(For Those Who Have Been Stoned) Rise Up
In the previous two blogs, I touched on coming back to God when we’ve drifted or lost our way and the importance of not casting verbal attacks at others. Today, I want to continue on to the next line of thought. What to do when you’re on the receiving end.
I am not a stranger to criticism. I was never one of the cool, popular kids, which I’m perfectly okay with. I’m an introvert by nature, extrovert of sorts at work. In school, I was usually in a small circle of friends or alone. I was a geek and nerd. Teacher’s pet sometimes. I was picked on about how I looked or acted. People laughed at the way I talked or walked. People will generally find anything to make fun of if they look hard enough. And so, not being a very social person, and then going through life as a person who never really belonged or felt welcomed, but encountered a great deal of criticism, I think I’m one of the best people to touch on this subject. But, I’m just going to delve a little bit deeper, just so you get a clear picture.
The reality is, we will deal with pettiness and criticism from people at all ages of life. Immaturity does not stop once you enter adulthood. Bullying is not a pastime. People are immature and abusive at ages five until ninety-five.
I have grown adults who mock me. They’ll tell people I’m gay, even though I’m very straight. Then, they’ll turn around and say the only reason I talk to girls is because I want to have sex with them. People will then make jokes about how I’m a prude and virgin. But God forbid they see me flirt with a woman, because then they’ll interfere and mock me in her presence to make me look weak. They’ll call me weak, then call me a showoff if I display my strength. They’ll say I’m a pushover and walk all over me. If I show even the slightest irritation or anger, then I have an anger issue or am referred to as passive-aggressive. Then, they’ll claim that I’m secretly harboring anger and will suddenly explode and become some violent loose cannon. People have even implied that I’m a creep, weirdo, or potential serial killer. Watch out, he’s gonna snap and hurt people. However, vengeance is the Lord’s. I am a pacifist who prefers to keep to himself and mind his own business. So, what, they hear I’m a pacifist, then they say I’m weak and don’t defend myself or won’t defend my family. They see I keep to myself and talk about how I’m a snob, judgmental, and think I’m better than everyone else. I really don’t think about other people’s business. Well, they’ll say that’s because I don’t care about anyone else. I’ve even been called a narcissist, saying everything is all about me; I blame others; I’m playing the victim. They’ll say maybe it’s not others that’s the problem. Maybe it’s me. Well, it’s all silliness. If you look close enough (though I encourage you to focus on more important things), you’ll see me, again, minding my own business, being nice, and not sinning against them.
I write this because I know I am not the only one that deals with this. For some of you, they may be different arguments, but are pulled from the same pettiness and oxymoronic and flawed logic. I assure you that in this world, you will deal with criticism and social spiritual warfare. The enemy is a liar and thief. It will use and confuse people. Sometimes, it’ll even use Christians. It’ll try to break your heart and spirit, isolate, distract and confuse you, and slow or stop you from achieving objectives that will prosper you and glorify God.
So, let’s start with three important things to remember:
- It is not us against man.
- Ephesians 6:12 (ESV): For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
- Matthew 10:24-25 (ESV): “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
- John 15:18-20 (ESV): “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
People are going to throw stones at you and have. What I am here to do today, in this post, is help you deal with it.
Point one: When you are wrong, accept godly opposition.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. (Proverbs 9:8-9 ESV)
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1 ESV)
The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 15:31-33 ESV)
As has been previously discussed, we are not perfect. We drift, stumble, struggle, and sin. So, when that time comes, when you are wrong, you have to humbly acknowledge and learn from it. Accept godly opposition.
There is a nice Wikipedia definition for constructive criticism that I like, “Constructive criticism is the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one. The purpose of 'constructive criticism is to improve the outcome.”
When someone comes to you, privately hopefully, and shares their observations and offers a solution or opinion that is in opposition of your sin or bad habits, it’s important to take note that these words are brought forth to improve you or your situation. It’s easy to become defensive. It’s easy to say, well, you don’t know my situation. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. It’s easy to question that person and his or her motives. Sometimes, their motives aren’t genuine, but their advice is nevertheless useful. Think objectively. If that person knows what he or she is talking about, accept the advice. If the person is speaking from ignorance, do not drink from their cup.
The aim, the goal, the hope is that we gradually improve and become a better person every day. Every day, we want to be a better person than we were yesterday. Every day, we want to be a little bit closer to God than we were yesterday. Life, lived correctly, is a gradual progression to God. We are on a path. Steadily becoming smarter, wiser, and fuller in Christ.
In order to accomplish that, we must be willing to acknowledge and accept the weaknesses and errors as they exist and then hand them over to God. Let Him work on us. If we refuse to acknowledge our errors and weaknesses, we make our own growth and progression more difficult. This is what the enemy wants. The enemy wants us to clam up, become proud, and hide our flaws. We hide them from people. We hide them from ourselves. We try on occasion to even hide them from God.
Concealment of sin or error is kind of like a dog that wasn’t supposed to be outside but slips out and back in when the master’s not looking and hides a dead animal (let’s say a squirrel) inside the house. It’s there. The dog knows it’s there. And the longer the master doesn’t resolve the matter, the more it decays and starts to stink. Eventually, the stink is absolutely horrendous. Discovering it isn’t pleasant. Getting it out of the house is very much unpleasant. He has to use bleach and scrub the mess. He has to deodorize the whole room. He might even have to completely remove property and replace it with something that hasn’t been tainted by the dead squirrel.
Think of your sin or bad habit as a dead animal. Think of your body (or in some cases, your mind) as a temple. The sooner you acknowledge that sin is there and remove it, the better off you’ll be mentally, spiritually, and possibly physically. That’s what godly opposition and correction is meant to do.
Another example of not treating sin or error is hoarding. If you’ve ever walked into a hoarder’s house or seen one on television, you see the halls and living spaces lined up and stacked full of stuff. Stuff the person doesn’t need but can’t seem to let go of. (Just seeing it, you wish you could just hit the person over the head and clean their house while they’re unconscious.) There will be food all over the place. In one episode of a reality TV show, a lady had plumbing issues. Instead of calling the plumber, because she didn’t want that person to see the inside of her house, she started using diapers. Only, she was hoarding those as well. It was an unbelievable sight. And I’m sure for the person that went in there, it was an unbelievable smell.
Our sin has to be addressed. If sin isn’t addressed, it’ll only accumulate and cause bigger problems later on. This is why we humble ourselves and go to Christ. The blood of Christ cleans house! Not only that, but have you seen an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? God doesn’t just remove sin. He can and will reconstruct and improve you inside and out. He will make you better.
But only if you let Him. Only if you’re willing to accept godly opposition and correction. Be humble. You’ll feel convicted. You’ll even want to ignore it. However, it’s what’s best for you.
Point two: For those being stoned, do not hold this sin against them.
But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:57-60 ESV)
First note, when someone says or does something to us, it's very easy for us to hold grudges. I know. I still haven’t let go of some of mine. I’ve wanted to. I’ve tried to. It’s a work in progress.
The easiest thing in the world is to pitch a stone at someone. The hardest thing to do is get hit by those stones and freely, instantly forgive. We see and feel the consequences of other people’s actions affecting your life, reputation, and psychological welfare. We get hit. We get hit hard. And it can feel like we’re the only ones suffering the consequences of someone else’s ignorance, insults, and lies.
Whatever their reasoning, whatever happened, forgiveness is so important. We must follow Jesus’s example. Unforgiveness is a chain that binds your relationships to a specific moment or period in the past. No matter how much time passes, it makes it very hard, if not impossible, to move forward. A year can pass, and you’re still stuck seeing that person or people as you saw them a year ago. It can last week, year, maybe even a decade. There’s no healing, because the chains cause friction and wears against you. It’ll also impact your other relationships. Being immobile in one relationship, holding on to feelings in one relationship, will make trust, connection, and forgiveness difficult in other relationships. Chains also hinder your growth.
Forgiveness is not about letting that person off the hook for something he or she did. It is in our best interest. But even if it was about letting that person off the hook, we want someone else to let us off the hook.
The thing to remember when it comes to forgiveness is that God calls us to forgive. He has forgiven us our debts. He expects us to forgive the debts of others. And if you cannot forgive, you can pray that God helps you forgive. God wants you to forgive, for your sake. He will help you forgive if you pray.
Another note, people are petty idiots. It’s a human failing. We can’t take it personally. If it wasn’t you, chances are it would be someone else. The petty people are very good at finding things and people to be petty about. The best thing to do is acknowledge that you just happen to be their target this time around. I’ve found not taking it personally, and just seeing petty people for who they are, will make it a lot easier to shrug things off. Yes, sometimes petty people will try to make it personal. In this digital age, people resort to stalking and hacking now. However, that’s that. That’s people. We can’t allow them to make us less of who we are. In fact, it’s best that we respond to pettiness with kindness and be better than who we are. Be better in Christ and watch with faith as He makes all things straight.
Third note, people are under the influence of sin and sometimes other spiritual forces. Understanding this, it can be easier not only to forgive people but feel pity for them. Truly, those who have not been saved are in great peril. They can be easily influenced by the enemy. They’re sick. They’re not in their right state of mind. I have seen the look in people’s eyes. I have heard the things coming out of their mouths. I have felt what people are carrying around with them. Some people are just vehicles for some things sinister to ride around in. The more these people sin, the stronger the enemy’s hold on them.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 ESV) He said this for a reason, because of the ignorance and evil of men. So whenever someone does or says something stupid or evil, this is a note to go to. Say this. Repeat this. Memorize this. This is both a plea and prayer and God will acknowledge it.
To not hold grudges but forgive, in dealing with pettiness, for those who are under the influence of sin and the enemy, the best solution is prayer. We must always pray for people who come against us. Go to God first, especially in regards to those under the influence of enemy spiritual forces. There’s no room in our lives for entertaining demons.
If a Christian sins against you, pray for that person. The enemy is a liar and deceiver. He likes to divide and conquer. He loves a petty Christian. He loves getting us upset with each other and holding grudges. He wants disunity. He wants to hinder our work as a unit to glorify God and bring people to know Christ.
The solution is prayer. Prayer centers us. You sit down, talk to God, listen to God, and have a moment of peace and quiet so He can recharge you.
Point three: For those who have been stoned, rise up.
But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. (Acts 14:19-20 ESV)
I was just thinking of a few words from a song by Lesley Gore, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to. Cry if I want to. Cry if I want to. You would cry too if it happened to you.”
When someone or a group says or does something hurtful, really hurtful, one thing that’s easy to do is have a pity party for yourself. You may question yourself. You may get distracted by that person or group’s words or actions and the repercussions. You might even need a couple days or weeks to recover. But don’t get so caught up in pain that you lose track of what you were doing. The important thing to do is to stay on course.
Paul was out there sharing the truth of Christ. However, his opponents riled people up and persuaded them to stone him. They stoned him and dragged him out of the city. The left him for dead. But when his friends came, he got up and got right back to work. That is an incredible example to follow.
What is going on in your life right now? What challenges are you facing? What roadblocks are being tossed in your path to delay or send you off course? In a previous blog, I said that we all have a path and purpose in serving God. When we get up and start professing Christ and serving God with the talents He gave us, we may find obstacles thrown at us. Harsh words may make us question if we’re doing it right or capable of doing anything at all. Get up and keep working.
Also, notice, Paul was stoned and dragged. He laid there until his friends, the other disciples, surrounded him. It’s very important that we have a circle of friends who we can rely on to pick us up when we’ve been knocked down. The enemy will try to isolate us. And when that happens, without that support system, it’s harder for us to get up, heal, and get back on track. Find Christian brothers and sisters who you can trust to be there for you when you get knocked down.
The apostles and disciples didn’t travel alone. They had someone that went with them out in the mission field. Whatever God has called you to do, remember that He made us to be relational people. We’re designed to be in relationship with other Christians. When you reach out, you may find that your talents align with each other to better serve and glorify God. Together, you are an incredible force for Christ.
(This is one area where I have not been successful. I have very little interest in groups of people. I prefer the company of one person, preferably my helper/helpmate. When the time comes, we’re going to do great things together.)
The important thing to remember is that when you get knocked down, rise up and keep on going. We’re not made to lay in defeat. Persist! Be tenacious! Never give up. Stay on the course. We are victorious in Christ.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16 ESV)