Summer is a time of fun and leisure—being lazy on the beach and entertaining around the pool. It is also a time for Blockbuster movies—scrolling movie review websites to find great stories to get lost in all summer long only to resurface at the beginning of fall.
The movie industry rakes in billions of dollars from summer movie-goers. We crave great storytelling—whether it be a romantic comedy or an adventurous sci-fi thriller. We each have personal motives for choosing the movies we watch. We may want to see a chaotic world come to a peaceful resolution in two hours or a broken person become whole again by the end of the movie.
This is great for the fantasy world, but it becomes a serious problem when we begin to view real life the way we view movies. We want the romance, adventure, thrill, and drama of our personal lives to be resolved in two hours and to resurface from the story unscathed.
Reality is too real. Unlike movie spectators, we experience real pain—the pain of divorce, death of loved ones, broken relationships, failed businesses, foreclosures, illnesses, and national unrest. We are shocked and confused when undesirable circumstances in our lives take more than a day to resolve themselves.
Human nature compels us to try to fix the problems in our lives by any means necessary. We get angry and frustrated when we can’t control our circumstances and God won’t act as our personal genie to fix everything with the snap of His finger. We begin to grumble in our hearts only to spew out negative expressions of discontent. We complain against others, the world, and ultimately God about the unwanted parts of our life story.
Throughout the Bible, we read about casting our cares on God (Psalm 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7) and pouring out our hearts to the Lord (Psalm 62:8). God wants us to bring our complaints before Him in such a way that honors Him.
Biblical complaining is pouring out our concerns and feelings before the Lord without attacking His character. This type of complaining always ends with praises for who God is. Psalm 102 is a good example. The psalmist pours out his complaint to the Lord. He is afflicted and overwhelmed. He finds relief only when he reflects on God’s sovereignty and eternal purposes in his circumstances.
Sinful complaining is trying to rewrite the story God has written. We are the characters and God is the author. The novelist will sometimes say that the character they created begins to dictate the story of the novel. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen in God’s story. God is the novelist and we are His characters. We do not possess the power to dictate the story of our lives—but we act like we do. The Bible is written from God’s point of view. He has and is creating the characters and telling each individual story.
Complaining is the symptom of a deep-seated spiritual problem. It is a failure to trust God and to submit to His will. When we complain sinfully, we reject God’s authority, providence and sovereignty over our lives. In Philippians 2:14, we are commanded to “do everything without grumbling.” Why? Because He wants us to “become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation—to shine among them like stars in the sky—holding firm to the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16). Our life circumstances—good and bad—are a part of God’s eternal purposes that are sometimes beyond our understanding.
The Faces of Complaining
Complaining has many faces. It can look like blaming God, unbelief, failing to trust God, rejecting God’s will, and rebelling against God. The story of the Israelites has all five elements of complaining in one event. Numbers 13 and 14 tell the story of the Israelites’ unbelief when God sent men to spy out the land of Canaan. Caleb and Joshua brought back a factual report of the land and a positive charge to obey God. But the other spies gave a bad report causing the Israelites to complain out of fear and disobey God (Numbers 14:2, 36).
Immediately unbelief arose in their hearts. They chose to believe the bad report and not believe the report God gave to Caleb and Joshua (Numbers 13:31). Next, they failed to trust God when they “lifted up their voices and cried…and wept that night” (Numbers 14:1). Then they blamed Moses, Aaron, and God for bringing them to the wilderness to die instead of leaving them to die in Egypt (Numbers 14:2-3). Furthermore, they rejected God’s will when they said, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt” (Numbers 14:4). Finally, they rebelled against God when they planned to stone Moses and Aaron (Numbers 14:10). As a result, God judged the Israelites causing that complaining generation to die in the wilderness never receiving the Lord’s blessing.
Embracing the Story God Is Writing
At the root of sinful complaining is discontentment. To be discontent is to be dissatisfied. When we are not satisfied with our circumstances, then we are tempted to complain sinfully. There is either something we want that we don’t have or something we have that we don’t want.
Discontentment propagates ingratitude, discouragement, depression, and anxiety. As a result, we view life from our perspective as if we are writing our story and not God.
Overcoming sinful complaining is found in contentment. Contentment is “an internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances” (Holman Bible Dictionary). Although it is a command (Hebrews 13:5), contentment must be nurtured and cultivated. It is a learning process. The apostle Paul says that he has learned to be content in whatever circumstance (Philippians 4:11-12).
To cultivate contentment, first, we must get to know the Author of our lives. Knowing who is writing our story is the basis of contentment. Second, we must know who we are in Christ. We are the characters created in the image of God. We must view ourselves and our circumstances from God’s point of view and not our own. Third, we must embrace this season of life because it is a part of a bigger story. We may not be able to see the whole picture. However, by faith we trust in God’s sovereignty, authority, and providence in fitting our story into His bigger story.
Join the Conversation
Do you complain? Is it biblical complaining or sinful complaining? How can you challenge yourself to turn sinful complaining into biblical complaining by cultivating contentment?