Several years ago, in the middle of a Sunday morning service (actually in the middle of a song I was leading), I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. When the song finished, I was taken aback by an angry text message, written by someone who happened to be in the service at that time and was clearly not happy with the music. This person also somehow happened to have my phone number, and felt compelled to share their displeasure with me. To say that this caught me off guard would be an understatement.
After the service, I was walking down to my office, when someone stopped me to offer effusive, specific and heartfelt thanks for the music that morning. This was more than a “thanks for the music this morning” word of appreciation. This was genuine (and meaningful!) encouragement from someone who had been deeply affected by the music and wanted to thank the person who had planned and led it. To say that this was good timing by this individual would be another huge understatement.
Unfortunately, the person who had sent the angry text message didn’t let their displeasure end there. The following week brought a meeting with this person, complete with personal attacks and piercing words. I’m grateful for the friendship of godly men and counselors who helped me process that meeting afterward, so I could look at it objectively and with mercy in my heart toward the person who was so unhappy.
I’m also grateful that God, in his providence and because of what he knew was about to hit me in those meetings, had put an encourager in my path on my way to my office after the now-infamous service. The encourager had absolutely no way of knowing what had come through on my phone just 30 minutes earlier. And they had no way of knowing what was going to come later in the week. They didn’t know how strategically God was using them to preempt what could have been a more devastating experience of destructive criticism.
What is God up to when he allows us to be criticized—and sometimes criticized harshly?
He’s pointing us to his Son, who was “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3 ESV). Because of this, God is actually making criticism lose its power, and maybe even its sting. We have nothing to complain about, and we have nothing to fear. Jesus knows what criticism feels like, and he literally didn’t deserve a single bit of it. So whether or not we feel like we deserve the criticism we inevitably receive, God uses it to humble us and point us yet again to Jesus.
What is God up to when he sends encouragement our way?
Again, he’s pointing us to his Son, who was, and is, infinitely worthy of nothing else besides “blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might” (Revelation 7:12 ESV). Because of this, when we’re encouraged, we can receive it as a gift from God himself, and return and deflect the praise to him. God uses encouragement for a number of reasons in our lives, but ultimately and most importantly, it’s an opportunity for us to “turn (it) back to praise” Jesus, who is literally the only one who deserves it.
So, worship leaders, as you do what God’s called you to do, and receive the eventual and dreaded criticism (maybe even a text in the middle of a song!), and the eventual and appreciated encouragement, you can look to Jesus in either case, and find your identity and purpose in him.