Have you ever made a decision to move forward in an area that you were excited about and committed to, only to have your parade “rained on” by critics around you?
We all have.
How do you handle these types of situations? Do you find yourself withdrawing, questioning your decisions, wanting to convince the nay-sayers, or just stalling in your progress? Today I would like to walk you through someone else’s journey and point out four common criticisms that can derail you in accomplishing your goals and then how to confront them.
A Big Mission
The mission was great: rebuild the walls of the beloved city of Jerusalem as they were broken and burned down. Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the king, had a passion and calling to lead his people to restore the walls of this influential city.
The king approved the request and helped to back the project. People were rallied and resources were gathered. Goals were ready to be accomplished…let’s go!
Not so fast.
Enter Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite. Criticizers. Naysayers. Derailers. The same type of people we experience many times in our own work.
I want to point out four criticisms to the work on the wall and four responses given by Nehemiah that can encourage our hearts when we come face-to-face with those who find fault or disparage both us and the work we are called to. Follow along in Nehemiah chapters 1-6.
Criticism #1: “You’re doing this for your own gain.” (Nehemiah 2:19-20)
Sanballat begins with his first criticism: Nehemiah is going rogue and rebuilding the wall for his own interests.
This is criticism we have all experienced: hijacking our character.
Notice what Nehemiah does not do: he does not get into an argument. He does not show Sanballat the paperwork signed by the king or recap the story. He does not even defend his character. He simply references his calling, his workers, and the fact that Sanballat really does not have a right to impede progress. In other words, the criticism was irrelevant and unworthy of attention.
Criticism #2: “You won’t have enough resources to finish.” (Nehemiah 4:1-5)
Sanballat now comes with a four-pronged attack.
- “Your workers are weak.”
- “You think with a few token sacrifices you will get this project done?”
- “What…you really think you are going to finish this in a day?”
- “And you think these broken and charred stones will really make for a wall?”
And then Tobiah has to get in his barbs: “Ha! This wall is so poorly made that a fox would topple it just by walking on it.” Nice.
Here we see Sanballat moving from character assassination to deriding the first sign of progress. The project is just getting underway and here come the critics. That can be deflating and discouraging. “Can you wait until at least we have something to show you?”
But no, it comes early.
Notice the admirable leader in Nehemiah. He does not answer any of the questions or accusations, including Tobiah’s comment. No “Oh yeah, well what about when you…” or “My workers are every bit as good as yours!” or “I never said the wall would be done in a day!”
Nehemiah simply prays and gives the matter over to God. He does not fuel any fire or even feel the need to. Hard to do.
Criticism #3: “Hey, look over there!” (Nehemiah 4:7-14)
Have you ever experienced this? Distraction by the critics and you get drawn in and confusion sets in and derails the mission?
Not with Nehemiah. He knows where to focus – not on the enemy but on his team. He actually uses the situation to promote unity and synergy among the Jews in helping them work more selflessly, looking out for each other’s needs. Brilliant.
Criticism #4: “Let’s get together and talk about why you are rebelling against the king.” (Nehemiah 6:1-9)
Have you ever gotten sucked into conversation after conversation with a critic who wants to keep talking about why you are going about something all wrong? He/She really is not looking to understand but just to be understood.
Sanballat was wanting to kill Nehemiah and plotted it by just wanting to continue the conversation, and ultimately, talk about why Nehemiah was wanting to rebel against the king. It was the “Help me understand why…” when the matter at hand was not even remotely true. Sanballat already knew his answer.
I don’t know about you, but I would have been worn down by now, questioning my leadership or the value of the project.
He does not talk about the time he does not have, nor why the discussion would be fruitless. He simply replies with “I have a great work to do…sorry.” No anger, no sarcasm, no name-calling. Just a reminder of the facts. Nehemiah knew the mission, knew it was right, and knew it had to get done.
Nehemiah modeled exemplary leadership. Despite four well-crafted criticisms, Nehemiah saw his target and did not waste time by feeling like he had to engage the critics when they tried to engage him. That is key.
Leadership is difficult enough, but I can feel like throwing in the towel when well-crafted criticism flies at me. Nehemiah succeeded in all four rounds because he never felt as if he had to silence the critics. And you know what? The wall was built in record time: 52 days.