Despite our claims for excellence and love of integrity, not everyone reading this will be a Daniel. In fact, the Daniel’s are usually the minority. Most people will be among the governors and satraps, standing on the sidelines hurling resentment at those who strive toward excellence. Which one are you? Are you a Daniel or a sideline critic looking for ways to throw excellence to the lions? You can always recognize the governors and satraps by three distinct attributes.
Do you have a critical spirit? If so, you’ve probably justified it by saying something like: “I’m just discerning,” or “I tell it like it is.” Perhaps you do have a discerning spirit, but do you mostly “discern” what is bad about someone rather than discerning what is good? Are you usually pointing out the negatives rather than the positives? Do you say things like, “There’s something wrong about that guy.”, “She has a bad spirit.”, or “They have issues, I can’t tell you what—just pray for them.”?
Criticism is the act of judging and finding fault; it is to blame or condemn for wrongdoing. A critical spirit has an obsession with what is flawed. It seeks to tear down, rather than build them up. It is a compulsion to focus on the negative, draw it out into the open and make an issue of it.
Unfortunately, finding fault and being critical come naturally to our sinful, human nature. This is why Jesus warned us: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). In other words, a judgmental attitude is dangerous, and He goes on to explain why. “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (Matt. 7:2). God in His disdain for a critical spirit, will actually provoke others to mirror your attitude back onto you! He will raise up critical spirits around you to treat you as harshly as you have treated others. It’s what happened to the governors and satraps: the lions’ den into which they threw Daniel, was the lions’ den that devoured them.
If you want to go to the next level, you must put away a critical spirit. Stop throwing people to the lions. The same measure you use, will be measured back to you. If you want to be surrounded by supportive, empowering, encouraging people who will promote you and move you higher, then be that kind of a person to others. Show patience, compassion and understanding. Learn to give people “the benefit of the doubt” and see how those same blessings come back to you.
Do you have a gossipy tongue? Gossip is derogatory conversation about other people. It is repeating a bad report and often involves betraying a confidence, spreading personal information and making disparaging judgments about another person. Gossip takes criticism to the next level. It broadcasts the flaws and failures of others with the effect of framing them in a negative context. It is malicious. Even if the gossiper doesn’t believe he speaks with evil intent, if his negative report creates a negative perception in the hearer, then his words are poison and his influence is toxic.
The governors and satraps ran to the king with their information on Daniel. They couldn’t wait to report his failure and diminish the king’s opinion of him. In so doing, they hoped to elevate themselves. Ultimately, this is what gossip is about, it is an attempt to tear others down so the gossiper can feel better about himself while inflating his ego with a sense of importance. Gossip is like a narcotic. People who are insecure and have feelings of inadequacy will temporarily feel better when they talk about others in a derogatory manner—especially others who are successful or have achieved some level of popularity. The gossiper feels important—he has knowledge that no one else has and can rouse people’s interest. The effect is drug-like. A few spiteful words, shared in confidence, can give a frail ego such a boost.
Unfortunately, the only people that are impressed by the gossiper, are governors and satraps—those who need to tear others down to elevate themselves. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that throwing mud at others will boost your value. It won’t. In fact, it has the reverse affect with people of excellence. They see it for what it is—the attempt of a weak mind, to prop itself up by tearing others down.
Nothing diminishes a person’s worth more than a gossipy tongue. Smart people know that gossipers are low value individuals who cannot be trusted and reason, “Certainly, if a gossiper speaks badly about others, it’s just a matter of time until they speak badly about me.” This is why gossip betrays a weakness of character and a lack of integrity and will always land in the lions’ den.
Do you have an excuse to be mediocre? Too many people today have an attitude that rationalizes their inferiority, perpetuates their mediocrity and even justifies it with theology. Poor performance has found a home in our modern-day, hyper-grace theology. We say, “God uses the foolish and weak, rather than the wise and mighty,” and relax in the notion that God will use us even though our effort is poor. But that misses the point. God will make us effective by His Spirit and grace, but that can never be an excuse for a lack of excellence.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might…” and 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed…” This is not a theology that excuses mediocrity—it’s a theology that denounces it. In Matthew 25, the Master gave talents to each of His servants. The servants who performed to the upper range of their talent and skill and produced a harvest were rewarded. The servant who underperformed was called wicked and lazy and lost and was condemned to outer darkness.
Excellence isn’t about being the best—it’s about doing your best. Excellence is not about being the best singer, or the most successful in business, or preaching the greatest sermons ever heard. No, it’s about doing the best we can do for the glory of God. Offering Him a substandard effort or anything less than our absolute best is no different than those Old Testament worshippers who offered God their blind and sick and expected Him to accept it. His response came through the prophet in Malachi 1:8-14:
“‘And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?’ Says the LORD of hosts… ‘But cursed be the deceiver Who has in his flock a male, but sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished—For I am a great King,’ Says the LORD of hosts, ‘And My name is to be feared among the nations.’”
(This is an excerpt from Gregg Johnson’s newest book, Upward! Taking Your Life to the Next Level. Look for it soon on Amazon and www.greggtjohnson.com)