Every person on planet earth knows what a complaint is because we have all done it and we have all been the brunt of it. In order to handle grumblers we must first deal with our own complaining spirit. When our ancestors, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God and fell into a state of sin, their attitudes changed. Whereas their reflex responses in the garden Paradise were to enjoy God and be open with Him, their automatic emotional reflexes after their fall were to hide and blame. Adam’s first response to God after disobeying Him was to point his finger at Eve: “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” And Eve’s initial reflex attitude was blame, as well: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3).
The basic sinful nature of us humans from that time forward has been to have an automatic reflex attitude of blaming, quarreling, and complaining. The heart drifts toward complaint as if by some gravitational pull because grumbling seems a reasonable response to disappointing events. Generally, you do not have to extend an invitation for complaint to show up. It arrives as an uninvited guest. You return home from a frustrating day to discover that complaint has moved into your guest room, unpacked its luggage, started a load of laundry, and is rooting through your fridge. Even as you work to evict complaint—as you move its bags to the curb and change the locks—it somehow crawls back into the guest room window. Complaint resists eviction. Before we know it, complaint feels right because it is familiar. With every struggle, we become like the Israelites murmuring in the desert (Exodus 16-17). God desires to prepare our faith for his work and service in the community and in the world, but we are hunkered down in our automatic reflex pattern of grumbling.
We can discourage complaint’s residency in our lives by inviting another guest to move in with us. That new guest is a prayerful attitude of trust and gratitude. When we choose to trust God and give Him thanks in the face of deep disappointment, complaint has less space to maneuver. While attempting to unpack for an extended stay, complaint discovers that trust and gratitude have taken all the drawers in the guest room and already occupies the empty seat at the supper table. Faith and gratitude evict complaint because faith and a grumbling spirit are not able to live in the same house together. One inevitably pushes the other one out.
It does not take any effort to complain most about the people closest to us – which is why marriages need to be continually strengthened; the relationship between pastor and people must always be nurtured; and, the closest relationship of all, with God, ought to be characterized not by murmuring and complaining, but by an automatic response of trust and gratitude in the face of trouble.
The ancient Israelites experienced the greatest miracle of the Old Testament – being delivered from harsh slavery in Egypt through the parting of the Red Sea so that they could walk across on dry ground and escape the Egyptian army’s pursuit. It is easy to praise God when great things happen, and the Israelites had a whopper of a praise and worship service after that deliverance. But it is quite another thing to praise and trust God when trouble happens – and when it happens over and over again. Immediately after the praise and worship, Moses led the people into the desert and there was no water. God led the people on purpose into a difficult situation because he wanted to test their faith. Faith is a muscle that must be exercised so that it can strengthen and grow. But the Israelites quickly forgot the blessings and grumbled about their situation. The Israelites reflex attitude response was to complain and ignore God’s direct commands. Maybe they did so because they spent four-hundred years in slavery in Egypt and complaint had made such a home with them there that it was second nature to them to murmur about their situation.
I keep a little c-clamp in my office to remind me that I am not in control, but God is. The c-clamp also reminds me that I need to keep a clamp on my tongue when it comes to grumbling and complaining. Sins of the tongue are some of the most dominant forms of disobedience to God in the Bible. We use our words and our mouths because the tongue is powerful. The Apostle James put it this way: “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:7-8). Here is a probing question: Can any of us go 24 hours without complaining about something or someone? Those of us who cannot answer ‘yes’ must recognize that we have a serious problem. If you cannot go 24 hours without drinking liquor, you are addicted to alcohol. If you cannot go 24 hours without smoking, you are addicted to nicotine. And if you cannot go 24 hours without grumbling about something or someone, then you have lost control over your tongue and you are addicted to murmuring and have an adulterous relationship with complaint.
We must drink from the well of everlasting life and not from the well of complaint. Jesus is the Living Water we need. If we find ourselves being compulsive complainers, it could be that we have not yet found the spiritual water we are thirsting for. We complain because we are not content and we are thirsty. So, drink deeply of Jesus Christ. Everyone who drinks of complaint will never be satisfied. But everyone who drinks the water Jesus gives will never thirst, and that water will become in that person a spring welling up to eternal life.
God is with us. Difficult circumstances, trouble, hard situations, problem people, and the seeming impossibility that things will not change are not evidence that God isn’t there; instead, it is evidence that He is with us, wanting us to come to him and trust in his grace and provision. Will you trust God with your impossible situation? Will you give thanks to God for everything, including your trouble that humbles you to pray? Will you come to the fount of Living Water and find satisfaction and contentment in Jesus Christ?