Lately I have been wrestling with the words found in my title. What is the difference between each of them? What determines which is Godly and which isn’t? What is Holy Discontent and what is just Critical? As funny as it sounds I’m writing this blog and I’m not sure. I think that’s part of the problem. A big reason a critical spirit or criticism is allowed to fester and grow is because it can be masked as a holy discontent or concern.
Whenever holy discontent is mentioned, inevitably, Jesus flipping the tables in the temple is mentioned as found in Mark 11:15-19 or Matthew 21:12-17. Jesus was so frustrated with the leaders of the Temple turning it into a marketplace, or as He calls it in Matthew a “den of robbers,” that He chased them out with a whip……That’s pretty intense…… Jesus was frustrated that evil was in the hearts of the leadership of the Lord’s house. These leaders were charging unfair prices to the people who came from far away places to worship God and sacrifice to Him. Obviously Jesus is justified in cleansing the temple and exercising His righteous anger but Jesus had a few things we don’t have……the ability to see into the hearts of human kind and he was perfect. Here is where I think we can begin to distinguish between holy discontent and a critical spirit.
Those who have a critical spirit seek to find what is wrong in almost anything. Often their assessment isn’t coming out of a revelation from God but their own assessment or perception of reality. Someone with a critical spirit doesn’t look at something someone has done and ask “did the people performing this task have evil in their hearts or good?” they simply look at something and find what they perceive to be flaws in it because it doesn’t meet what they deem to be the standard. The sad part in all this is that those with critical spirits are usually critical of themselves. They don’t allow themselves to experience Grace. Even worse, a critical spirit, if fostered and allowed to grow, is contagious. Why? because on the surface, often times, the criticism has truth to it. When people see that the criticism has validity to it they latch onto it and adopt it as their own. It is much like gossip. It is easy to have good intentions and gossip; especially when you think you are protecting someone or venting frustration “to get it out of your system.”
So how do we combat a critical spirit in ourselves or others without squelching holy discontent?
I believe the answer lies in encouragement. So often we forget that encouragement is vital to the stability and strength of the church. Whenever someone is criticized in an unhealthy way it typically doesn’t motivate them to be better; it causes them to become hopeless or disgruntled. An encouraging word does the opposite; it motivates because of the Love it is done out of. Does this mean there should be no criticism or holy discontent? Absolutely not! We as Christians are called to be holy like Christ is holy; a task we must constantly strive for even if we can never be as He is. I would encourage us to have holy discontent in that we are frustrated with the sin and darkness in this world but that we react to this brokenness and sin by thinking about how God would react to a situation. What would God see we might not? We should ask God to give us discernment and caution before we decide to react. We also need to determine if our motivation is to build up the church or if it is to tear it down. Whenever we see a problem we need to ask “what is the most effective way to solve this problem? Should I be negative and critical or be encouraging, loving and honest?”