In Psalm 86, King David prays something I find very difficult to pray.
O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them. But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant. Psalm 86:14-16
What is David doing in these words? What is the context of this psalm? What is he praying that I find so very difficult? David is surrounded by enemies who wish to do him harm (v. 14). He calls out to the Lord (Hebrew word “Adonai” meaning sovereign) and repeatedly reminds himself of who God is. But here’s the difficult part for me: In verses 15-16 he doesn’t call on God to enact justice against his enemies; he doesn’t appeal to God to smite his enemies; he doesn’t try to make a case for himself; instead, he calls on God to give him grace and strength amid the rebuke of his enemies. He’s asking God to incline his heart so that he will be willing to examine the words of his enemies and discern if there is any truth to what they’re saying. That’s what I find so difficult.
Timothy and Kathy Keller, in their daily devotional entitled The Songs of Jesus write, “He appeals to God’s mercy, grateful for his patience with him. David is open to correction, willing to examine himself to see if, despite his enemies’ evil motivations there might be something in him that warrants rebuke and needs to change.”
And then if that’s not already convicting and challenging enough they write, “if someone is criticizing you and the criticism is mostly mistaken, identify the 20 percent of the indictment that is fair. Without excuse be willing to take it to heart. The strongest Christians are the ones most willing to repent.” Wow!
As a leader, there is not a week that goes by where I don’t receive criticism. Some of it is warranted and some of it is unwarranted. Some of it is lodged like a grenade hoping to inflict damage and hurt, while other times it is conveyed with grace and love. Regardless of the motive and even the manner in which it is conveyed one of the disciplines a leader needs to be accustomed to living out is asking God to incline their heart to do thorough self-examination regarding the criticism that is given.
Criticism is tough. To be transparent, it wears on my soul, but what is more troubling and concerning is living a life where you intentionally remove yourself from correction, rebuke, and exhortation and think to yourself, “my wisdom is complete and my perspective is always right.” That is a foolish and even dangerous perspective to embrace. Further, Solomon writes in Proverbs 18:1, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.”
So where do we go from here? Here’s a link to a previous post on criticism I hope and pray you find helpful. It gives some “handles” to this all-too-often neglected practice of receiving criticism. You can find it here.