James 1:19, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath…”
Several years ago, I remember an incident where I felt the need to offer my personal critique on the actions of another. I choose the method of email. Quickly, I was reminded that when you push send on the email program, at that point, the action cannot be undone. I wish I could get that email back to this day. Have you ever spoken words, maybe even true words, and the outcome was not what you had hoped for or expected? I know that I have. And I also know that as a pastor, and an associate pastor, I have dealt with this scenario more times than I can count.
When you feel the need to offer criticism, recognize the need to “slow down.” That’s right…slow down! You not only need to think through your complaints, cautions, and criticisms, but you also need to pray earnestly before going “public” or “personal” with your critique. Years ago I worked with a company changing out filters in all types of machinery, from air conditioners to washers and dryers. These would filter out content that was harmful or not necessary to the environment and effectiveness of the machine. We know the importance of keeping a fresh oil filter on a vehicle, right? Well….we also know the “Filter”…it is the Holy Spirit of God!
The act of delay (pause) to process your thoughts and the reception of the receiver might not only save you from saying the wrong thing, but also help you to say what needs to be said in a more effective way. Instant communication today makes the need to wait all the more important. I spend a fairly good amount of time on the Internet and social sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, primarily because of my position and furtherance of the ministry opportunities. (Seriously, do we ask the Holy Spirit if He approves of our “tweet” or our fb status before se post??) It is a joy it is to see all the effort to see people saved and helped online. I have personally seen how effective this environment can be to not only see people saved, but also to exhort others. However, I often see some people share their “take” on a situation as if “someone died and left them in charge.” I do believe, as believers, we have a responsibility to exhort, rebuke, and correct, at times, with certain people. Most of the time, if we are not careful, we will stick our nose, and even our attitude, in places where they do not belong. A long time ago, someone taught me that unsought advice is usually never heard and seldom followed. With that in mind, if we are going to give it, shouldn’t we even the more plan it out? Shouldn’t we pick the right time to discuss the right position using the right disposition?
This week, a Pastor was asking for advice in child rearing. One of the points I shared was the practice of choosing the right time to correct, discipline, and give instruction to my children. (Obviously, this is when they are old enough to realize and remember their actions.) So often, parents will ruin an entire blessed experience because of the need to interrupt the entire trip because an opinion or correction must be shared. So often you can write down a reminder and deal with something that needs to be dealt with at another time instead of publically or personally at that time. This is true of your followers in ministry. I know some of the most valued men in my life that had the greatest long term impact were those who learned to be “slow of speech”, but when they did speak, it was important and well planned.
Often criticism is primarily based on one line, or one aspect of a man or his actions or reactions. We like to show convictions on matters that are important to us, but give very little context. If we would realize God allows us to see, hear, and observe the actions and reactions of others so we can take matters to prayer, then I believe we would find ourselves far more effective by taking our communications to the Lord first. Prayer changes things, and prayer changes people. I know that sometimes in these cases it even changed my outlook, and boy was I glad that I had not already “stuck my foot in my mouth.” I do that enough already without adding more to that problem!
Criticism hardly ever goes well when you do it in a hurry. Criticism fails without a filter – the Filter called the Holy Spirit! Criticism needs to go through a strainer to remove personal preference from truth. Jesus is the author of all truth. To be a critic seasoned with grace may cause you to miss the moment in “twitterville”, or “facebook town”, but it is better to take the time and do it well.