“Hey guys, please clean up the kitchen after dinner.” My two teenagers turn and give me the look. If you have teens or have ever had teens, you understand what I’m talking about. They reluctantly rise from their chairs and amble toward the kitchen, muttering under their breath.
Of course, it’s really not fair to throw the teens under the bus as being the chief of grumblers, even if they do seem to be the most dramatic about it! The rest of us do it more subtly. We complain about what God has commanded us to do, mutter about the unfairness of our circumstances, or have a bad attitude about our lives.
Philippians 2:14-16a says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” Since God wouldn’t give us a command that was impossible to obey, we must be capable, in his power, to do everything without grumbling or arguing. It sounds like a pretty daunting task to me!
Grumbling or Sharing our Burdens?
What is grumbling? Does it mean that I can never express frustration with my circumstances, tell a friend that I’m not feeling well, or make negative comments about the weather? Do I need to deny reality and pretend that everything is wonderful when it isn’t? That can’t be true. That seems inconsistent with living a life of openness and vulnerability in community with other believers. How would we carry each other’s burdens and pray for each other if we don’t ever share anything negative that’s going on in our lives?
When God gives us a command—do this, don’t do that—our natural inclination can be to get legalistic about it. We look only at the outer aspect of a command and figure out how to do or not do whatever it is, but only on the surface. God said not to work on the Sabbath, so the Pharisees determined exactly which activities were considered work. They missed the point. “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
So perhaps instead of looking at the minutia of what is considered grumbling and what isn’t, we should really be looking at our own hearts. Are we simply making conversation about the weather and relating to those around us, or are we actually questioning God’s provision? Are we sharing the burden of a difficult health issue with a friend in order to gain prayer and support, or are we denying that God loves us and will carry us through our difficulties? The answer to questions like those is what determines if we’re following God’s command to do everything without grumbling.
A classic biblical example of grumbling is when God had rescued the Israelites from Egypt, parted the Red Sea for them, conquered Pharaoh’s army, and provided food for them in the middle of the desert. Instead of being thankful, they grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death’” (Exodus 16:3). They were not trusting that God, who had already done so much for them, would also provide for them. They were questioning the very nature and goodness of God. They thought that even though God had rescued them, he might not provide for them.
What the Israelites did went far beyond complaining about the weather or acknowledging a trial in their lives. They refused to see their blessings and instead questioned the very nature of God and his attitude toward them. We tend to be pretty hard on the Israelites. After all, if we had seen a large body of water split in half solely for our benefit, of course we would believe that God was for us and would take care of things like food in the desert, right?
You would hope so, but we do still grumble and complain. We are sheep who easily go astray and forget what our Shepherd has done for us. We lose sight of God’s big picture and get bogged down by life’s difficulties and challenges. We grumble and complain.
How Do We Stop?
So how do we go about not grumbling? A great place to start is to recognize when we’re doing it. It’s so easy to complain and grumble out of habit, without even realizing it. If we start to catch ourselves doing it, we can begin to change. Ask God to bring it to your attention when you grumble. If you’re really brave, you could ask your kids, spouse, or a friend to point it out to you.
Then, when you find yourself grumbling, find something to be thankful for instead. So much of our mood and outlook on life are affected by what we choose to focus on. If we are always thinking and talking about what isn’t going well, we’ll lose sight of what is good, what is going well, and who God is.
Keep an Accurate Perspective
I find that for me, much of my grumbling comes from losing a God-focused perspective on life. I complain about having to clean the house, but forget to be thankful for all God has provided for us. I’m frustrated that my kids have gotten another cold, but forget that they are overall healthy and happy. I grumble about the current political and moral trends in our country, but forget that God is in control and will one day put all things back the way they should be.
One thing that can happen when we’ve been Christians for a while is that we become “used to” the fact that Jesus died for us and rose again. Sometimes we need to take a step back and look at this with fresh eyes. The holy, perfect, beyond-understanding God of the universe humbled himself and become a person. Can you imagine? How awful would the confines of an earthly body feel when you’re used to being infinite? Aches and pains, hunger, fatigue, illnesses. And yet God did that for us. He died the horrific death of crucifixion, including the far worse blow of having God the Father turn his face away from him as he took the world’s sin upon himself. That’s much more than just parting the Red Sea!
If we keep in mind how much God has done for us, it’s much easier to keep a good perspective on whatever we might be dealing with. It’s also easier to remember that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). If God is for us, then we can trust him to provide for us, just as the Israelites in the desert should have trusted him to provide for them. Just as God hadn’t abandoned them after all he had done for them, he certainly hasn’t abandoned us.
Amy Simon is a homeschooler and freelance writer in Jackson, Wisconsin.