Cave Time

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Cave time—everyone gets it. The cave always reveals just how much work God still has to do to get you ready for great things. In the cave of Adullam, God revealed to David that his good looks, musical skill and winsome personality weren’t enough for the kind of king Israel needed. Saul had that—looks, skill, charisma—but he didn’t have the kind of depth with God that the leader of God’s people needed. David needed more of God; the testing of the cave clearly revealed that.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 22:1

David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there.

If you are like me, you want to live in the never-ending summer of God’s blessing—the sunshine of his grace—where you’ll flourish and enjoy a fruitful life. But to get from here to that land of spiritual fruitfulness, you will have to first endure some “cave-time”.

The cave is core curriculum in the school of spirituality. Call it whatever you want: the pit (Joseph’s “cave”), the desert (Moses’ “cave”), the prison (Paul’s “cave”), the wilderness (Jesus’ “cave”), the cave is to Christians what Camp Pendleton is to marines: Boot camp! It’s basic training for believers. Every believer gets cave-time!

The cave is the place of testing. It’s the blast furnace for moral fiber—where your mettle gets tested! Put a person in the cave of distress, discouragement, doubt or delayed hopes and true character is revealed. The cave always reveals just how much work God still has to do to get you ready for great things. In the cave of Adullam, God revealed to David that his good looks, musical skill and winsome personality weren’t enough for the kind of king Israel needed. Saul had that—looks, skill, charisma—but he didn’t have the kind of depth with God that the leader of God’s people needed. David needed more of God; the testing of the cave clearly revealed that.

The cave is also a place of learning. David recognized that he needed “cave time” so he could “learn what God will do for me.” (I Samuel 22:3) In the cave, David learned what it meant to fully depend on God, because God stripped him of all his misplaced dependencies: his position (David went from fair haired boy to fugitive overnight), his friends (David was separated from his best friend, Jonathon), his spiritual mentor (Samuel died while David was in the cave) and even his dignity (he actually had to feign insanity to escape the Philistines). These were all good things in David’s life, yet God knew that they were a barrier to the great things he had in store for David. So God removed them.

The cave was perhaps the most frustrating period in David’s life—but in hindsight, it turned out to be the most fruitful. That’s because the cave is also the place of forging. As an unknown poet said, the cave is where you are, “pressed into knowing no helper but God.” And that’s exactly what happened to David in the cave of Adullam. Through the discipline of that place, David came into a profound experience with God, and that is the one thing David would need to be a great king.

That’s what God does in the cave. And by the way, God does some of his best work when we are experiencing “cave time”. It was there in the cave of Adullam that David wrote three of his most moving psalms—Psalms 34, 57 & 142.

Psalm 142 shows us that David learned to talk openly and honestly with God—and that God could handle David’s raw emotion. David got brutally honest with God in the cave, and it was great therapy: “I cry aloud to the Lord…I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble.” (Psalm 142:1-2)

Psalm 52 shows us that David learned to toughen up in the cave, because God was training him how to “king it!” That’s why David said of his “cave time” experience, “I cry out to God, who fulfills his purpose for me.” (Psalm 57:2)

Finally, Psalm 34 shows us that David learned to look for God in the cave. It was there David found that God was his all-in-all, and out of experience he penned Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

So here’s the deal: If you are in a cave right now, I want to remind you of some good news: You are not alone—God is with you. And furthermore, God understands all about caves. He’s been there! You see, the son of David, Jesus, was stripped of everything, too. He lost his position as a spiritual leader. His own family criticized him. His friends ran away. He lost the adoration of the cheering crowds. He suffered the mockery of a trial and the humiliation of a cross. And when he died, they buried his lifeless body in a cave, and it looked like it was over!

But God does his best work in caves, because it’s where he resurrects dead stuff! That cave was where a dead Messiah became a Risen Savior…and your cave is where your dead dreams, or maybe your dead ministry, or perhaps your dead career or even your dead marriage will take on resurrection life.

Your cave may be very deep and dark and devastating, but here’s the thing you need to know: God works in caves! So stay patient, pliable and trusting—your resurrection is coming!

Going Deeper With God: What a great reminder, that, as Spurgeon said, “Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.” Perhaps it would be a good idea right now to thank God in advance for the grandeur that he is forging from your “cave time”!

If Past Performance Is Any Indicator…

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Ever wonder where David got his courage to fight Goliath? Was he just a naturally brave warrior, experienced in battle, skillful in hand-to-hand combat and just spoiling for a fight with an oversized blowhard, or was there something else? There was something else! David, though just a young man, had walked with God in an unusually intimate way. That, more than anything, qualified him as a giant–slayer.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 17:32-37

David told Saul, “Don’t worry about this Philistine, I’ll go fight him!” Saul replied, “Don’t be ridiculous! There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.” But David persisted, “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats. When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!”

Ever wonder where David got his courage to fight Goliath? Was he just a naturally brave warrior, experienced in battle, skillful in hand-to-hand combat and just spoiling for a fight with an oversized blowhard, or was there something else?

There was something else! David, though he was just a young man, had walked with God in an unusually intimate way. Prior to facing the Philistine giant, David had spent countless hours in the quiet and solitude of the wilderness watching over his father’s sheep. Hour after monotonous hour of herding sheep, passing the time by plinking Coke bottles with his slingshot—well, maybe he had other targets—writing songs of worship and talking to God, were interspersed with moments of sheer danger when wild animals would attack the flock. In those heart-pounding moments, the only thing standing between the vicious animals and the decimation of his father’s livelihood was David—and God!

David’s time as a shepherd turned out to be a critical period of preparation for what was to come, because it was then that David had come to experience the continual presence and faithfulness of God. In those moments of distress and danger, the strong help of the Almighty had never failed; time and again, God stood by David, helped him, saved him, and the young shepherd had come to know in the depth of his being that the One who walked with him was a covenantly faithful God.

So why was David so courageous when he stood before Goliath? He was simply drawing upon the reservoir of God-confidence that had piled up in his heart. He just knew that he knew that the same God who delivered him from every past danger would deliver him from this present one. God’s past performance was a surefire indicator of what was about to happen. How could it be any other way?

So, have you got a Goliath in your life? I’ll bet you do—a big, hairy, intimidating problem breathing down your neck! You see, Goliath is still around, though he comes in a variety of forms: an impossible financial situation, a nasty boss or a threatening co-worker, a rebellious child or belligerent spouse, a physical problem or a helpless sick loved one. All of us face Goliaths, and the natural thing to do is what the Israelites did: shrink back in depression, cower in fear and run from the battle.

But that would be to live way beneath the level of confidence, joy and victory that God has willed for his people. So learn a lesson from David—Goliath may still be around, but so is God. He hasn’t changed. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. And he is still a covenantly faithful God—he can’t help himself.

Has he helped you in the past? Has he provided for you? Healed you? Protected and delivered you? Has he brought you this far? Why would he not do today, and tomorrow, what he has done in the past?

He will! So put your confidence in him. Get your eye off Goliath and on to God, because the One who delivered you from the paw of the lion and the bear will deliver you from that nasty old Philistine. It’s just what God does!

Going Deeper With God: What is your current Goliath? Spend a moment reflecting how God has taken care of your past giants. Then…go find five smooth stones!

What We See Isn’t All There Is

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Reading people accurately—understanding their strengths and weaknesses, becoming more intuitive about the things below the surface of their skin, seeing between the lines of their résumé—is one of the great life skills we must acquire. But never forget, that even on your best day, God still sees what you don’t in people. So don’t get caught up in either the immediate or the visible. There is always more going on than what you know.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 11-12

The Lord spoke to Samuel: “Go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.” …When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” …Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, but he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.” Samuel said, “Send for him at once! We will not sit down to eat until he arrives.” So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes. And the Lord said, “This is the one; anoint him.”

I think the story of David’s anointing must have been the source for Charles Perrault’s, Cinderella, although I don’t believe he cited 1 Samuel 16. But the story has a familiar ring to it: each of Jesse’s handsome, hunky sons were paraded past Samuel, who was in town to anoint the next monarch. All seven of the brothers were hoping the glass slipper would fit his foot, which would mean, of course, the crown would follow. To match their brawny bods and olive brown skin, each of them had magnificent, godly names — “God is my father”, “My father is noble”, “Generous and Kind”.

Even the grizzled old prophet Samuel, not known for being a touchy, feely sort of guy, got sucked in by the these Bethlehem calendar guys: “Surely this is the one…surely that is the one…it’s got to be that one.” Perhaps he was so deeply disappointed in King Saul, whom the Lord had rejected as king, and for whose manic behavior Samuel certainly felt responsible since he had anointed him, that he was desperate to take the first kingly looking guy that paraded down the runway. Such is the potential for shallowness in even the best of us.

But then comes one of the greatest lessons in scripture—from no less than God himself: “Hey Samuel, what you see isn’t all there is. You are looking at certain qualities that are only on the surface. Fine! But I look deeper; I look at what is on the inside of the person—because I know the heart. You look for immediate talent, a shovel-ready monarch, but I see what a person can become. Don’t forget Samuel, when you anointed Saul, he had all those hunky qualities too—tall, handsome, and a winning personality. How’d that work out for you? Learn a lesson, my man: I look at the heart—and in David, I have found a boy that will become not just a great man and a great king, but the greatest of men, for he will be a man after my own heart.”

“I look at the heart,” says the Lord. And so should we. Of course, we can’t help but see the outward and the immediate also. We are not called to ignore that—that would be unwise. God has given us eyes and a brain, and as we make judgments about the people with whom we need to work or want to do life, those things matter. But they are not the leading indicators of supernatural anointing or prophetic potential. Those are the most important things about a person, and they are deeper than the skin, or the résumé. They reside in the heart.

The point being that in our choices, evaluations and action plans, we see only so far, but there is always more. God sees the “more.” And that is why we need to stay plugged into God’s Spirit and practice openness to God’s thoughts. Whenever we must make an important decision about a person, we should default to asking God, “So what about this person that I don’t see do you see?” And God will be faithful to tell you if you will consistently maintain an open channel of communication with him.

A great skill in life that we ought to develop is reading people. We can get better at discerning people’s strengths and weaknesses. We can even become much more intuitive about the things below the surface. Even more, we should ask for and hone a spiritual gift the Bible calls discernment. But never forget, that even on your best day, God still sees what you don’t. So don’t get caught up in either the immediate or the visible.

There is always more going on that what you know.

Going Deeper With God: Ask God to reveal what he sees, and foresees, about the people in your life. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Industrial Strength Boldness

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

What if we prayed that God would infuse us with deep courage and a higher degree of trust so that, like Jonathan and his armor bearer, we might tackle the Philistines in our lives—fear, inadequacy, manipulative people, the lack of resources that stand opposed to the vision God has put in our heart, or even our own sinfulness? God is looking to grant Jonathan-like boldness to those who will ask, and who will then step out in raw courage, ruthless trust and risky faith to put God to the test.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 14:6

“Let’s go across to the outpost of those pagans,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer. “Perhaps the Lord will help us, for nothing can hinder the Lord. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!”

This is my favorite story of confidence and victory in the Bible: Jonathan and his armor bearer boldly talking on a Philistine garrison against overwhelming odds—and routing the enemy in a victory as stunning as they come. The raw boldness, ruthless trust and risky faith of Jonathan—and his armor bearer, let’s not forget him—is at an industrial strength level.

Now there is a fine line between faith and presumption in this story. What if the two warriors would have gotten killed right off the bat? We might still be talking about their boldness, but certainly not their intelligence. Sometimes, as they say, discretion is the better part of valor. When you are taking a risky step of faith at the level that Jonathan took, you really need to make sure you have heard from God. By the way, that requires a moment-by-moment walk with the Lord and not just a “hail Mary”, on again, off again spirituality.

Assuming Jonathan walked intimately with God, we can now say that his declaration was an amazing statement of not just high level faith, but incredible submission to the will of God—something that is even more rare that risky faith. Jonathan was willing not only to take on an enemy that was far better equipped, but he was willing to die for the cause, should God choose that for him. Of course, God honored his faith and enabled him to not only rout the enemy but inspire the rest of the Israelite army to take on and defeat the entire Philistine war machine.

No statement in Scripture is more endearing to me than this faithful declaration by Jonathan: “Let’s go take on these Philistines. Who knows, maybe the Lord might even help us!” Jonathan had such a courageous heart, based on a deep belief in the sovereignty of God, that he was willing to put his life on the line to secure a great victory for the people of God.

Obviously, Jonathan had done a lot of thinking about God before he acted—but act he did when the time came. And out of his heroic effort comes one of the great stories of the Bible. Oh how we wish for more Jonathan’s in our day—and desperately need them. And how I wish I had more of Jonathan’s boldness.

Perhaps you and I should begin to pray for a Jonathan spirit. What if we prayed that God would infuse us with deep courage and a higher degree of trust so that we might tackle the Philistines in our lives—fear, inadequacy, manipulative people, the lack of resources that stand opposed to the vision God has put in our heart, our own sinfulness?

You know, I have a feeling that God is looking to grant that kind of Jonathan-like boldness to those who will ask—and who will then step out in bold, daring faith to put God to the test:

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

May God grant us the kind of courage we read about in Jonathan—faith, hope, and such deep trust in his sovereignty that leads us to live heroic lives of risky obedience that inspires others to greater faith and risky obedience.

Going Deeper With God: Let’s pray this prayer together today: God, fill me with your transforming presence and change me into a different person—a mighty warrior for you.

The Heart God Can Bless

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

When our hearts care more about the things of God and less about our own agenda, unimaginable blessings will begin to flow our way. However, putting personal convenience and preference over our loving obedience to the Lord will interrupt the flow of divine blessing both in the present and possibly even to the generations that will come after us. Each of us must choose the kind of heart we offer to God: a Saul-like heart that has become self-absorbed or a David-like heart that is fully after God’s own heart.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 13:13-14

”That was a foolish thing to do,” Samuel answered. “You have not obeyed the command the LORD your God gave you. If you had obeyed, he would have let you and your descendants rule over Israel forever. But now your rule will not continue. Because you have disobeyed him, the LORD will find the kind of man he wants and make him ruler of his people.”

Saul was thirty years old when he began his reign as king over Israel. He started out with so much promise—he had the physique, the look, the humility, that certain something that gave the people a sense that he was the right man for the job. God had selected him from among all the men of Israel to be the leader of God’s very own people.

But something happened along the way—either character flaws that had been there all along came out when the pressure of leadership was on, and/or he began to read his own press and lost his humility along with his singular dependence on God. The Saul we read about in this story is not the one that Samuel found and anointed as Israel’s first king.

Whatever the reason for the change, after some years of successful leadership, his heart began to cool toward God. He began to depend on his kingly qualities rather than the grace of the King of Kings. He began to cut corners in his obedience to the expressed Word of the Lord. He found ways to justify his disobedient actions. He started to make leadership decisions impulsively rather than prayerfully. He began to drift from God to the point where King Saul, the once promising monarch, was in a full out backslide.

What a sad day for Saul, for Israel, for Samuel, and for God. If Saul had only trusted the Lord by fearing and worshiping him wholeheartedly, he and his descendants would have ruled over Israel forever. Think about that: the same promise that God made—and fulfilled—to David, because he was a man after God’s own heart, had been made and would have been fulfilled to Saul and Jonathon, along with their descendants.

If you had obeyed him, someone from your family would always have been king of Israel. (1 Samuel 13:13, CEV)

What a lesson for us: When our hearts cease to care about the things of God and begin to care more about our own agenda, we forfeit the blessings God has in store for us. Worse, we may very well interrupt the flow of divine blessing prepared for the generations that will come after us. That is some serious food for thought!

Saul’s story has always sent a chill down my spine. I read myself into his sandals. I worry that my heart may grow dull toward the things God cares about; that I may begin to care more about my agenda than his. I am certainly capable of that kind of selfishness. I think you are too. Saul reminds us that this is certainly a possibility among sin-broken people.

May the Lord steer us clear from that kind of spiritual waywardness. May we come to him daily and allow him to cleanse us from any and every offense. May we acknowledge any and every thought, word and act of disobedience—no matter how easily justifiable. And may God give us, and may we offer back to him, a heart like David’s: a heart after God.

A foolish heart or a faithful heart—thankfully, God is ready to help us to continually offer him the latter.

Going Deeper With God: Offer this prayer today—and every day: Father, give me a heart like David’s, which was a heart that cared about the things you care about. I pray that you would protect me from a “Saul-heart”! Soften me, make me pliable, keep me true and continually in the shadow of your protective wings. More than anything, I want to be a person after your own heart. Would you grant me that, Lord?”

Staying In The Game

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

When God places you over another human being, as a parent or a pastor, as a teacher or trainer, as Bible study leader or a boss, as a manager or a mentor, you have assumed a responsibility that is never-ending: to pray for them. Intercession and influence will be your role with them until the day God calls you home. So stay in the game, for the outcome of your charges’ lives depends, to a degree, on how faithful you are.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 12:23-24

“As for me, I will certainly not sin against the Lord by ending my prayers for you. And I will continue to teach you what is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be swept away.”

Of course, God can lift our burden to pray for a certain person whom he has placed on our heart or in our care. There may be a time when God calls us to step away from our efforts to instruct them. At times, God leads us to turn them over to what they have stubbornly pursued.

For a season. Rarely, would that be forever. This would be the exception, not the rule.

To totally, irrevocably disengage relationally and spiritually from someone with whom we have been given influence would be an exceedingly rare thing. It is possible, but it would be highly unlikely. And to pull away from our spiritual responsibility because we are frustrated to the proverbial point of pulling our hair out would in fact be sinful on our part. Not to pray for them would actually mean that we have now entered into their sin.

Case in point: Samuel’s retirement. This great prophet had led Israel for years, calling the nation back to God and getting them on the right path spiritually. And while he warned them against asking for a king, when the nation insisted on a monarch, he led them through the process that led them to Saul, Israel’s first king. In this chapter, now that Saul has been firmly established as the man to lead the nation, Samuel decides to retire—although that is not going to happen, as you will see reading through the chapters that follow.

His retirement speech is a doozy. He repeatedly warns the nation of the likelihood of spiritual drift—and of what the consequences will be if they do. He also, once again, reminds them of how wrong they were to insist on a human king—which, I’m sure at this point, didn’t make King Saul feel too good. And to emphasize the seriousness of his diatribe, Samuel did something that I wish I had the power to do as a spiritual leader (although it is probably best that I don’t): He calls down a sign from heaven:

“Now stand here and see the great thing the Lord is about to do. You know that it does not rain at this time of the year during the wheat harvest. I will ask the Lord to send thunder and rain today. Then you will realize how wicked you have been in asking the Lord for a king!” So Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day. And all the people were terrified of the Lord and of Samuel. “Pray to the Lord your God for us, or we will die!” they all said to Samuel. “For now we have added to our sins by asking for a king.” (1 Samuel 12:16-19)

At this point, Samuel recognizes the sincerity of their repentance, but the fact remains that they have made a sinful decision in selecting a king that will stay with them for hundreds of years. And even though the die has been cast and Samuel could have turned his back on them for their foolish decision, he utters these words that have such meaningful application to our lives to this very day: “Even though I am retiring as your spiritual leader, I will not sin by failing to pray for you. Furthermore, as I can, I will continue to influence you to do what is right.”

This is the eternal call of the spiritual influencer. When God places you over another human being, as a parent or a pastor, as a teacher or trainer, as Bible study leader or a boss, as a manager or a mentor, you have assumed a responsibility that is never-ending: to pray for them.

The content of your prayer will depend on how God leads you to pray, but intercession will be your call until the day God calls you home. Likewise, speaking into their lives as you have opportunity will be your duty. That is the privilege and responsibility you accept.

Samuel wore the role well. You must too, for the outcome of your charges’ lives depends, to a degree, on you staying in the game.

Going Deeper With God: Over whom has God given you influence? Pray for them today!

The Leader and Criticism

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

If you are a leader, you will be criticized. It goes with the territory. You will be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misrepresented. This happens to good leaders and bad leaders alike. However, good leaders develop the skill of “mining” the gold while discarding slag in each load of criticism.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 11:12-15

Then the people exclaimed to Samuel, “Now where are those men who said, ‘Why should Saul rule over us?’ Bring them here, and we will kill them!” Saul replied, “No one will be executed today, for today the Lord has rescued Israel!” Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us all go to Gilgal to renew the kingdom.” So they all went to Gilgal, and in a solemn ceremony before the Lord they made Saul king. Then they offered peace offerings to the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites were filled with joy.

Put aside for a moment the fact that you know the rest of Saul’s story—and admittedly, it is a sad one. Yet there were moments when we see why God chose him and gave him the same opportunities that God would later give David. This chapter is a case in point.

Saul was the new leaders in Israel—the nation’s first king. But while he’d won the electoral college—God’s anointing—the popular vote was still coming in. People were still deciding if they wanted him or not. Some didn’t. And when those who didn’t were shown to be short-sighted and foolish—and worthy of being forced to live in Canaan, according to Saul’s sycophants—the new king acted in the most gracious and winsome way imaginable—and he demonstrated a critical posture for godly and good leadership: staying cool when criticized.

If you are a leader, you will be criticized. It goes with the territory. You will be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misrepresented. This happens to good leaders and bad leaders alike. However, good leader develop the skill of “mining” the gold while discarding slag in each load of criticism.

When I was in my early adult years, a friend of mine once received what I perceived was some unfair criticism. My encouragement to him was to consider the source and reject the criticism outright. But he wisely said to me, “I think on this one I will chew up the meat and spit out the bones.”

In other words, he believed there might be an element of truth in the painful things that had been said to him. There was possibly something here that could help sharpen him. Or at the very least, there would be in his response to this situation an opportunity for him to learn and grow.

His wise response revealed my own immaturity and insecurity that day. I would have reacted harshly, (Proverbs 15:1), proudly (Proverbs 15:33) and defensively (Proverbs 15:18), but missed an opportunity to honor God’s word, grow in his wisdom and cement my leadership in the eyes of others. My estimation of this friend grew that day. And over the course of his adult life, he has proven to be a great man.

Long after Saul exited the monarchy, another king arose who was very wise, at least he was when he first began. As we listen to Solomon’s advice, we discover there is always an opportunity to grow in wisdom, understanding and honor through criticism directed toward our leadership. Here are five keys Solomon gives to making criticism and correction, even when it’s unfair and unjustified, work for us:

First, practice open-mindedness. Proverbs 15:31 begins with these words, “He who listens to a …rebuke.” The failure of some people is to quit listening when they find themselves being rebuked, corrected or even challenged. But Solomon says the wise person will tune in rather than tune out when they hear things that are personally unpleasant.

Second, recognize the positive. Solomon calls it “a life-giving rebuke…” (Proverbs 15:31) We need to be open to the possibility that within the criticism is an element of truth that can keep us from harmful behavior in the future. Sometimes we will experience life-draining criticism from people who, perhaps, are speaking out of their own issues and don’t have our best interests in mind. But before we reject their words, we need to look for life-giving nuggets of truth.

Third, reject defensiveness. Simply refuse to discard criticism outright. Solomon talks about the danger of brushing aside valid criticism when he says, “He who ignores discipline despises himself…” (Proverbs 15:32) When we make a practice of seeing the truth or the good in criticism, then the consequences of rejecting it becomes a lot less attractive.

Fourth, embrace criticism as God’s tool. Solomon says “…whoever heeds correction gains understanding.” (Proverbs15:32) He then says “the fear of the Lord teaches wisdom.” (Proverbs 15:33) Solomon is saying that criticism can be a great teacher, a tremendous source of understanding. A person of understanding will see the criticism not just as coming from a human mouthpiece, but from the Lord himself. The New Testament writer of Hebrews says it this way,

“The Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and life. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12: 5 –11)

Benjamin Franklin captured the essence of both the Proverb and the teaching of Hebrews when he said, “Those things that hurt, instruct.”

Fifth, cultivate humility. Solomon taught, “…humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 15:33) There is no way we can take a rebuke with a right spirit without humility being a characteristic of our lives. Humility is what disciplines us to hold our tongue and not respond with anger. Humility is what enables us to see the long-term benefits that may be hidden in the criticism. Humility is what enables us to turn unfair and unwarranted criticism, and the person who delivered it, over to God’s care. Humility receives; pride reacts. Humility responds wisely, pride explodes with defensiveness. Humility makes rebuke a growth opportunity, pride shuts the door to a life-giving experience.

At the end of the process, Solomon says, is a life of distinction. When we handle criticism well, we gain understanding and wisdom. And at the end of the day, honor awaits us.

Going Deeper With God: Are you undergoing a season of criticism? Embrace it as the Lord’s tool to sharpen you. And be grateful!