7 Ways to Tame a Critical Spirit

Cindi McMenamin

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Published: Sep 23, 2019
7 Ways to Tame a Critical Spirit

It happens. The tendency to be critical flares up in us and before we know it fault-finding and disapproving words have escaped our lips and cut deeply into someone.

Maybe that someone we were critical about didn’t hear our words, but someone else heard the expression of our critical spirit. And, even if it was just a thought that was never verbalized, God saw it and heard it all the same.

Oh, how the power of life and death exists in the tongue. James 3:7-8 tells us “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures...have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Taming the tongue is secondary, however. It is our critical hearts and minds that must first be renewed to think like Christ, so our tongues don’t spew forth venom. If you’re like me and fear that you come across as critical at times, but don’t want to, here are seven ways to tame a critical spirit:

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1. Practice Gratitude

1. Practice Gratitude

Do you realize we can be complainers – unhappy with everything around us – when we have a gratitude problem? Scripture says everything we have has been given to us. When someone does something that you don’t like, think of a way to be thankful, even if it’s just telling Jesus you’re grateful for an opportunity to turn the other cheek or get a glimpse of one tiny way that He was mistreated, mocked, beaten and tortured on your behalf.

First Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Notice that verse doesn’t say “Whenever things go your way, give thanks.”

If a situation causes you to want to complain, blow your cool, or just speak your mind, immediately thank God for it and it will soften your heart and wipe out the tendency for you to be critical at all.

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2. Practice Humility

2. Practice Humility

A critical spirit causes us to looks down on others so we can feel better about ourselves. But it never gives us the satisfaction of actually feeling better. We ultimately feel worse because of the sin in our hearts that grieves God.

Remember the Pharisees in the Bible? They certainly were not more righteous than Jesus, but they criticized the Son of God to the point of hatred and plotting his murder, in order to discredit or eliminate what made them feel less righteous.

You and I don’t want to be numbered among that crowd.

The next time you feel a self-righteous zeal flaring up to put someone else in their place, remember yours at the foot of the cross. Jesus died for every one of us because of our sinful nature and our inability to earn the righteousness of God.

Remembering that we need a Savior should help us see that everyone else around us, believer or not, needs one, too. And that Savior isn’t you and me, nor our opinions or rebukes. That Savior is Jesus, the only perfect One who set the example for us when He “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-9).

Let God exalt you at the proper time, not your own words or your criticism of someone else.

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3. Choose Contentment

3. Choose Contentment

Personally, I have found it is easiest to be critical when I am not content. And that indicates a spiritual problem, as well. In addition to being thankful for all things (as mentioned in No. 1), contentment formulates in our lives when we confess to God our feelings of entitlement and ask for a spirit of contentment.  

Paul, who was imprisoned, flogged, whipped nearly to death five times, beaten with rods three times, pelted with stones (only once, good thing), and three times shipwrecked (among other perils), said he learned “the secret of being content in any and every situation.”

That “secret” was knowing he could “do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

In other words, Paul learned to not complain, but be ever aware of a sovereign God who could accomplish much through Him and who could work “all things…for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

When you choose to be content with what God is doing in your life, there is no room for complaint.

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4. Practice Praise

4. Practice Praise

Praise is different than just being thankful for what we have. Praise is recognition of Who God is and worshipping Him for His attributes in spite of our circumstances. Throughout the Psalms, we see a pattern of how praise changes one’s perspective.

In Psalm 73, Asaph admitted he was envious of the arrogant and resented that the unrighteous appeared to be prospering, yet he was faithful to His God and seemed to be going through one form of suffering after another. (Now don’t tell me that doesn’t make you critical at times, too.)  

Asaph even claimed “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence” (verse 13). Asaph was troubled and his spirt was embittered “till I entered the sanctuary of God.”

Being in God’s presence, in worship, changed Asaph’s perspective and caused him to be able to say “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (verses 25-26).

Nothing cures a critical spirit like praise.

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5. Use Your “Filter”

5. Use Your “Filter”

A filter keeps contaminants out. I like to think of our filter as the restraining Holy Spirit that keeps us in check, and convicts our hearts before we speak, criticize, or formulate a negative response toward someone else.

Ephesians 4:29 explains how to start the filtration process in our hearts to stop what tries to work its way up to our mouths and escape through our speech: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Did you catch that? There are three steps to the filtration process:

First, we are to exercise self-control by guarding our mouths and letting no unwholesome word slip out.

Second, we are to use discretion and speak only uplifting words that build up others.

Third, we are to use discernment and ensure our words are timely “according to the need of the moment.”

How often was a tender word needed, but we spoke a word of correction or rebuke instead? How often did our children need to hear first that we loved them, and later a lesson about how they could’ve avoided that mistake.

Proverbs 15:23 says: “A person finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!” And Proverbs 16:24 tells us “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Be one who heals, not hurts, others with your timely words.

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6. Pray for Them First

6. Pray for Them First

I’ve done it, too. I’ve looked at someone, assessed them in my mind, and mentally condemned them as stand-offish, inappropriately dressed, angry at the world, or clueless.

And yet, what does my Lord command me to do to those around me? Pray for them. Love them as He loves them. Desire that they know Jesus. Share with them the greatest news ever told.

It was my adult daughter who pointed out to me that I was “judging” before considering what – and Who – another person might need. Now, when I remember her rebuke – and that of my Lord’s – I find myself praying: Lord Jesus, You know that person’s heart and what they’ve been through. May they see Jesus in my smile, my friendly words, my heart of understanding.

May they ultimately see less of me and more of You.

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7. Remember the Principle of Pain

7. Remember the Principle of Pain

People who hurt, hurt people. People in pain can come across as angry, resentful, absent-minded or depressed.

Instead of harboring a critical thought or speaking defeating words to someone who is not talking, behaving, or dressing appropriately, consider the strong possibility that person is acting, reacting, and living out of pain.

Current or past pain does not excuse our behavior. But the realization that someone may be in physical or emotional pain can help us back off of criticism and extend grace because we, too, understand what it is to hurt.

No one is exempt from pain. And although we must choose how to respond to our circumstances, instead of thinking I deal with chronic pain and I keep a positive attitude, why can’t he? try extending grace instead. Grace reasons I wonder what he’s experiencing that I haven’t.

Empathy says “I don’t understand, but I’m feeling for you.” That is the opposite of a critical spirit.

Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and award-winning writer who helps women and couples strengthen their relationship with God and with others. She has authored more than a dozen books including When Women Walk Alone (more than 130,000 copies sold), When God Sees Your Tears, When a Woman Overcomes Life’s HurtsWhen Couples Walk Together (co-authored with her husband, Hugh), and Drama Free: Finding Peace When Emotions Overwhelm You. For more on her resources to help strengthen your walk with God, your marriage, or your parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.  

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Originally published Monday, 23 September 2019.