Tag Archives: criticalness

The Merciful Discerner

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. — Matthew 5:7

For those of us who are keen in discernment, there is a weakness we particularly struggle with: criticalness. Show me a person who is gifted in discernment, and I’ll show you a person prone to being critical.

Why is this the case? Criticalness is the soulish side of discernment. When God made mankind in His own image (Genesis 1:26), He made us perfect, like unto His nature. Each human being since Adam and Eve has been uniquely crafted by the Lord, with particular personality and ability strengths which reflect a small piece of Who He is. And what a wonderful variety we are, all intended to complement and balance each other.

But, due to man’s fall into sin back in the Garden of Eden, the image of God in each of us was marred. The good news for believers is, through Jesus our Redeemer, God is progressively bringing us back into His own image. Still, in the process, sometimes we exhibit the old marred nature, and thus it is with criticalness and discernment.

The difference between discernment and criticalness does not rest in what we see: it’s in what we do with it. We must learn to divide between being aware of the faults of others (which is not wrong in itself) and where our minds go with that information. A critical person tends to be frequently suspicious of the motives of others, thinking that he or she is receiving discernment from the Lord. Criticalness makes unholy assumptions and judgments, often based on one’s own faults or inner hurts.

One of the areas where criticalness often rears its head is in the realm of doctrinal beliefs. Those who are well-grounded in the Bible are the most prone to this. We may feel very solid in our understanding of certain theological points, and when we come into contact with people who have a different viewpoint, or a blind spot, we then think poorly of them, perhaps writing them off entirely.

Most of the time, what is such an important issue to us is not a core doctrine of the faith. It’s just a small piece of how we’re working out our Christian walk — but we make it into a very big deal. For instance, my husband and I have encountered a few people who had such narrow views of how healing ministry should be done that they would no longer fellowship with people who did not believe exactly as they did or who were not as strong in their faith.

The apostle Paul talked about criticalness over minor theological matters in Romans 14:1-4. He was speaking into a controversy about whether to eat meat or not, because there was a possibility it had been sacrificed to false gods before showing up in the public meat market. But the principle can be applied broadly by us today:

Accept him who is weak in the faith, but not to arguing over opinions. For one believes that he may eat all things. Another, who is weak, eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat. And he who does not eat should not judge him who eats, for God has received him. Who are you to judge another man’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Yes, he shall be held up: for God is able to make him stand.

Can we trust God to work maturity in our brothers and sisters, and let Him decide when and how to work on their foibles — even their beliefs which don’t line up with ours to a tee? “Yes, he shall be held up: for God is able to make him stand.”

As we mature in the things of the Spirit, we should find that our discernment is increasingly coupled with compassion, mercy, and patience. That is the heart of God evidencing in us. We must guard ourselves against pride, for Paul warned, “Knowledge puffs up, but charitable love builds up. And if any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2). He also said, “For I say, through the grace given to me, to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…” (Romans 12:3).

We’ve all got a long journey ahead of us before we reach perfection. Let’s give each other a break.

I’ve written another article on criticalness versus discernment, which contains a list of questions to help us determine whether we are operating in discernment from the Spirit or merely criticalness of the soul. I hope you will find that post helpful.

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Criticalness or Discernment? (Part 2)

If the flip side of criticalness is discernment, how can we tell the difference between the two?  There is nothing wrong with seeing a real flaw in someone else.  This is just reality at work.  We observe the ways people act, and sometimes wrong motives are very obvious.  It is what we do with what we see that makes the difference.

Ask yourself these questions:

1.  Do I love the person any less because of what I see in him?

2.  Do I take a secret pleasure in seeing this fault in him?

3.  Do I feel superiority or scorn towards him?

4.  Do I have a desire to point out his fault to others?  (Love covers sin.)

5.  Am I eager to see God “punish” him?

6.  Do I write him off as unworthy of any useful place in ministry?

These and other negative feelings about people are strong indications of a judging heart.  The discernment may in itself be correct, but, if we harbor negative attitudes toward people in our hearts, we have crossed over the fine line into criticalness.

God does not give us permission to judge our brothers and sisters.  Finding their flaws is His job, and He doesn’t deal with them in the same way we would.  We tend to want to slap people for the things we see in them that aren’t quite right.  God wants, rather, to whittle on them to change their flaws into strengths.

Sometimes we judge others because we live by a certain set of standards, and we assume everyone else knows and should live by the same code.  God does have standards spelled out in the Bible, but how we interpret the ins and outs of applying them depends somewhat on our personality, the way we think, and the family culture in which we grew up.  In addition, when we see other people doing things that we feel are wrong, we need to remember that God doesn’t convict us all of the same things at the same time in our lives.  We must extend grace toward those who have different standards than we do.  God will work out their realization of what needs changing inside of them in His own good time.

The Christian life is not living according to a set of rules.  Real Christianity is fueled by a yearning to have God’s innocent, pure heart.  If we can grasp the difference between these two mindsets, we will be more likely to view others with mercy, rather than judgment.

When we find ourselves responding with sorrow over others’ failings, a loving desire to pray for change in them, or a desire to help them overcome in any way that we can, we are exhibiting a right attitude.  We who struggle with criticalness can take heart in knowing that God is actively moving us into giftedness in discernment, as long as we yield ourselves in humility to His reforming hand.

 Previous: Criticalness or Discernment? (Part 1) 

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River Life Adult Character Study

 

This article is based on an excerpt from Lee Ann’s book, River Life: Entering into the Character of Jesus, an adult Bible/character study, suitable for use by the individual or as part of a group study.  For more info and sample pages, please visit our web site.

 

 

Criticalness or Discernment?

A friend of mine recently expressed her sorrow over being a critical person.  I did not see her in that way.  What I saw was a woman of keen discernment.  She may have had moments when she operated in criticalness, but by and large, she was picking up on things in the spirit that she needed to know for her own safety and for the safety of those she ministers to.

Many Christians struggle with being critical, or with thinking they are.  It is important not to judge others, but if we are so afraid of judging that we are not allowing ourselves to hear clear warnings prompted by the Holy Spirit, we are missing out on important guidance from the Lord.

True discernment is deeper than merely observing others’ faults.  It is understanding of what is really going on, of motives behind actions, of heart attitudes.

There are two types of discernment – the natural and the spiritual.  Even those who are not Christians can have a natural discernment gift.  We say they are astute, and that no one can pull the wool over their eyes.  They tend to be analytical, understand how people tick, and are able to work well with others as a result.

God can impart to us a higher level of discernment as well.  People who operate in spiritual discernment will sometimes feel an uncomfortableness or an inner warning that something is not right about a person or situation.  God may be giving them discernment for the sake of protecting the local body of Christ from hidden evil.  God does not give us discernment about wrong in another person merely so that we can have inside information.  It is to help the person, or to protect ourselves or the local church.

There is a flip side to every weakness, and so it is with criticalness and discernment.  A character flaw is nothing more than a God-given character strength that has been marred by our fallen, sinful nature.  When sin entered the world, it corrupted the good things that God had placed within mankind.  God wants to restore us by remaking our flaws into the strengths they were originally intended to be.  For instance, stubbornness made positive becomes persistence or tenacity.  Bossiness, when trained and modified with tact and a motive of servanthood, becomes excellent leadership.  Criticalness is the peculiar flaw of those whom God has gifted in discernment.  Although discerning people may always struggle to some degree with judging others, God’s redemptive plan is to make something useful and powerful for His kingdom out of what was once a weakness.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to tell the difference between criticalness and discernment.

Next: Criticalness or Discernment? (Part 2) 

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River Life Adult Character Study

 

This article is based on an excerpt from Lee Ann’s book, River Life: Entering into the Character of Jesus, an adult Bible/character study, suitable for use by the individual or as part of a group study.  For more info and sample pages, please visit our web site.