ANYBODY can gripe and be critical. In fact, most of us are grumblers and critics to one degree or another. Personally, I know I could be one of the most critical individuals in finding fault. Perhaps you have the same problem. Certainly you know what it is like to be around a highly critical person. You might say: "Nice day, isn't it?" To which the person replies: "Yeah, but it sure is humid." You say: "I'm sure glad and thankful for the rain we got." The reply: "Yeah, but it came down too hard." You've probably been around such people. No matter what subject you broached, there was a point of criticism or complaint regarding it. They were always able to find the cloud in every silver lining!
You Can't Win
Have you ever had a person really "down" on you? Have you ever been the object of severe criticism? Of course! If you have ever gotten on the wrong side of a teacher when you were in school, or had your parents riled up at you for the poor performance of a certain home chore, I'm sure you understand. People can become so critical — so suspicious over and above the pointing out of problems — that they begin to judge and impute motives. Let's take a simple and perhaps exaggerated example to prove the point. Suppose you desire to have a couple over to your home for dinner. You decide that if you put out the best china or crystal, or the best dishes, certainly they will be pleased with you. But what can happen? If they really want to criticize, they could still find fault by claiming you were merely "putting on the dog." You were trying to put them down by "showing off" your finest things. They might even accuse you of being too materialistic. They could completely misunderstand what was truly in your heart — a simple desire to serve them with the best, honoring them as guests in your home. Now let's suppose that you anticipated just such a reaction. So you decide not to serve them your best china. You instead decide to use more ordinary plates. Surely we would expect this approach to end their complaints. But when a person is chronically critical — if criticism is his way of life, if that is what his mind feeds on — then there is no satisfying him. He will not be satisfied with anything you do. When a person is really "down" on you, he cannot be pleased. So what could your guests say? They could still criticize if they were of a mind to. They could merely say: "Well, we are not good enough for their best china!" Or they might say: "Such cheapskates! We know they have better china than this, but they are so stingy they won't put out their best!"
Criticism Feeds on Itself
Criticism has a strange way of feeding on itself. It seems to provide a subtle reward to the ego of the person doing the criticizing. It tends to make the critic feel superior. It's like finding a reward in solving a puzzle. Years ago puzzles were popular in which animals were hidden in a drawing. They required close scrutiny, a sharp and keen eye in order to pierce though the maze of the entire picture to locate hidden animals turned various ways (deer, raccoons, squirrels, foxes, birds, etc.). In these puzzles the object was to locate as many animals as possible. Finding the animals was a reward in itself. You could say to yourself: "I saw this hidden in the picture." Criticism tends to follow the same lines. With a critical eye a person can be quick to see through a situation and point out the defects, the problems and the errors. When he points them out to another person — who may have not yet discovered them — he feels rewarded. It is an ego-satisfying payoff. And when we clearly see the problem, we want to immediately solve it. While this is an admirable trait, it may not always "solve" problems. We usually don't realize that each area is tied or locked into other areas. Many times solving one problem means creating several new ones because of the attendant disruptions. This is very common in industry and most large organizations. It is so common that it has given rise to a new saying, or "law": "The major cause of problems is solutions." Thus we need to exercise patience and understanding. We need to realize that most problems were not created in a day, nor can most be solved in twenty-four hours. We each have to examine ourselves to determine whether or not we criticize, complain, find fault, and see problems, and yet offer no positive ways of truly solving those problems — not seeing the positive aspects of the picture. Criticism can become an attitude of mind and heart which grips the individual so that he cannot be happy without it. What he really needs is a complete mental transformation — a complete reorientation of his thoughts in order to be happy without constantly feeding his mind with criticism and fault-finding.
See the Good
There is a time for proper criticism. I say proper criticism because criticism can be of two types: constructive or destructive! It can serve a good purpose to point out what or where a problem is and then offer a helpful solution. Jesus Christ knows more about us than any man or combination of men — and yet knowing our faults, our sins, and our problems, He always approaches our spiritual difficulties positively. When He has to give correction, He never overlooks the good things that have been accomplished. He points out what steps must be taken to rectify the specific problem. Notice Jesus Christ's own words to the Church at Thyatira: "I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first" (Rev. 2:19). Jesus first acknowledges the good works — the positive and right things that were accomplished by that Church. After acknowledging the positive performances with which He was pleased, Jesus continued: "Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee..." (verse 20). Then follows a description of a serious problem extant in the Thyatiran Church. It is Jesus Christ's responsibility, as Head of the Church, to point out the Church's faults and the Church's problems. The Church is His body which He has purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28). So Jesus has the prerogative and the responsibility to correct the Church and to point out where it needs changing. But even here — though it was His responsibility for criticism — He nevertheless was patient and concentrated first on the positive aspects of their performance. Though He was pleased with the good things the members of Thyatira had accomplished, He goes on to say He is somewhat upset because they allowed a false prophetess to remain in the Church. This they should not have done. Here is a fault; here is a criticism; here is a problem! But what was Jesus' attitude toward the problem? Did He moan and groan? Did He gripe and complain? Did He feel that the problem was hopeless? No! He simply apprised them of the strong corrective action He was going to administer if the individuals affected did not repent (Rev. 2:22-23). He concluded His message by encouraging those who were not poisoned by the false doctrine introduced by this apostate woman to "hang in there" (verse 25), reminding them of the fantastic reward they will receive if they keep the faith (verses 26-28).
Hope Is Positive
There are three elements which no Christian can afford to be without. They are faith, hope and love. These are essential to Christian character; they are the things that really last on beyond this physical life. The Apostle Paul concludes the famous love chapter of I Corinthians with this verse: "And now abideth [lives on or endures] faith, hope, charity [love], these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (I Cor. 13:13). These three traits are the most important, with love being rated as the greatest of the three great character elements. But in describing love, notice what he says about it: love "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things" (verse 7). Within the element of the character trait of "love" (the Greek word is agape, which is the love of God — a higher form of love than is normally present in man), the elements of hope and faith are also extant. In other words, love itself has hope within it and "believeth all things." Love is positive; hope is positive; and certainly faith is positive. Can a person be truly negative, full of criticism and in a griping spirit and still exhibit the fruits of love, hope and faith? Let's understand how to apply faith, hope and love to a specific situation where problems may exist. Suppose a person with a mind filled with love is invited to a friend's home for the evening meal. While eating at a beautifully set dinner table, that mind will not impute or judge the motives of others; it will give credit for proper service; it will avoid suspicious judging. Even if he does see obvious faults and problems with either what is being served or the manner of service, the mind that is filled with love will believe the best. He will positively believe that these faults or problems can be overcome. He will attribute no malice to the host and hostess, but will give them every benefit of the doubt. The positive mind "hopes" that these faults or problems will be overcome. This hope is a persistent and everlasting hope which does not give up or throw in the towel. With this combination of faith, hope and love toward our fellowman and their expression in our work, our church, our homes, with our wives, with our children and with our friends and neighbors, we will exhibit a very positive, loving, believing and hopeful spirit which is the evidence of God's love and of a sound mind.
A Positive Formula
The Apostle Paul was perhaps the greatest optimist and positive thinker of his day. From prison he wrote a tremendously inspiring epistle expressing joy, hope and positive assurance in the face of trials, competition and ever-present critics. The apostle to the Gentiles projects the love, joy and peace which comes from God's Spirit. He exhorts: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest [honorable], whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Phil. 4:8). Here is what God's Word commands New Testament Christians to practice: think on the things that are positive, not on the critical and the negative with a griping, tearing down spirit. Paul says: "If there be any virtue," think on it. Look for it; hunt for it; dwell on it! Think about it first before you look for problems. Search for the good first! Paul says: "And if there be any praise...." The Amplified Bible translates it: "If there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things — fix your minds on them." Look for what is praiseworthy. Search for the things you can commend and on which you can give a positive compliment. That's the first order for a happy, healthy, and stable mind — the first order for success. There can be no success unless there is hope. There can be no real success in overcoming stubborn problems unless there is positive conviction that such knotty problems can be overcome. And there can be no changes unless love is present, always giving due credit for proper motives and past performances. There are too many people in this world, and in the churches, who take the negative approach — always, it seems, bemoaning the problems without a positive approach for right solutions.
What Should You Do?
And what should you do when you still see problems even after you've thought on things positively? Should you worry? Should you fret? Should you bemoan, bewail and decry in a negative attitude? Should you run to others and complain that "nothing will be done"? Should you let it depress, discourage and defeat you? Here's what God says to do! "Stop being worried about anything, but always in prayer and entreaty, and with thanksgiving, keep on making your wants known to God" (Phil. 4:6, Williams translation). The very first thing we should do, then, is to think positively — to get our minds geared to that positive approach. We should not be overly anxious or worried. We should take things first of all to God with an attitude of mind full of faith, hope and love. And then, as God promises in Philippians 4:7: "The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." This is the formula to follow in personal problems, job problems, family problems, financial problems, work problems, church problems, etc. This is the way that gets things done! And after you have prayed about it and have approached it honestly and positively, you are then ready to begin to do something about it. Man's mind tends to be negative. He tends to see problems and then become plagued with a defeatist attitude. When you think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report, you view events in their proper perspective — not blown out of all proportion. You begin to have God's outlook on a situation. This keeps the problem from overwhelming you; it keeps you from entering a state of panic, and from making rash and unwarranted decisions. Once you have prayed about the problem, having approached it with a right and positive attitude, you are then ready to begin to really work on it, applying the same positive spirit. Your approach should be: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13). When you approach life in this manner, you won't be one of those sitting on the sidelines griping about a whole series of problems, real or alleged. Instead, you will be one of those energy-rich doers in the midst of things, solving problems!