In Psalm 141:5 David prays: “Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” Psalm 141 is evidently an evening prayer of confession for David. It seems that he is looking back on the day and praying about areas in his life in which he has fallen short: for example, in :3 he prays “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth.” Like many of us, he had probably said some things he shouldn’t have that day! It is instructive to us that one of the things he prays about is what is found here in :5 — that the righteous would rebuke him, and that he would not refuse it when they did.
It is not easy to accept criticism. In fact, most of us “buck up” against it, in pride — even when it comes from godly people. Our “self-defense mechanism” kicks in, and we typically get angry and defensive if someone — even someone whom we know loves us — offers a word of helpful critique. Perhaps David had failed in this area too that day, and so he asks God to help him receive it better. Perhaps “preaching to himself”, he says: “It is oil for my head; let not my head refuse it.” He “knew” it was good for him, but it was just hard to accept, so he prays and asks God to help him to receive it as the gift that it was.
If we are wise, we will do the same thing. Criticism can be hard to accept — even from godly, loving people, because our pride is so strong. But Proverbs 27:6 says: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” The words that wise, caring people offer to us are undoubtedly messages for good, from God, and we should receive them as such. We should be thankful to God — and to his earthly messengers — that they care enough to share those difficult things with us. Now may God grant us the wisdom and grace to receive them as we should! It can be extremely difficult to do. That’s why David prayed about it — and exactly why we should too!