We’re all prone to having a critical spirit. Our natural tendency is to complain and criticize.
Oftentimes, when we get in a habit of doing it, we can’t seem to get out of the cycle of negativity. Cynicism begins to set in, and all we can see or seem to talk about are the negative aspects of the day, of the Church, of our workplace, of our spouse, of our life.
And when we struggle with a critical spirit, we aren’t very fun to be around. You would probably even admit that being around yourself is less than enjoyable. Toxic negativity is bad for your soul.
And I’m not talking about steering clear of difficult conversations. Those conversations can be really fruitful. What I’m talking about is idle criticism. The kind of negativity that doesn’t want to find a solution. The kind of negativity that wants only to be negative.
We allow the enemy to rob us of our God given joy when we fall prey to cycles of criticism and cynicism. We begin to live less than the fullness of life that Jesus came to give us.
We also just give Jesus a bad name. If we claim to have the hope of the world, it seems strange that we would be so pessimistic about everything. We need a cure for our critical spirit.
How can we find a better way forward? If you’re someone who struggles with a chronic critical spirit, putting some new habits in place can be helpful in reshaping your outlook on life.
Here are 6 things you can do to help cure your critical spirit.
1. Do something to help.
It’s hard to complain about the way things are when you’re too busy doing what you can to make them better. On the other hand, it’s super easy to be critical when you have nothing invested in a situation.
As a pastor, what I’ve noticed is that the people in Church who complain the most (and the loudest) are the very people who contribute the least, serve the least, give the least. Their negativity is simply idle criticism.
It’s easy to talk a lot of trash from the sidelines.
And I think that’s because when we aren’t living out our purpose, it begins to gnaw at us. We feel a great sense of emptiness and incongruence in life. And so we just take it out on the nearest possible situation. We idly complain about anything and everything, because it’s easier and less scary than actually doing something.
But actually doing something is what’s going to cure your negative attitude. And that’s because you were created in Jesus to do good works, which he has prepared for you to do (Ephesians 2:10).
Make sure you have some skin in the game. It forces you to be solution oriented rather than idly critical.
2. Stop engaging in negative conversations.
Negativity is contagious. So don’t expose yourself to it.
Many times, our temptation toward negativity is exacerbated when we choose to engage deeply in negative conversations with other negative people–many times other people who also aren’t doing anything to help the situation.
We need to keep these interactions to a minimum. We need to begin to minimize the toxic influence of cynicism in our lives.
This may mean that we need to have a heart-to-heart with someone about our shared critical attitude. Resolve to keep each other accountable.
And if that proves ineffective, we may need to set up boundaries with certain people that we know are going to try and suck us into the vortex of negative conversations.
When you talk negative, you feel negative. So change the tone of the conversation.
3. Take every thought captive.
Even more important than what we say is what we think. We need to identify negative thoughts as they occur and choose to take them in another direction.
Paul says this in his second letter to the church in Corinth.
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
We need to take every single thought captive. When you feel a negative or idly critical thought enter your mind, evaluate how it got there. And then pray if there is anything you should do about it.
Don’t let it run its natural course. That will only lead you back down the road to a critical spirit.
Sometimes, we’re negative simply because we’re afraid of uncertainty, or perhaps jealous of someone else’s success. Other times, we’re negative because there’s a legitimate issue that we feel passionate about. We need to spend some time exploring why certain thoughts keep cropping up.
And once we’ve honestly identified what’s causing our negativity, we’ll have a better idea about how to address it in a way that’s helpful and productive.
4. Don’t assume the worst of people.
This is closely related to the previous point, but we need to learn not to assume the worst of other people. We need to practice giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Sometimes this is hard for us, because of ways we’ve been hurt in the past. By a former leader or pastor. By a former significant other. By a parent. By an authority figure. By a friend. And we carry these hurts into new situations with a sense of cynicism, imagining that every person is the sum total of every hurtful experience we’ve ever had.
And it’s true that not everybody has sterling character. But that doesn’t mean we need to always assume the worst. Jesus told us to be wise as serpents but innocent as doves. Some of us need to recapture a bit of our innocence.
Your critical spirit will wane when you begin to develop a greater sense of empathy for other people.
5. Choose to be courageously hopeful.
Most of us are critical because we’ve been hurt before. We’ve seen other church leaders fail. We’ve been in relationships where the other person let us down. We’ve hoped and dreamed for something big, and we were disappointed
So instead of getting hurt again, now we just sit on the sidelines and talk about how nothing’s ever going to work out.
But if you’re going to break the cycle, you need to choose to be courageously hopeful. This isn’t easy. But it’s possible.
Many people think that their cynicism is a sign of maturity. “I’ve seen it all, and I know how it ends.” But in order to be truly mature, we need to approach new and scary situations with the confidence we find in Michael Scott of The Office.
“I am ready to get hurt again.”
Maybe you will get hurt again. But maybe something great will happen. Either way, tomorrow is always a new day. God’s mercies are new every morning. Hang your hat on that.
6. Pray for God to change your heart.
Of course, we don’t have the ability to change our own hearts without the intervention of the Holy Spirit.
When you come to faith in Jesus, his Spirit is united to your human soul. And the remainder of your life will be a process whereby he will remold and shape your heart. We can’t do any of it without his power.
So we need to intentionally invite Jesus into this space. We need to lay our critical attitudes at his feet so that he can turn them into something beautiful.
Jesus is waiting for you to step into a life where you are no longer shackled by your critical spirit. When you continue to intentionally offer your heart to him, he is able to replace your negativity with child-like faith. Pessimism with hope. Criticism with purpose-filled good works.
We need only to ask.