This comes from the prayer “Reproofs” in The Valley of Vision:
Teach me how to take reproofs from friends,
Even though I think I do not deserve them;
Use them to make me tenderly afraid of sin,
More jealous over myself,
More concerned to keep heart and life unblameable.
Cause them to help me reflect on my want of spirituality,
To abhor myself, to look upon myself as unworthy,
And make them beneficial to my soul.
May all your people know how little, mean, and vile I am,
That they may see I am nothing, less than nothing,
To be accounted nothing,
That so they may pray for me aright,
And have not the least dependence upon me.
In His mercy, God often sends people into our lives who courageously, if not always kindly, give us some form of correction. One of the indicators of maturity is how quickly and joyfully we welcome that kind of input.
I often respond immediately with justifying or blame shifting words, explaining why I took a particular course of action or made a specific comment. I’m quick to speak and very slow to listen. I want this conversation to be finished as soon as possible. In my worst moments, I start to judge the person giving me input, imagining all kinds of reasons why their judgment is faulty. “They don’t even know me…they haven’t seen all the other times I’ve been right…how do they know what’s in my heart?…they’re MUCH more guilty than I am in this area…someone else made me do it…I was tired/hungry/distracted/unaware…” My list of excuses is lengthy, thorough, and compelling. At least in MY eyes.
But in God’s eyes, every person who brings me a rebuke is His messenger, sent to help me conform me to the image of His Son. So why do I despise correction?
It’s simple. I don’t believe what God has said about me in the cross. I think there must be some aspect of my life, however small or pitiful, that is praiseworthy, meritorious, and beyond inspection. Alfred Poirier, in his very helpful article, The Cross and Criticism, provides this life-changing perspective:
“In light of God’s judgment and justification of the sinner in the cross of Christ, we can begin to discover how to deal with any and all criticism. By agreeing with God’s criticism of me in Christ’s cross, I can face any criticism man may lay against me. In other words, no one can criticize me more than the cross has. And the most devastating criticism turns out to be the finest mercy. If you thus know yourself as having been crucified with Christ, then you can respond to any criticism, even mistaken or hostile criticism, without bitterness, defensiveness, or blameshifting. Such responses typically exacerbate and intensify conflict, and lead to the rupture of relationships. You can learn to hear criticism as constructive and not condemnatory because God has justified you.”
What a thought. We can receive criticism graciously because God, who knows our wickedness as no one else, has fully forgiven and justified us. We will never be brought into condemnation! (Rom. 8:1) So we can confidently pray with the Puritan in The Valley of Vision:
Give me such vivacity in religion,
That I may be able to take all reproofs from other men as from your hands,
And glorify you for them from a sense of your beneficent love
And of my need to have my pride destroyed.
Oh, how we need to have our pride destroyed! What agents of God’s care will we encounter this week? Will we recognize them as tools in God’s hands, or view them as enemies to resist? How will we respond to input, feedback, and observations? May God help us to see each person who corrects us as a gift from his loving, wise, and sovereign hand, sent to make us more like His precious Son.
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. (Psa. 141:5)