing? Yes. That’s the goal – because we are here on this planet for the sole purpose of giving glory to our Savior. When we are serving Him as a result of loving Him, we are pleasing Him. Nothing and no one can get in the way of this. In fact, when someone is serving the Lord and they are seen responding with grace to criticism, it more clearly shows others just how GREAT the God they are serving really is. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” Could we say this and mean it? Even if the wave were an enemy? Let this be our prayer. Let critical people be a tool to throw us back into the arms of Jesus. Give up the fight against criticism. It’s not our battle…and God is more than capable of dealing with it Himself. Don’t let Satan win. Don’t let critical people keep you from serving our Great God. Don’t let them deter you from the course that is set before you.
Recognize Satan’s tactics, be prepared for them, put that joyful smile on your face and keep on serving.
Jen McGee is the wife of Pastor Josh McGee. They have 5 beautiful children that help to keep life energetic and interesting. They serve at a 106 year old church filled with some of the sweetest, southern people you will ever meet, First Baptist of Clute. Jen loves being a wife and mom, leading Bible studies, being her husband’s “right hand woman” and blogging. Feel free to visit their church website: fbcclute.com.