Have you ever seen a critical spirit in action? Lord have mercy, I have! And it took me years to recognize it. I’m not talking about constructive criticism here. I’m talking about destructive criticism. Constructive criticism builds up. Destructive criticism tears down.
Any relationship that consistently makes you feel like you’re not good enough is abusive. A critical spirit speaks messages that belittle, devalue, shame, and control you. It’s just like the Whack-A-Mole game. A critical spirit stands above you, watching and waiting with their hammer in hand. As soon as you come up for air, they beat you on the head and push you back down into your hole. Hence the title “Don’t Play the Whack-A-Mole Game.”
A critical spirit wants to completely shut you down. It robs you of your confidence and makes you question your gifts, talents, and purpose. Someone operating through this spirit becomes your personal self-appointed expert who continually focuses on your faults in an attempt to refine you. Somehow, sufferers seem to attract fixers and oh how often these fixers use the Word of God to diagnose and treat you. And initially it all sounds good. It’s so easy to take the bait! Until we begin to wonder, “Why is it they make me feel worse instead of better?” What you grabbed onto as a lifeline ends up taking you hook, line, and sinker. I’ve been there and it stinks.
1 Corinthians 13 says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” We can speak eloquently, we can even prophesy, have faith to move mountains, and be anointed, but if our motive is not love, we better just hush up and sit down because we can do a lot more harm than good.
A critical spirit doesn’t appear out of nowhere. It’s created and nurtured by past negative experiences. It’s often generational and it’s often rooted in self-rejection. A critical spirit is usually accompanied with comparison of others (which is the enemy’s way of telling you God cheated you), bitterness, an attitude of superiority (which is really lack of self-confidence), and perfectionism.¹ Typically, those who live under the pressure of continual criticism feel the excess weight of false guilt. Never good enough. It’s a continuous cycle: negative thoughts -> negative emotions -> negative actions.²
If we are truly honest with ourselves, we’ve been on both sides of this coin. We’ve been hurt by a critical spirit and we’ve also operated with a critical spirit. We’ve been the mole and we’ve been the whacker. When I’m critical of others, I’m actually exposing my own sin. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Polluted water and pure water cannot pour out of the same cistern. Praise and criticism cannot flow from the same mouth. If so, something’s wrong.
All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord. (Prov. 16:2) Is your motive love? The beauty of Christ is that anything the Holy Spirit reveals to you about your heart, He simultaneously offers grace for transformation. God will lovingly point out where we have believed a lie about ourselves or about Him. Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 1:8) That includes our own sins and the sins of others.
We cannot take the place of the Holy Spirit in another person’s life. We must let the Holy Spirit do the convicting and God’s holy fire do the refining. And we cannot stand as judge over another person’s life. Only God can rightfully take that place.
Here’s the key! God never calls attention to our faults in a way that wounds our spirit. His plan is to bring positive – though sometimes painful – conviction for this one purpose: to motivate us to change.² He wants us to be more like Jesus, and to draw us closer into fellowship with Him. There is therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.
We are called to “Encourage one another and build each other up.” (1 Thes. 5:11) We are called to come alongside, not rise above others and badger them over the head like a whack-a-mole. A critical spirit rarely focuses on the needs of others. They’re too busy focusing on the faults of others. Instead of building one another up, they find superiority in tearing people down.
Which now leads me to ask, “Are you too critical on yourself?” If your answer is yes, why? Are you performance driven? Do you place unrealistic expectations on yourself? Let’s switch gears in our minds today. Let’s choose to be driven by the Holy Spirit rather than by our performance. Let’s choose to put our expectancy in Christ and not on ourselves because He will not disappoint. He gives us exceedingly and abundantly all that we could expect, think, or imagine!
“If we wait until we are sure we’ll do a thing purely and perfectly, we’ll never accomplish the will of God on earth.” — Elisabeth Elliot
So whether we’ve been hurt or are the one hurting others, the ultimate solution is the same. Jesus Christ! The only way to break this cycle is to renew your mind. Romans 12:2 tells us do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of you mind, that you may prove what the will of God is.
So how do we renew our minds? First of all, we follow Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” And also 2 Corinthians 10:5, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
God knew we would need a Helper to do this, so He gifted us with the Holy Spirit. The mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the Holy Spirit leads us to servanthood and humility. Not until you wash someone’s feet do you see the mud they’ve picked up and the cuts and bruises they’ve acquired along their journey. When you see them with spiritual eyes you have a better understanding of their raw areas that when touched (no matter how gently) create that defense mechanism where they immediately withdraw (so you won’t see their pain) and retaliate their own pain against you.
What would happen if we prayed for those who persecuted us? What would happen if instead of being overcome by evil, we overcame evil with good? What would happen if we begin to see through spiritual eyes to recognized and shut down the voice of the accuser and replaced a negative thought with a God thought?
When we know who we are in Christ, not only will we overcome a critical spirit, but we will set this world on fire with pure love that flows crimson red from the man who died on the cross and rose again. That kind of love is patient and kind, it is not jealous. His love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. That love never fails.
1. Cunnington, Havilah. Leap Into Love: Living Present to My Purpose on the Planet. 2019. 32-35.
2. Hunt, June. Critical Spirit: Confronting the Heart of a Critic. Rose Publishing/Aspire Press, 2015.