Remember Mrs. Manicotti?
Do you remember Mrs. Manicotti? She was the chronic complainer I commented on in last week’s blog. She delighted to give organ recitals as she regaled her various ailments and physical problems. I also pointed out that we tend to emulate her frequent grumblings. Like it or not, every one of us frequently grumbles and complains.
As we investigated this issue of complaining and grumbling, we discovered that the Bible says quite a bit about it – mostly negative. We saw that carping about our circumstances often results in selfishly offending God. (Just because everyone does it does not make it right or acceptable to God.) Further, murmuring is also linked to the frustration and discord introduced into the world because of humankind’s rebellion against God. We can only find hope in Jesus Christ our Savior.
Life is hard and fraught with difficulties. We predictably respond to our frustration because we innately know that “things are not supposed to be this way.” So, what are we to do?
First, it is helpful to remember that there is a great deal of difference in complaining about God and complaining to God. As pointed out last week, complaining about God is an offense to either his love and power, or both! Complaining to God is modeled for us in many places of the Bible, especially the Psalms. There is even a special category of Psalms termed Psalms of lament.
Further, many of the prophets write about bring their complaints to the Lord, as did Job in his great suffering. The bottom line is that it is good and proper to bring our problems before the presence of the Lord, requesting his help. It is not good to complain to him about them.
What’s the difference? It comes down to one’s motives and intents. The next time you catch yourself grumbling, examine your mind and heart. Are you looking to the Lord for his help? Are you seeking to find strength, comfort, purpose or relief from him? Or, are you just griping about your situation? There’s a huge difference. Complain to God, not against him…
Next, it is striking that both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible suggest an alternative to complaining. The Psalms of lament in the Old Testament are wonderful examples of addressing God in times of distress.
The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, (Leland Ryken, et al.) suggests that the following poems contain the poet’s strategy for mastering a crisis, which can be either private (e.g., Ps 3; 4; 13; 22; 31; 39; 57; 69; 71; 77; 139) or communal (e.g., Ps 12; 44; 74; 79; 80; 94) in focus. He further suggests that up to one third or 50 of the 150 Psalms are songs of lament.
Psalms 63 and 64, are good examples of this. In fact, Psalm 64.1 identifies it as a complaint. “Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.” (Psalm 64:1, ESV)
God invites us as his people to come to him with our problems. He delights to hear us confide in him and ask for his assistance. Complain to God, not against him…
Psalm 55.22: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22, ESV)
But you should ask, “This promise and privilege is said to be for the righteous, how can this be true of a complainer like me?” This is a great question. Our complaints about God have made us unrighteous. We need someone to deliver us from our unrighteousness. God has provided this for us through the Lord Jesus Christ. In the words of Paul, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)
When I come to Christ, seeking forgiveness, he takes away the guilt of my sin and gives me his righteousness. In Christ, I can confidently go before the Father and give all of my burdens to him. He promises more than to help me hold up. He promises to hold me up! He will never allow those who are in Christ to falter.
Likewise, in 1 Peter 5.7, the apostle provides a God-given strategy for facing trouble. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:6–11, ESV)
“Humble yourself… Cast all your cares… Be sober minded and watchful… Resist your vicious enemy… Remember others who are also suffering… Be hopeful – you will enjoy eternal glory with Christ.”
When life gets to the point that you “just have to tell someone,” complain to God, not against him…