Charles Stanley - How to Handle Criticism and Praise
All of us enjoy being praised by someone who praises us sincerely. But when it comes to criticism, we're not quite so delightful to hear that. And so, when we think in terms of praise and criticism, the truth is all of our life we're gonna get some of both. Sometimes a whole lot of one, not much of the other. And oftentimes, our judgment of the praise and the criticism is a result of where we think it comes from. For example, sometimes it's from other people, maybe family, friends, people you work with, or whatever it might be.
Sometimes that criticism is to be found, in the origin of it, right on the inside of us. Somehow, we criticize ourselves, on the other hand, sometimes we praise ourselves. But to go beyond that, oftentimes we feel like God is the one who's criticizing us. Or, maybe every once in a while, maybe God may praise us. But criticism and praise are two things we have to learn how to live with. And so, if you'll think about how awesome these two emotions are, that both of them are powerful emotions making a tremendous effect upon our life. If you and I respond in the right way to criticism, it'll develop us. If we respond in the wrong way, it can destroy us. So it is also with praise, if we respond in the right way, it can inspire us and motivate us. If we respond in the wrong way, it too can destroy us.
So, what I want to talk about in this message is "How to Handle Criticism and Praise". And I want you to turn to the book of Proverbs, if you will, and if you'll turn to the fifteenth chapter and the twenty-second verse says, "Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed". Then if you'll turn to the twenty-seventh chapter, and I want you to notice here in the second verse of this twenty-seventh chapter, the scripture says, "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips". Now, how do we handle criticism? Well, all of us probably handle it in different sorts of ways. And sometimes we do it well and sometimes we don't do so well.
What I want you to notice right up front, and I think this is very important we understand this, we're not talking about, now, whether this criticism is... or praise is valid or invalid. We're not talking about the source of it, whether it's from your enemies or from your friends. Not talking about whether it's from something inside of you or not, or whether it is legitimate or illegitimate, or the manner in which it is given. It is oftentimes, it comes very harshly, someone who wants to criticize us. Or sometimes it comes in a very gentle fashion. So, we're not considering any of that. We're just considering here: How do we respond?
And so, I think there is a proper way in which you and I are to receive criticism and also to receive praise. Both of them are legitimate. Both of them are important facets of our life. But oftentimes people just react. Instead of sitting down and deciding, "Now, how am I going to respond when people criticize me"? or "How am I gonna respond when people praise me"? they just react. They react to criticism, react to praise, and oftentimes become the loser instead of being able to grow in their Christian life. So, when you look at these two very brief passages in the twenty-seventh... Proverbs, verse two, "Let another person praise you, not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips," God is certainly saying to us here there is indeed a danger of not responding in the right way.
Now, let's talk about for just a moment: Why is it that we don't respond to criticism and praise in the right fashion? We'll talk about how in a few moments, but I think one of the primary reasons is this: when a person has a poor self-image, when a person feels unworthy, when they have been damaged emotionally earlier in their life, either by their parents or by whatever it may have happened. What happens is they have this feeling of being unworthy and unacceptable. And so, if a person has a poor self-image and just feels like they don't quite measure up to their own expectations, don't measure up to God, don't measure up to expectations of others.
When someone comes along and then criticizes them for almost anything, it is very difficult for them to accept because, usually, they apply that criticism to their personhood, that they are criticizing their character when oftentimes the criticism may be their method of doing something, the way they go about it. Sometimes it may be something that they have done that deserves correcting. But they can't accept it. So they choose to accept all criticism as a slam or a blight against their character, when oftentimes the person who may be offering the criticism may be doing so in a helpful way to strengthen that person, to help change something in their life, but they can't handle it. They've been so damaged that, emotionally, any form of criticism comes across to them as an expression of rejection.
Now listen carefully, if you cannot accept criticism, if somehow that your emotions are so damaged, and they've been damaged back yonder a long time, and somehow you either do not know to deal with them or don't know how to deal with that, what's gonna happen is this: you're going to be hindered in every facet of your life because none of us are perfect, we all make mistakes, we all need someone to point out those areas of our life that need to be changed. And so sometimes one of the primary reasons a person can't accept criticism is they have a poor self-image.
A second reason is that they are perfectionists in their attitude toward life. Now, what I mean by perfectionism is this: not that a person does everything perfectly, but rather that a person has so enslaved themselves to this self-expectation, this high standard, such a standard that not even God expects of them. They try to live up to it, they can't live up to it, and therefore, their attempt to be perfect in every area will not allow them to be imperfect or to make a mistake, and certainly will not allow you or anyone else to be critical of them in any fashion because, after all, they have this perfectionistic standard. They've set the goal, they've set the standard, they cannot fall short of that. And if you accuse them of doing so, it slams against their personhood.
A third reason people can't take criticism is just pure old rotten, stinking, nasty pride. And that is they have such a high elevated view of themselves that they cannot do any wrong, can't make any mistakes, they're as good as anybody else and better than the rest. And so, when you have that kind of an egotistical attitude, you can't accept any valid criticism or criticism that is not valid. And so, we all have to look at ourselves, examine ourselves, and ask ourselves the question: you know, if someone criticizes us, how are we to respond to that? So, in light of that, I'll just ask ourselves the question: What is the proper response to criticism? How should we respond to criticism regardless of whether it's valid or invalid, regardless of where it comes from, regardless of what we may feel about the manner in which we got it, the question is: How should we respond to it?
When you walk away from this message, be wise enough to sit down and say, "All right, I'm gonna decide at this point how I'm going to respond from this point on to criticism that comes my way or to the praise that comes my way". And so let me begin by saying in our responses, let me begin by this one negative and all the rest of them are positive, and that is this: you don't respond to criticism by immediately rejecting it, looking for somebody to blame, and defending yourself. That is not the way for criticism to become profitable to us. And that is, you don't immediately respond by rejecting it, defending yourself, or blaming someone else. That is not the proper response to criticism.
You say, "Well, but you don't know what they said and you don't know what they did". That's not even the issue. The first response should never be immediate rejection, blame, and defending oneself. But how should we do it? I think this is always the first thing to ask, and that is simply this: when you hear criticism from someone, and especially if it's rather painful, ask yourself this question: Could this be true of me? That's a simple question. Could this be true of me? Is what this person, is what they're saying, could this be true of me? And we have to evaluate that. And when a person is willing to do that without responding quickly to rejecting it, therein we are expressing our teachableness. Could this be true of me?
Listen to me carefully, if you and I are gonna grow spiritually, this is one absolutely essential quality, one essential characteristic that must be found in us, and that is a spirit of teachableness. That, yes, I could be wrong. That is, do I need to examine some area of my life at this point? What is that person trying to say to me? Then I think a third thing that comes to light at this point is this, and that is: Is God trying to say something to me about my life? Is God trying to say something to me? So what you're doing, you've opened your heart, you've not rejected the criticism. You're not trying to evaluate now, what's their attitude, what's their motive, and all those things. But the issue is: God, are You trying to say something to me? Do I need to consider this? Is there something about me here that I need to consider? Is God trying to say something to me that I have never seen before?
Likewise, I think it's interesting if you discover, if you can discern that person's spiritual gift who criticized you. For example, if I arranged something and someone said to me, "Well, you know what, you could have... that was not the proper order". Or they said, "That wasn't very well organized". Well, my first question would be: Well, what is their spiritual gift? If that person has the gift of organization, naturally they're going to see that I could have done that better. If a person, for example, has the gift of mercy and they heard me in some fashion or some form, my motive may have been pure or it may not have been pure. And if I criticized someone else, a person with the gift of mercy who criticized me in return, if I could discern that, their gift of mercy, I would know that a person with the gift of mercy has a very difficult time listening to anybody criticize anybody else.
Likewise, for example, let's say that here's a person in need, and I say, "Well, you know, I've already helped them one time, I'm not gonna help them anymore". A person with the gift of service would say, "Now wait a minute, here's a person in need, and you mean you're not gonna help them anymore"? And so what happens is, listen carefully, all of us respond to every circumstance of life, consciously or unconsciously, our spiritual gift does affect how we respond. If we praise somebody, it's affected by that. If we criticize someone, we're affected by that because those spiritual gifts God has given us, they are the ultimate underlying motivation to the things that we say and the things that we do. And so if I want to respond to criticism in a fashion that's profitable, I will ask the question: Well, what is their spiritual gift and what is it that motivated them to do that?
Now, the most important thing that I would say when someone criticizes is: How am I to respond? This is the wisest way to respond, listen carefully, "Thank you very much. I appreciate you telling me that, and I want you to know that I will certainly consider what you said". Now, you may want to respond, if they came on real critical to you, I mean, very cruelly, you may want to respond after you have said, "Thank you very much and I appreciate you telling me that and I will certainly consider that. Is there anything else? Is there anything else you'd like to tell me about me"? Here's what you've done: you've flung the door wide open and you have said, "Thank you very much. You may have pointed out something that I have overlooked in my life, and I'm certainly willing to consider that".
Listen, it may come on harshly, it may come on stinging. Their motivation may be as wicked as it can be. But if you say, "Well, thank you very much. I appreciate you sharing that with me, and I want you to know that I will consider that". You've not said you'd change, or you've not even said you're right, you're wrong. It may be something that's so far off the wall that it's absolutely ridiculous, but what you've done is you've said, "Thank you very much and I appreciate that and I want you to know that I will consider that. I may consider it five seconds or I may consider it for five weeks, but I will consider it. And is there anything else that you want to share with me"?
When you respond in that fashion, listen, you bear a, listen, you bear a witness to other people. Because, for example, if somebody criticizes you in front of someone at your work or even in your home in front of your children or your spouse or whatever it might be, and you respond in that fashion, "Well, I appreciate you pointing that out to me and I want you to know I'm really going to consider that," you have given a tremendous testimony of your relationship to God. That, listen, you are far more important in growing in your relationship to God than you are defending yourself. You're more concerned about your relationship to the Lord than you are having your way. It is an awesome testimony when you cannot reject it, not blame someone else, not defend yourself but say, "Thank you very much, I certainly appreciate that, and I'm gonna view this criticism as an opportunity of growing in my spiritual life".
Because you see, if I view criticism as an opportunity of spiritual growth and I view criticism, listen, as an opportunity of bearing witness, a good witness to someone else, I think you'll discover that our way of handling criticism is also a good barometer of where we are in our spiritual walk. And so, when I think about all the proper ways to respond, sometimes it may be that the proper way to respond to criticism is to say, "You are absolutely correct. I need to ask you to forgive me. I want to apologize, and you know, I'm gonna do my best to work at that to see that that does not happen again". That may be the way we have to respond to criticism. But whatever it is, remember, we don't respond immediately, defensively, and looking for someone else to blame.
We say simply, "Thank you very much, I appreciate you pointing that out to me, and I want you to know that I will consider that. Is there anything else that you see in my life that I need to work on"? Or if it's something very definite, you know when they brought it up, it was absolutely correct, then you say, simply, "I want to apologize. You're absolutely correct, and I certainly am going to work on that in my life". If you do that, I think what you'll find is you'll find that whatever anyone says to you, here's what'll happen, you won't be walking around worried about what somebody's gonna say or what they think. You know what, if you've already decided how you're gonna respond, it won't make any difference what they think or what they say, you've already decided.
"Thank you very much, I appreciate that, and if there's, you know, I'll work on that. I will certainly consider that". Listen, a person who lives, listen to this now, a person who lives every day seeking acceptance and seeking praise and whose life is dependent upon the stream of acceptance that comes that way, there's no joy in that kind of living because what that means is we are subject to other people's opinions. God never intends for us to live according to other people's opinions, but according to what He would have us to do. Therefore, we're gonna have to deal with criticism. We're gonna have to deal with praise. You need to decide how we're gonna deal with it. Doesn't make any difference where it comes from, the method it comes, this is the way I'm gonna deal with it. And I think in that way, you won't always be reacting.
And if you find yourself stung, listen, stung by some's criticism, don't reject it, but first of all, ask yourself the question: Is this something I need to hear? Listen, it's those things that I have discovered that sting me the most that are the most profitable. So let's talk about, for example, this whole matter of praise and how we're to handle that. Well, I think this is the first and most important thing, if someone praises you, here's what you say. You say, "Well, thank you very much, I certainly do appreciate that. Thank you very much, and I appreciate that," and smile.
Now, don't tack onto the end of that, "Well, it's none of me and all of God, none of me and all of God. Praise God, hallelujah. None of me and all of God". You know what? Forget that. Because, let me tell you why you should forget that. If, for example, somebody praises you for something and you say, "Well, praise the Lord. Just give God all the glory and the credit". All right now, let me ask you this: What about the other things that God does? Now, you walk around all the time like this? "Glory to God, hallelujah, praise the Lord, give God the credit and the glory". Because the truth is, if you and I believe what we say we believe, listen, if Jesus Christ is our life, every single good thing that comes our way and comes from us and through us is Him, it's Christ! Therefore, if I'm not gonna be hypocritical about it, I just have to walk around like this, "Hallelujah, praise the Lord, glory to God for what He's done".
No, listen, let's just accept the fact that you and I were sinners saved by the grace of God. And we were saved by the goodness and love and mercy of God provided for us at the cross of Calvary. And now Jesus Christ has come to live on the inside of our life and that the Christian life is Jesus living His life through us by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that every single thing we do that has any value whatsoever is Christ expressing Himself through us. Now, if I know that and accept it as a fact, that means that when someone says to me, "Well, you did a great job," "Well, that was fun," or, "You're looking great today," whatever it may be to you, you just say, "Well," smile and say, "Well, thank you very much. Thank you very much".
That's all you have to say. But you see, if you can't handle the praise, you've got to... it's like you've got...if it's got to be some kind of backlash, you've got to say something that excuses it or somehow, you don't have to explain it. When somebody says, "Well, you just, you look wonderful today". Well, say, "Well, thank you very much, I appreciate that". What else do you have to say? You don't have to say anything. I mean, listen, if you say, "Well, I don't get very many compliments". Well, take the ones you get, I mean, enjoy the ones you get. And so, how do you respond? You just respond by saying, "Thank you very much and I appreciate that," with a big smile. And the truth is, you don't have to defend it. You don't have to explain it. You don't have to say, "Well, I worked real hard," or this, that, and the other and so forth. And you don't have to give any of those explanations. And you know what, the truth is, people don't want 'em.
If I walked up to you and said, "You did a great job with that and I just wanted to tell you I'm really proud of you," all you got to go is say, "Thank you very much". I don't need any explanation. You know why I don't need an explanation? Because I've already thought about it. You don't need to explain it to me. I'm complimenting you because I've thought about it already and I like what you did and I want to say you did a great job. That's enough. Just let it go at that. But as a second thing, I think, in learning how to accept praise, listen, look for the character quality in that person that caused them to say that. Think about, ask yourself the question: Now why did they... what is it about that person? How did they see that in me? What motivated them to compliment me in that particular way?
And you know, sometimes a person will, in their compliments and in their praise, they will express something that went on in their life, or maybe some point of failure or something that they learned by watching what you did or how you went about it. Just ask yourself the question: What is in that person's life that caused them to be able to see this in my life? And what we learn, what we begin to do is we begin to learn how to discern how people think and why they think the way they do. But there's another response that I think is important, and that's this, and that is to share with that person who praises you, share with them how that affects you.
For example, if somebody says to me, "Well, that, listen, I just really got blessed this morning, and that really helped me". "Well, thank you very much, I appreciate that. And I just want you to know that when you...that telling me that's a real encouragement to me". Somebody walked into the office back there this morning before the first service and gave me this testimony of how God had worked through him in bringing his father to salvation, and all the things that are happening in his life. And his mother had just been killed, and it's a real story. And I could honestly say, "Well, thank you very much for sharing that with me". It wasn't a compliment or a praise, but I'm simply saying He encouraged me by sharing that.
And so, when a person says, "Well, by making that particular point, that really helped me. Well, thank you, that encourages me to be very specific and very clear and very sure you're able to understand". We encourage, listen, we encourage other people when they encourage us. And I think we need to say to them, "Well, that really blesses me, and thank you very much, and I do appreciate that, and I'll remember that". And what happens is, they get blessed in their praise toward you.
And if you'll think about the Christian life, it's all giving and taking, giving and taking, giving and taking. I feel sorry for people who've always gotta receive, receive, receive, receive. They're just reservoirs, they've gotta have more and more compliments, more and more praise, more and more things, more and more money, more and more of this, and more and more of that. You know what, they're living in a very sad state of mind. It is giving of ourselves and giving of our verbiage, of what we think and how we are feeling about people and loving them and expressing our gratitude and our concern and our love for people.
You see, if a person only sees it one way, it's all coming their way, they're not gonna ever understand what love's all about in life. If you can't communicate, you can't love. And if you can't receive criticism and give it in the right kind of fashion, there'll never be any kind of real, genuine love that goes on in persons' lives. Yet, I see this all the time. But the last thing I would say here, and just these few things about accepting praise, listen, I want to give you two words: deflect and redirect. That is when praise comes your way, deflect it and redirect it. Now, what do you mean by that? Well, let me explain this because you'll say, "Well, that sounds like a contradiction to what you just said. You said when somebody compliments you or praises you, just accept it and say, 'Thank you very much.'" True.
Now, listen carefully, when they praise you, one of the wisest things you can do is to immediately think in your mind, it may be that you want to express it, depends upon what it is, but think in your mind, "Thank You, Father". What you've done just in that simple whisper to the Father or thank You, Lord Jesus, however you want to say it. What you've done, you've just let that praise run through you straight to Him. You don't have to say it. What I'm saying is it is an acknowledgement. Now, here's what that does. That will prevent you, listen, if you will deflect and redirect. Now, you have not said, "Oh, no, just give God all the credit," and all that junky stuff. I'm talking about genuine, genuine redirecting that and deflecting that.
So what happens? You will never become prideful in your life as long as you are genuinely redirecting those compliments and that praise where you genuinely feel it belongs. Because the truth is, listen, I don't know who you are and what you're doing in life, but I can tell you this: you won't do much by yourself. And so, whether it's in the home or your business or whatever it might be, the wise way to handle praise is to accept, to accept it and say, "Thank you very much". The wise way to handle it is to say, "What is it in their life that caused them to be able to see that in my life"? The wise way to handle it is to deflect that and redirect that. And share it with other people.
Now, what you're doing, here's what you're doing. Listen to this, if you're in some organization, whether it's two or three people in the organization or two or three hundred, here's what you're doing, when they hear that you say that, what does it do? It builds up their sense of self-esteem. Because they realize that in your praising them and sharing the praise, you are expressing their value in that business or in that ministry. You're expressing some of your dependence upon them. You're saying to them: "This is how important you are". What does it do? It builds a team spirit among them. And so they feel like, well, you know, we're all part of this together.
This thing would not happen just on the basis of one person. But it happens on the basis of all of us working together. And what does it do? It simply builds a sense of camaraderie among them. It motivates people to do their best and to want to do better and to want to do more. And what does it do? It builds their own sense of, listen, it builds their own sense of personal self-worth, not just self-worth when it comes to relating to that business or that organization. And so, whether it's in a home or whether it's in a business or ministry, it's the same. When you and I are able to receive the praise, deflect it to where we know it should be shared, whether it's your husband, your wife, your children, or your parents or whatever it might be, people you work with. What you're doing is, you're accepting it in a godly fashion.
"Thank you very much and I certainly appreciate that. You encourage my heart, and I want to tell you how grateful I am for the folks who enable me and who help me, surround me. I want to thank you for all of these things". You know what you're doing? You're just demonstrating this beautiful example of how God would have us to be able to be built up and encouraged by praise and, at the same time, listen, protecting us from pridefulness and arrogance and selfishness and self-centeredness. Protecting us from being destroyed by the, listen, by the genuine praise people give us. Listen, you can destroy a person by genuine praise if they do not know how to handle it. And so, no matter who you are, what the circumstance, if you and I can learn how to handle criticism, no matter where it comes from, if we can learn how to handle praise, no matter where it comes from, here's what happens: both of these are growing elements in our Christian life. Both of these enable us to grow into Christ-likeness. God will use both criticism and praise to grow us up and to make us godly men and women.