The Paper Pulpit

Criticism: Constructive and destructive
Feb. 03, 2013 @ 04:55 AM

John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was riding along a road one day when it dawned on him that three whole days had passed in which he had suffered no persecution. Not a single rock or egg had been thrown at him for three days. He thought to himself, “Can it be that I have sinned, and am backslidden?”

Slipping from his horse, Wesley got down on his knees and asked God to show him where, if any, there had been a fault. A rough fellow, on the other side of a hedge, heard his prayer, looked beyond the hedge, and recognized Wesley.

Picking up a rock, he thought to himself, “I’ll fix that Methodist preacher.” The rock missed its mark, and fell harmlessly beside Wesley. Whereupon, he leaped to his feet, joyfully exclaiming, “Thank God, it’s all right. I still have His presence.”

The only way for anyone to avoid being criticized is to say nothing, do nothing and be nothing. Criticism is one of God’s finest shaping tools. It has the power to transform us from self-centered individuals into people who live and act like Jesus.

How do you respond to criticism? Do you let it ruin your day? Or do you try to learn and profit from it as John Wesley did?

I will admit that criticism from a friend is much more difficult to receive than criticism from enemies. If your enemy criticizes you, you can shrug it off. But if your friend criticizes you, you will need to hear it and try to profit from it. Never ignore criticism when you are wrong; never fear criticism when you are right.

As a Christian minister I have certainly received my share of criticism — some of it justified and given to be helpful, and some of it unjustified and given to inflict pain. I have tried to practice the advice given in an old Arab proverb, “If one person calls you a donkey, forget it. If five people call you a donkey, buy a saddle.”

Unjustified criticism has plagued human beings since the dawn of creation. Anyone who tries to do anything constructive in life will hear lots of it.

Henry Ward Beecher, one of the greatest preachers in early American history, went to the pulpit one Sunday morning to preach. The church was packed. As the highly acclaimed orator placed his Bible on the pulpit, he found a blank sheet of paper with one word written on it: “Fool!” It had been placed on the pulpit by a member of his congregation, a member who obviously didn’t have the courage to tell his pastor in person what he thought of him. Cowards prefer to remain anonymous if at all possible.

Beecher’s keen sense of humor seized the moment. He lifted the paper for all to see, and read the one word that was on it. Then his booming voice filled the church as he thundered, “Sometimes I receive letters from people who write the letter and forget to sign their name. This letter is uniquely different. This person has signed his name and forgotten to write the letter.”

We have all known people who have developed the habit of criticizing others. Often the criticism comes from those who are simply envious of you. Prior to finally retiring, I served as a Baptist minister for sixty-two years. It didn’t take me many years to learn that those who can, do — and those who can’t, criticize. Another thing I learned very early in life is that you can always recognize a failure by the way he or she criticizes those who are successful.

The Rev. D.E. Parkerson is retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Sanford.