‘There was an old stone,’ said the warner,
‘Continually mocked by the Scorner.
‘It was neglected,
‘Despised and rejected,
‘Yet became the head of the corner.’
(What do you mean you’ve ‘found better poems in alphabet soup’? Soup-slurper! The only thing separating me from Keats is ability.)
Many of us have stifled our calling by heeding some misguided critic who implied we were not good enough.
Few things in life are certain. For Christians, not even death is guaranteed.a But criticism is.
Though spineless people-pleasers try hard, no one totally avoids criticism. Being right doesn’t help. Neither does loving everyone, or being perfect. The world crucified the only One with these qualities. Everything he did upset someone. He was criticized even by friends, family and religious leaders.b Twenty centuries later, with the advantage of hindsight, he is still slandered.
Our highest ideal is to be like Jesus – like the One accused of being in league with Satan. If you know the pain of being misunderstood, spare a thought for the early Christians. They renounced Roman, Greek and Egyptian gods, called each other brother and sister, and partook of their Lord’s body in communion. As a result they were thought guilty of atheism, incest and cannibalism.
John Bunyan, of Pilgrim’s Progress fame, was variously accused of being a witch, a Jesuit, a highwayman, having a mistress, and having whores and several illegitimate children.123
Whitefield and Wesley, acclaimed leaders of a revival that blazed through Britain and America, were bludgeoned by allegations with the graciousness of a meat-axe. Whitefield’s first sermon was said to have driven fifteen of his hearers insane.124 Bishop Lavington published a blistering attack upon the Methodists, accusing Whitefield of horrendous sins. It so confused the author of Whitefield’s obituary that he penned two portraits. One was of a saint and the other of a rogue.125 The revival leaders were blasted from every side. Wesley’s wife broke into her husband’s cabinet and stole correspondence which she doctored to appear he had been unfaithful to her. It poisoned many. Toplady, writer of Rock of Ages, believed her. Even on his death-bed he summoned strength to affirm he still despised Wesley.126
Hudson Taylor, outrageously in love, wrote a letter proposing marriage to a teenage girl in China. Unknown to him, Maria’s feelings were almost as hot. Excitedly, she took the letter to Miss Aldersey, a remarkable and dedicated missionary who deeply cared for her. ‘Mr. Taylor!’ exclaimed Miss Aldersey, ‘That unconnected nobody!’ She pressured shy, inexperienced Maria to rebuff the proposal. Fearing she may not have done enough to destroy the relationship, Miss Aldersey sought out Hudson’s friends to tell them he was ‘fanatical, undependable, diseased in mind and body ... totally worthless’. She even threatened with a lawsuit that ‘uneducated’ ‘unordained’ and ‘uncouth’ excuse for a missionary, while his darling Maria was kept under virtual house arrest, charged with being a maniac, indecent, weak-minded and obstinate. Later, with his China Inland Mission in its vulnerable infancy, the entire work was threatened by the unremitting onslaught of a missionary who thought it his godly duty to oppose the work. Not only did newspapers in Shanghai ruthlessly attack him, Hudson was blamed even in England’s parliament for political strife in China.127
Equally grave examples could be drawn for the lives of countless thousands of God’s storm troopers.
So let’s not waste our lives trying to hide from criticism. If even cowardly yes-men cannot avoid it, the righteous don’t stand a chance. In fact, Jesus said ‘Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you.’c Ministry that impresses heaven and ministry that impresses earth are popularity polls apart.
Anyone highly respected by sections of the Christian church – Billy Graham, Robert Schuller, Richard Wurmbrand, Mother Teresa, Ian Paisley, Johnny Cash, Rodney Howard-Brown, to name a few – will invariably be scorned by other sections of the church. Few of us could read the above names without feeling negatively towards one or more. Born again Christians disagree wildly about which of the above are even Christians.
Great men and women of God, however, do not crumble under criticism. It may wound them, but they push on with what they believe is God’s calling. Spurning the way of least resistance and its pseudo peace, they choose what I call the peace de resistance.
No one who always surrenders to criticism will achieve anything significant for God. There is no type of music, for example, which appeals to every Christian. Suppose ninety-nine per cent of people find your ministry atrocious. If your band played at an anti-nuclear rally, they wouldn’t know whether to ban the bomb or bomb the band. What should you do? Assuming they are reacting to your style, and not spurning spiritual truth, it would seem desirable to serenade the one per cent when the others were out of earshot. That should make the unappreciative less inclined to consider a lynching. However, we established in chapter 5 that heaven does not measure a ministry by the number of people influenced.
If you appeal only to a minority, it could well be a minority that is not being reached by other means. If so, the church would be poorer without your specialized ministry. Heaven’s approval outlasts earth’s applause.
Even if I spent hours producing something I liked, I used to worry others wouldn’t like it. But that was five minutes ago. Now, I’m learning to trust God.
Though bent by Adam’s crash and bashed by my own sin, God gave me my personality with its tastes, and for years I’ve been looking to him to mound me. So I believe that somewhere are people with cerebral plumbing like mine. They will appreciate my style and are most likely the ones God has called me to minister to. Should there be millions of them, I’ll be famous; if only a few, I’ll blend with the wallpaper. But it won’t affect God’s view of me. If popularity is a valid measure of success, our deserted Lord was a failure.
Take my poetry (not everyone can take it). I actually found someone who likes it (and they have pretty good poems at pre-school these days). Audience-wise, that’s all I need to validate my ministry. What would it matter if everyone regarded my admirer and me as literary nincompoops? I’d rather win an illiterate to Christ than be hailed a genius. The person who appreciates my poetry is just as precious to God, just as worthy a recipient of ministry, as all the critics.
‘Experts’ regularly berate the simplicity of Fanny Crosby’s hymns. It is said she had the literary skill to silence her critics but she deliberately simplified her songs to meet more powerfully the needs of the distressed, the infirm and the poorly educated.128
That does not mean I can be lax. To limit oneself to a particular style can be very demanding but because Fanny considered it the most effective way to reach her target audience she strove for perfection within this framework.
Since my actions reflect on my Creator and Redeemer, living below my best tarnishes God’s glory. In Christ, however, my best is powerful. Within the framework God sets me, my best, nothing more and nothing less, is just what the Father ordered. Too bad if people think I’d be a greater blessing selling inflatable dart-boards. If God has commissioned me, that’s all that matters. And if my poems make Shakespeare turn in his grave, I’ll assume he needs the exercise. If it turns the experts off their food, I’ll be the envy of the weight loss industry.
You don’t like my humor either? It makes you want to what? Well, if it’s that bad, how come you’ve read so much? Oh. Well, how was I to know you would open the book at this very page? I was going to produce a book you couldn’t put down but I couldn’t figure out how to stop the superglue from setting until the critical moment.
It’s a gift. Some people turn heads, I turn stomachs. Stomachs are important, too. Being a stomach specialista need not automatically disqualify my writing. I could still be in business if all humanity despised my writings. I know of at least one person soundly converted by a song he loathed.129
You needn’t concern yourself with such extremes, however. We are often so over-awed by God’s moral standards that we overlook other aspects of his nature. Our Lord is Creator as well as Savior, and the Maker of rainbows and nightingales didn’t suddenly lose his creative urge at the close of Day Six. God’s creativity is inexhaustible. And you were made for him. He longs to express his creativity through you. As an instrument and musician together make beautiful music, you and your Lord can unite to create exquisite beauty. What you can do together defies imagination. You make an awesome team.
Yield to Christ, like a brush to the artist, and from your life will flow unearthly beauty.