Anybody else have a complaining problem? Raise your hand, or better yet, ask your closest companion.
Complaining comes naturally, without thought, slipping from your mouth and out into the world, the liberation of sickening internal dissatisfaction. It feels wonderful, the release of those words that were twisting inside of you.
Why does it feel good? Because there is so much to complain about! For even when life is at its best, it is still imperfect life, falling short of the holy design that God had created for it. We also fall short of that holy design, a conflicting and confusing mix of flesh and Spirit, ever warring for preeminence within us. The world is unfair and unjust, people are irritating and needy, and the hard work demanded of us never seems to stop. Complaining, even if just for a moment, seems to relieve that pressure weighing upon us, the unjustness and seemingly undeservedness of it all.
But that relief is fleeting, for our focus has not been reset, but rather concreted on our negative thinking. Desperate to find reprieve, we complain again, and again, and again, falling into a cycle that we never intended.
Recently, I was made aware that I had slipped into a cycle of complaining without even realizing it. When reading through Exodus 1-14, God’s salvation of the Israelites from the bondage of slavery under the Egyptians, I found myself irritated with Moses. Moses, one of the patriarchs of Christianity, the man whom God chose to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, the man to whom God trusted the Law…was a giant complainer! No matter what miracles God brought before Moses, no matter how many times God provided for him and his people, no matter how many times God proved Himself trustworthy and true, Moses found something to complain about.
“What if they do not believe me or listen to me…” (Exodus 4:1 NIV), the second time he asked this question even after God laid out His entire plan to Moses promising to be with him and that “the elders of Israel will listen to you…” (Exodus 3:18).
“O Lord, I have never been eloquent….I am slow of speech and tongue,” (Exodus 4:10).
“O Lord, please send someone else,” (Exodus 4:13).
“O Lord, why have your brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me?” (Exodus 5:22).
“If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?” (Exodus 6:12, 6:30).
Romans 8:5-6 (NIV) tells us that, “those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”
Complaining is evidence that our minds are not of the Spirit, life or peace. But the good news is, “you are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you” (Romans 8:9). You are not stuck! You have been set free, through Christ, to no longer be controlled by your own negative thinking or circumstances.
So how do we break out of a cycle of complaining, setting our minds on things of the Spirit?
Through thanksgiving! 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 commands, “be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” When you strive to be thankful, your mind searches out the Spirit and shifts your focus from your own unmet expectations, to the life and peace that is the will of God.
Over and over in the Old Testament, God commands His people, Israel, to celebrate, host feasts….to party, all for the purpose of remembering Him! When we thank Him, truly focus on thanking Him, we remember Him and all of the good that He has done for us and all that He has freed us from. Suddenly you will find that there is much less to complain about after all.