One of the most difficult things people struggle with are the stinging barbs left by the critical words of others. It’s not usually the harsh words of a stranger that tends to leave a wound. It’s the unexpected or unwarranted criticism of those we love and care about.
Criticism, if not carefully spoken in love or with a redemptive purpose in mind, can come across as an insult. Insults offend. They also create a tear in the relationship that then requires diligent care to restore so that the enemy cannot further exploit that area of distress. Insensitive words cause others to feel dejected, humiliated, judged, or leave them with a sense of not measuring up. The person receiving hard or critical comments can feel knocked off balance. These emotions then tell them that the person that spoke those words are unsafe and unable to be trusted, and fear of receiving more of the same treatment causes emotional distance. A breach of relationship occurs. Over time, and with repeated similar actions, those broken areas of trust create anger, offense, unforgiveness and eventually, bitter root judgments against themselves and others.
“A sensitive answer turns back wrath, but an offensive word stirs up anger.” Prov. 15:1 CEB
Harsh and insensitive words come from our own untended hurts, wounds and irritations. Those things cause us to be impatient with the growth process in others. Impatience can cause a person to feel very irritated and unable to adequately love others while they are working through their own issues. Perhaps we all need to take a step back and ask whether or not that thing we really want to say to someone else is so necessary to blurt out, or is it just our pride that tends to elevate judgment above kindness? While it may feel good momentarily to get some irritation off of our chest, the reality is, when we do, we often neglect to think about how our comments may bruise or damage someone else. My friend Reda Sue has a great little saying. Sometimes our soul just wants to be ornery. Isn't that the truth? Pride doesn’t consider how anyone else feels. It’s only concerned with making ourselves feel better. Once those critical, judgmental or harsh words leave our mouth, the affect they have on others can be complex. It can be far worse than what we realize, because the enemy is right there to take advantage of any opportunity to blow things out of proportion. When the accuser grabs hold of those words, he magnifies offense and creates a deeper wound, further dividing the relationship. Before you know it, both sides are at a stand-off.
The key to healing our own words is to first recognize that we all fall short of the glory of God. We are all sinners in need of a merciful God. People will sometimes disappoint us. We have all had times when we have failed to make good decisions. We've neglected to stand up when we should have stood up. We've said the wrong things when we should have kept our mouth shut. It could be any number of things, but the point is, we are all human. Should we not have compassion on those that are just as human as we are and prone to stumbling from time to time? Regardless of how we may tend to justify our words or actions, if we hurt others or cause deliberate pain just so that we can make ourselves feel better, then we are in need of forgiveness. Pride is offensive to God. The only way to freedom is through humility, to recognize that we have offended not just another individual, but the Lord Himself, and are in need of His mercy.
I am reminded of a parable Jesus told in Matthew 18 about the unforgiving servant. A king set about to settle outstanding debts with those that were indebted to him. One man begged for more time to settle his debt and the king was gracious to him. Yet, later on, that same man refused to extend the same sort of grace and forgiveness to someone that was indebted to him. Instead, he viciously grabbed him by the throat, demanded that his fellow servant pay him what was owed, and threw him in jail. He refused to release this man from what he felt he was owed. Other servants found out about this man’s unwillingness to forgive a debt and told the king what he had done. The king was so outraged that this is what he told him:
“Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.”
“Jesus said, ‘So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18:32-35).
Did you catch the fact that the first man and the second man were both servants to the king? Neither one was any better than the other, yet one lorded over the other and refused to forgive his debt. What the first man was really saying through his actions is that he did not want the other man to be free or healed. That is an offense that warrants serious correction from the Lord. Can I tell you something? We are all indebted to Jesus Christ for paying a debt we could not pay. He paid with His life in exchange for ours. He ransomed us from eternal punishment as our sins deserved. When we refuse to be gracious towards anyone - regardless of what they may or may not have done - that is an offense to the cross of Christ.
Any unhealed offense or unforgiveness will result in some sort of affliction and captivity if it is not dealt with immediately. Affliction can mean a lot of things and none of them are good. Friend, your spirit can’t breathe if your understanding of the gospel is distorted. When a person rationalizes their own faults with compassion and grace but cannot extend that same compassion and mercy towards others because they have a critical spirit, then they have established a false standard. God hates false weights and measures because it results in injustice. The gospel is not biased like that or full of prejudice. That is the beauty of the good news. The gospel that you apply to yourself must be equally applied to others as well. God’s grace and mercy is available to all.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me. Lead me in the way everlasting.” Ps. 139:23,24
David was a man with many faults but considered a friend of the King. It was because he wasn’t afraid to examine his own heart and ask the Lord to do the same. Psalm 51 is another example of the integrity of David’s heart. He knew he was prone to sin but asked God to create a clean heart in him. The thing that David feared most was the thought of God’s Holy Spirit departing from his life. He was compelled to worship God in Spirit and in truth. God honored his request and showed him his faults so that David could repent and have his heart in right standing with the Lord. This is the right way to relate to God. Friend, I pray that you would earnestly seek the Lord to inquire of Him. Ask Him if there is anything you have tried to sweep under the rug. Sometimes when we don’t really know how to deal with a situation, we tend to try to avoid it altogether. That doesn’t mean it’s really resolved. God is dealing with His body, His bride, and He is leaving no stone unturned. You can’t hide from Him, and I pray you won’t try. If there is someone in your life you tend to want to avoid, then consider that the Lord may be asking you to deal with underlying issues. You will never truly move forward until you’ve released everyone from your past. God let you off the hook. Don’t you think it’s time you do the same for others? Ask the Lord to give you a double measure of grace and compassion to allow your forgiveness be more than just words out of your mouth, but genuine.
I will tell you how to make it effective and real. I am reminded of when I used to have to pull weeds out of our garden when I was young. Oh, how I hated that job! Have you ever tried to pull up a tightly rooted plant up out of dry ground? It’s impossible. Part of the root will break off and on the surface it might look better for a while, but the plant will always grow back. But, if the ground is well saturated you can pull up the weeds, and they come up very easily. Even the long rooted, stubborn plants will come out as long as the saturation goes down deep enough to reach the tip of the roots. I remember pulling on those big dandelion plants trying to get them out of the ground. It’s almost like surgery. You have to do it so gingerly and carefully so as not to break off a part of the root. You have to get the whole thing. If you ever got assigned to weed pulling as a child, you know what I mean! When you finally felt it give way and begin to come up out of the earth, it was so rewarding to get that bugger finally pulled up, wasn’t it? Spiritually rooted issues are a lot like that too.
If you’re heart is not well saturated in worship and prayer, those stubbornly rooted issues are not going to come up. You may get part of it, but to do the real surgery, you have to be in the presence of God where your heart is humbled and compliant to whatever He requests. You have to be properly motivated, and sometimes that is where God allows the devil to bring affliction for a season. God is not into tormenting His people, BUT, the devil is more than willing if we open a door to him. Unforgiveness grants him legal access. Go back to Matthew 18:32-35. Whether it be poverty, infirmity, a thorn in your flesh of some sort, or even mental torment of your thoughts so that you have no peace; God will allow the enemy to bring affliction if a person is guilty of breaking a spiritual law. He wants us to figure out that the affliction is connected to a heart issue that has gone on too long.
It’s time to clear the airwaves of judgments and harsh, critical words. They don’t just hang over the heads of those that you spoke them about; they hang over your head as well. Those words laced with judgment will block your path. It’s time to ask the Lord to cut those strings and let those words fall to the ground. Tell the Lord you release those that have offended, hurt or disappointed you. Ask the Lord to let no more bad fruit come from word laced with the spirit of death. Speak blessing over those individuals, and ask the Lord to bless and heal all wounds so that the enemy can no longer take advantage of either of you. You’d be surprised at what has been held back, waiting for you to take these steps of faith. The answers to prayer that you’ve been waiting for may just be connected to this very thing. When one thing is released, other things often follow suit.