I recently tuned-in to a local sports radio station following a Minnesota Vikings win. I had just watched the game and thought that the team had played well. However, listening to the callers on the post-game show, one might have concluded they had played the worst game of their season. People were criticizing the play calling, the execution of the plays, the referees, the players, and the coaches. One person even criticized the team uniforms.

I get it. This is part of the fun for many sports fans. They enjoy picking apart the game. They enjoy the banter with other fans. It allows them to feel like they are somehow part of the game. Criticizing the team is part of the entertainment.

For professional athletes and coaches, this criticism comes with the job. One could argue that these athletes and coaches get paid enough to compensate for the criticism they receive.

Where this has become problem for me is when I start to bring that sports-talk mentality to the rest of my life.

I’m pretty sure that I have a critical condition.

Most of the time it is in my head. Sometimes it is on my lips. You might not see it in me until you watch me roll my eyes.

I can be easily critical of everything and everyone around me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat at one of my son’s games and have criticized something that happened on the field. I’ve criticized young player’s effort and volunteer coach’s decisions. I do try to restrain myself, but more often than I’d like to admit, I’ve gotten caught up in the assessment bandwagon with the other parents.

I forget sometimes that youth sports are supposed to be fun. They are there to teach teamwork, discipline, courage, and the benefits of hard work. They allow kids to develop skills and to build on skills already achieved. They help kids make new friends and work for a common goal. How come we so easily forget this?

This critical condition has infected us all.

Sports-talk mentality doesn’t just happen with sports. We do it in all areas of our lives. I’ve seen that critical condition in restaurants, shopping malls and doctor’s offices. I’ve heard criticisms of siblings, teachers, meteorologists, politicians, neighbors, snow plow drivers, and drivers in general.

Our critical condition can also be seen in our churches. We criticize the sermons, the programs, the church environment, the music, the staff, and even the woman who sat in front of us with too much perfume. Often these criticisms are hidden behind unsigned letters or anonymous emails. I know one pastor who will not respond to an unsigned letter or email anymore. It goes right in the trash. He says, “If they won’t own it, than neither will we.” I think that is good advice.

I find that often our criticism of others is more about the way we feel about ourselves than what we think about them.  It comes from our own insecurity, negativity and immaturity.

“So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly – or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit.” – Romans 14:10 (Message)

There is an old maxim that says we tend to judge others by their actions, and we judge ourselves by our intentions. How true!

On our Marriage Booster Retreats we share with couples that one of the greatest threats to a marriage is the poison of criticism. It is a poison that can destroy a family. Fortunately there is an antidote to the poison of criticism. It’s called encouragement!

Encouragement has the power to build people up and achieve far more that criticism ever will. I believe that is why the book of Hebrews tells us to,

“…consider how we may spur one another on towards love…” and “…encourage one another all the more.” – Hebrews 10:24-25.

What would happen in our marriages, our families, our churches and communities if we would refrain from criticism and encourage each other instead? Doesn’t encouragement fit better with “Love thy neighbor” than criticism?

As we prepare for Christ’s coming, let us try to refrain from criticism. Instead, let’s offer the gift of encouragement. This is a spiritual discipline that can have a powerful impact on us and everyone that we encounter.

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