The difference between correction and criticism

This has never happened before. I went to this morning to get today’s Verse of the Day . . . and it was the same verse as Monday. Proverbs 19:20-21.

Maybe it’s a mistake? Maybe someone forgot to put a new verse up? That’s what I was thinking, and so I was just going to go look for a different verse to blog about. After all, the Bible is full of verses and I already covered this one. But then I read it again, and something completely different stood out to me than on Monday.

On Monday, I focused on getting wise cousel but leaving the plans to God. But (for some reason) the verse this morning displayed in the New International Version, which translates just a little bit differently than the New Living Translation:

20 Listen to advice and accept discipline,
   and at the end you will be counted among the wise.
 21 Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
   but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.

If you remember the devo on Monday, does what I saw this morning stand out to you?

Accept discipline.

Wow. How huge is that? Because it’s one thing to accept wise and godly advice from someone. It’s something else to accept discipline. Whether it comes from God in the form of chastisement or it comes from a parent or it comes from a friend, discipline is always hard to accept because it means you have to admit you’ve done something wrong.

A wise person accepts discipline.

Now, what is discipline exactly? The Amplified Version translates that same part of the verse this way: “Hear counsel, receive instruction, and accept correction.”

To me, that means discipline is any statement or action designed to correct an unwise behavior. Discipline can come from many different places. When we’re young, it comes most often from our parents or our teachers — if we don’t do our homework or if we misbehave in class. At work, it can come from bosses – if we don’t meet expectations or if we do something that risks our safety or the stability of the company. Within the church, it can come from pastors or from ministry leaders — if we do something or say something that endangers a ministry. And friends can even discipline (or correct) friends.

So, that begs the question if we always accept discipline. Because isn’t there a difference between discipline and correction and just plain criticism? Well. Yes.

Some people are critical and they will always be critical, and when they turn their focus on you, all they may have to say about you will be negative and unconstructive.

How can you tell the difference? How can you know what correction to accept and what criticism to ignore?

I’m not an expert in this, and I’m not a scholar. And I’m still pretty young. So I can’t tell you that I’ve got any of it figured out, but I can tell you what’s worked for me.

The way I handle discipline/correction/criticism is to take it all 100 percent seriously until I’ve had a chance to think about it. I can’t tell the difference really. I don’t know how to distinguish between them at first blush. I have to examine it to tell.

If someone tells me that I’m dressed in a way that’s too worldly, I take that seriously. And then I take a good long look at what I’m wearing, I compare it to what I believe the standards of Scripture are, and I ask God to show me if I’m wrong or if that person was just expressing an opinion. I also consider the background of the person who made the accusation. If he or she comes from a more conservative background that doesn’t like women to wear pants, that also will affect how I take their statement. If I can honestly say that my clothing choices are modest and appropriate, I will respect the opinon of the person who spoke up but I will not accept their correction because it’s merely criticism. It’s just that person telling me that they don’t like the clothes I wear. There’s no basis in Scripture to support their opinion. (However, if in my perusal of my wardrobe I discovered that all of my clothing is designed to attract attention in a way that isn’t appropriate, I would have some serious decisions to make.)

But . . . let’s say I am working backstage for a large dramatic production at NewSpring, and it’s my job to get props on stage for the actors to use in their scene. I have looked at the script and I know all my cues, and I think I’m doing my job perfectly. But then–the director comes back and tells me to bring the props out earlier, that I’m not bringing them out soon enough. What do I do? Do I immediately assume that the director is just trying to stifle my creativity or tell me that I don’t know what I’m doing? Do I jump to the conclusion that the director is just expressing his opinion and being critical of my work? No. I would treat it the same way. I would take a good long look at my motivation and the circumstances. In this case, when we’re talking about a dramatic production, the director is the one in charge, and if he wants the props on stage sooner, it’s my responsibility to get them on stage sooner — becuase the director is my authority and I am commanded in Scripture to obey my authorities. And in this case, my refusal to accept the direction (aka discipline and correction) will negatively impact the production as a whole. The actors won’t have their props. The whole play will be affected by my decision. Granted, if I have real, honest reasons why I think the props should go out at a different time, I’ll speak up and respectfully request to do it my way. But if the director says no, what the director says goes.

Do you see the difference? If there is no scriptural basis for the correction you are getting, it’s an opinion. You have to base everything in Scripture, but you can’t just shrug off every bit of correction or instruction as criticism. You have to take it all seriously until you’ve compared it to the Word of God. And if you compare it to the Word of God and find your actions lacking, you need to change.

Admit that you were wrong. Accept correction and instruction and discipline no matter how much it might hurt, and you will be called a wise person. Not only will you be wiser for it, you will also help yourself and help others. Because most of the time, discipline doesn’t just keep you out of trouble, it keeps you from causing trouble for other people too.

Draw wisdom from the wise but leave the plans to God

Getting advice is a good thing. It’s a good idea to surround yourself with wise counselors because you never know when you’re going to run into a situation that you’ve never experienced before. But just because you’ve never experienced it doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t. And getting their opinion on how to handle the situation is invaluable, especially if whatever decision you have to make will affect more people than just yourself.

Everyone has advisors. Everyone has teachers and parents and friends who they listen to. Even in film. Luke Skywalker had Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi and the dubious influence of Han Solo. Jack Bauer has Chloe O’Bryan. Dr. House has his team of diagnosticians in training, although he really only keeps his own counsel.  Maybe Dr. House is a bad example.

Having people you trust around you is important, and having people you trust who are experienced with life is even more important. Because you can draw from their wisdom. It makes no sense to fumble through life and make the same mistakes other people have made and suffer the same consequences someone else has. Because all you have to do is ask someone who went through the same thing so you can know how to avoid the same pitfalls.

Todays’ verse is Proverbs 19:20-21.

20 Get all the advice and instruction you can,
      so you will be wise the rest of your life.
 21 You can make many plans,
      but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.

Get as much advice and instruction as you can. Surround yourself with wise people and learn from them. Learn from their success. Learn from their failure. Learn the right direction to travel and learn how to keep going, whether you lose everything or whether you gain everything (because either one can be devastating).

Get wisdom and then live a wise life.

Even the President has a cabinet of subject matter experts who he turns to when a situation exceeds his understanding. So why don’t we? Because when troubles come our way (if they haven’t already swept you off your feet, they will), we need the advice and support of our closest friends who have already been through the same struggle. And if you listen to their advice and do what they suggest, you have a good chance of surviving whatever circumstance you find yourself in.

I’m making the assumption that our counslors and advisors are believers, students of Scripture, seeking God actively in their life. If you want to live a successful, godly life, that’s the kind of counselor you need (and that’s the kind of counselor you need to be).

Now, that all being said, our focus needs to turn to verse 21. I think it’s funny that it is included in today’s passage because it’s actually a separate thought. Proverbs is full of short little one-liners. Many of them, I can imagine some little merchant saying or some grandma while she sits and darns socks. If you’ve ever watched Fiddler on the Roof, you can appreciate the value of a good (or even a not-so-good) proverb.

But verse 21 is an interesting reminder that no matter how much good advice you get, God’s purpose and plan will remain the same. And no matter how much wisdom we accumulate, God’s wisdom is still higher. And we can plan and plan and plan until our whole lives are just one big step-by-step process, but God is the one with the real master plan and if your plan doesn’t fit with His, your plan has to change. That’s the definition of a master plan.

By surrounding yourself with wise counselors who are familiar with biblical truth, you can gain wisdom and know how to handle the rough situations that life throws at you. But remember that no matter how wise you think you have become, God still knows more than you do.

And when it comes down to it, I would rather follow God’s plan than my own.