“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.” –1 Peter 4:12-14
Benjamin Franklin said, “The only things certain in life are death and taxes.” To that, you can almost certainly add this caveat—you’ll never be picture perfect at everything. Whether you mess something up, whether you have no aptitude for it at all…whether you fall short through inexperience or through poor judgement, as sure as the sun in summer you’re going to fail at something. And with failure comes criticism—but that’s constructive. It helps you to become better at what you’re doing. You can’t improve without criticism. Right?
It’d be lovely if that were something that you could rely on, but sadly it’s more complicated than that. First and foremost, not all criticism is constructive. People have their own reasons for giving us their opinions, and it’s not always to help us thrive and survive. Secondly, we don’t just receive criticism when things go wrong. There are differences of opinion on that too, as anyone who’s seen a political debate can testify. And finally of course, there’s no guarantee that we’re going to be in a place at the time where we’re able to take criticism on board. The fact is, we don’t like it when people call us on the carpet for something. It gets our backs up, even if it’s halfway justified. The acceptance of criticism isn’t just the acceptance that we’ve fallen short, it’s the acceptance that the critical person is above us in some way, that they have the right to give an informed opinion and expect us to agree with them. Pride doesn’t just go before a fall; it sticks around for quite a while afterwards.
If, for whatever reason, we don’t feel able to take the rap, then along comes pride’s nasty little brother, resentment. We take it so personally, don’t we? Resentment affects our inner self, how we perceive things, our confidence and our drive to succeed. It’s infectious—it translates to how we treat other people, creating issues in our relationships, as the way we present ourselves outwardly is affected. Resentment is also viral, breeding a desire to lash out in response and so create resentment in others. Finally, resentment is cancerous—it replicates within us as time goes on, spreading to other areas of our lives. We become riddled with resentment, unable to interact with other people in any aspect of our lives in a civil manner, seething with anger, with less and less ability to change for the better.
We can’t control how others act towards us, only how we act towards others. We might be being genuinely persecuted, or simply being plied with constructive, helpful criticism that we simply feel unable to accept. Whichever, other people don’t have to have negative effects upon us if we choose to take nothing negative from them. We do it to ourselves but we don’t have to.
Given the wrong mindset, aspects of negativity, anger and bitterness, it’s possible to take any remark and find the hidden malevolence in it. In Christ, we have been gifted with the opportunity to move in the opposite spirit—to find the hidden blessing in every circumstance. And it is a gift, make no mistake about it. It’s a gift that has the capacity to change every aspect of our lives, from the great to the small. It’s something that can be applied everywhere, a special way of being. It’s the art of thinking brilliantly, thinking the way that God thinks.
In Luke 6, Jesus comes down from the mountain and says to the assembled multitudes, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” Romans 12:14 says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” James 1:2-4 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
This is the tenet of Christianity best exemplified by the idea ‘turn the other cheek’, and it isn’t just the peacenik, flower-waving cliché that two millennia of misunderstanding has turned it into. It’s strategy. This is warfare, and the Spirit loves the challenge of beating negativity through flipping it upside down. Just as it’s 100% true that the best way to defeat enemies is by making them our friends, so the best way to take the sting out of a curse is by taking it as a blessing. This isn’t some passive reference to making the best of a bad situation, finding the good in every circumstance. This is warfare, and just as in martial arts like judo and aikido, the idea is to turn the enemy’s energy, his strength and momentum, against him.
In every circumstance, where you begin defines where you’ll end up. Your starting place guarantees the outcome, and there is such a thing as a self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to the negative influence that our outer selves can have. James says, “count it all joy.” We give thanks for our moments of adversity because to us, in the Kingdom, they’re opportunities. We are Christians. We are in Christ—the clue is in the name. We take joy in trials and tribulations, because there’s a provision and a promise in each one, especially tailored to us.
Adversity brings advancement in the Kingdom. We partner with God through partnering with joy…smiling in the face of persecution, literally if need be. We actually laugh in the face of danger, because that’s the way that God thinks, and in faith we submit ourselves to His mindset.
Imagine if every circumstance, every situation, everything that ever happened to you or around you had an upgrade attached to it. I have received criticism, unfair comparison, misrepresentation, judgments and outright hate in the mail. My routine in response has been to thank the individual involved and say, “I spoke to the Lord about you today and He showed me this about you.” And then write something beautiful and powerful. That’s the Kingdom within us, and that’s the art of thinking brilliantly. Every single moment of adversity is an opportunity to demonstrate the heart of God beating within us. We focus on the benefits of criticism, the advantages to being maligned. We can feel the Father’s presence even in—especially in—the midst of provocation. Why be debilitated by a casual insult or malicious comment when we can find the opposite meaning in it and rejoice instead?
You might be thinking that this sounds simple on paper but practically impossible in your day-to-day lives, but this is not a strategy earmarked purely for saints and prophets, great heroes of Scripture and spiritual warfare. Every member of the Church, every aspect of the Beloved, is a superhero. This is our life in the Spirit, and it’s what we were born for, all of us. It’s like flicking on a light in a dark room. We take a negative, and we turn it around. It all depends upon our perspective.
Try it now. Make a list of everything that you think is holding you down, all of the things that you fear. Give names to all of those flaws and so-called character defects, those tiny imps on your shoulder that whisper in your ear and keep you up at night. For each little demon, ask God—what is the opposite of this thing? What would you like me to do? How would you like me to be? Write them down, and then tear up the first list. You won’t need it anymore. Live from your second list, the list of positives that you took from all that negative, the list that the angel on your shoulder sang to you, and smile. Count it all joy, and smile.