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I am sure if you are like me, you have done your fair share of complaining. For many of us voicing complaints is our first response when events go awry. Listen to reality tv or the evening news at the barrage of displeasure coming from people’s mouths. I don’t know about you, but I am always glad to hear a piece of good news when it is provided.
The Bible has much to say about the practice of complaining. The Scriptures tell us not only what people complain about, but also how it affects others and how God responds to it. We may not take our complaining seriously, but God does. When it is all boiled down, complaining is an accusation against God. Complaining accuses God of malfeasance.
It is impossible to fulfill the command to be “thankful in everything” (I Thessalonians 5:18) when you are a chronic complainer. The only way to break this curse of complaining is to become more sensitive to the Holy Spirit and learn how to be thankful for all of God’s movements in our life.
Complaining reveals much about us. The first issue the high cost of low-level complaining uncovers is our ingratitude for God’s care. Listen to the story from the Children of Israel’s journey to the Promised Land.
And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord: and the Lord heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.” Numbers 11:1
We might want to side with these people except they have done nothing except complain since they were freed from the bondage of Egypt. The word here for complain is the word “anan“. It means to mourn. They were literally mourning, whining, and weeping because they pitied themselves. Was life so bad for them now that they just decided to sit down and throw a pity-party for themselves? Have you learned who shows up when you throw a pity party for yourself? … Only you. Who else would want to attend?
All this complaining “displeased the Lord.” The Father was exceedingly grieved and hurt by the complaints of the people. It also stirred up His righteous indignation and fire broke out in the camp. Was all this displeasure with God truly vindicated? What were the people actually complaining about in this occasion?
First, the people were vocally venting about what they didn’t have. Most of these complaints revolved around food.
…and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? Numbers 11:4b
The foodies wanted more, especially in the meat department. This craving for “flesh” led them to whine and vent about their lack.
Next, the people complained about they used to have.
We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: Numbers 11:5
Remember these Israelites were just freed from Egyptian slavery. Now they were complaining how their old life was better than what they were experiencing now as freed people of God. What a testimony! Sadly, believers do the same thing. When they find themselves under pressure you hear the same types of statements, “I never had this many problems before I got saved!” It is true. You don’t have many problems when you are in bondage.
Did they really eat freely in Egypt? How many meals can you make out of “leeks, onions and garlic?” I agree these items were on the menu before, but these were about all they had. They had conveniently forgotten about the fact they were in bondage just a few months prior. Sometimes freedom means self-denial. Fantasizing about the “good old days” of bondage will only assure we stay in bondage.
The people complained about what they didn’t have, what they used to have, and also they vented about what they actually did have. Now we come to the heart of the issue.
But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes. Numbers 11:6
Someone doesn’t like the taste of manna. Why not? This stuff only comes from heaven itself. It is only a miracle food. It only comes from the hand of God. Isn’t it amazing how quickly a miracle becomes so “normal” we are no longer grateful for its provision in our life. How quickly the children of God wanted something new, something better, and something more. Again, many believers operate in the same fashion. The church is no longer exciting enough. The Bible is no longer “feeding” us like it used to in the beginning. We treat the things of God like the Children of Israel regarded the miracle of manna. They wanted something new and better and so does the church of the twenty-first century. Here is the point. When the things of God are no longer exciting and appealing to us, we are in deep trouble. What terrible ingrates we must appear to God when we complain about all that we do not have rather than thanking Him for what He has graciously provided. Just like Israel, we too possess an attitude of ingratitude.
Many years ago, as the story is told, a devout king was disturbed by the ingratitude of his royal court. He prepared a large banquet for them. When the king and his royal guests were seated, by prior arrangement, a beggar shuffled into the hall, sat down at the king’s table, and gorged himself with food. Without saying a word, he then left the room.
The guests were furious and asked permission to seize the tramp and tear him limb from limb for his ingratitude. The king replied, “That beggar has done only once to an earthly king what each of you does three times each day to God. You sit there at the table and eat until you are satisfied. Then you walk away without recognizing God, or expressing one word of thanks to Him.”
Ingratitude denotes spiritual immaturity. Infants do not always appreciate what parents do for them. They have short memories. Their concern is not what you did for me yesterday, but what are you doing for me today. The past is meaningless and so is the future. If we continue to operate as toddlers, we will never grow. Those who are mature are deeply appreciative of all God’s provisions both past and present. Choose to be a mature and grateful believer. Appreciate all God has done and is doing in your life and cultivate an attitude of gratitude.