The Danger of Complaining
By Sherri Langton
I have committed many scripture verses to memory. Philippians 2:14 isn’t one of them. “Do everything without complaining or arguing” conveniently slipped from sight whenever I read Philippians. Yet recently an evangelist parked on it during a church revival meeting.
I squirmed. Oh, come on. Can’t Christians express their opinions?
The evangelist wasn’t addressing opinions but complaints about the church — from people like me. I had a running list: repetitious music, annoying brethren — even the revival itself. We just had revival earlier this year, I noted. Why do we need another one?
Nearly every Sunday I refreshed the list with the latest irritations and recited it to friends and family. On Mondays, when I couldn’t remember much good about the worship time on Sunday, I had to admit that I’d become a pro at complaining. But since the revival, God has been teaching me the cure for it.
Confess to God. Complaining isn’t harmless sport; it’s serious sin. Paul wrote, “And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel” (1 Corinthians 10:10).
The men who spied out Canaan had returned to Israel’s camp and reported that the Promised Land had giants. Knowing they would be squashed once they entered Canaan, the people grumbled (Numbers 14:2).
Besides this, more than once the Israelites surveyed post-Exodus conditions (Exodus 15:22, 24; 16:2, 3, 7, et al.) and concluded that the past never looked so good. Death in Egypt would have been better than defeat in Canaan (16:3; Numbers 14:2).
What Moses said to the people echoed the conviction in me: “You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD” (Exodus 16:8).
After reading these Old Testament passages, I understood that my complaints weren’t against conditions and believers in the church body but against God himself. Weary of wandering in my own wilderness of unrest and irritability, I asked Him to forgive me.
Share my complaints with God. While God frowned on my spreading a bad report among fellow believers, He urged me to vent my frustrations to Him. I gathered this from two well-known verses:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6).
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
Though Paul and Peter specify anxiety here, the same principle applies to complaints. Like anxiety, their erosion is too great and their weight too heavy; I must share them with God.
As I do this, Jesus comes alongside me as High Priest, not criticizing but sympathizing with my weakness (Hebrews 4:15). His is a throne of grace where I receive mercy (v. 16).
Sometimes I ask trusted Christians to pray with me. Or when others confide in me about their frustrations at church, I intercede for them.
Since I’ve been doing this, my thoughts have changed: I’m sure the church leaders are praying about their decisions. They’re trying to honor God, not make me miserable. Maybe I feel this way not because they’re doing something wrong, but because I don’t like change.
Such thoughts are part of God’s peace guarding my mind and heart as I entrust my complaints to Him (Philippians 4:7).
Dwell on the positives. Constantly repeating a church’s flaws isn’t a healthy pastime. Paul says whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy about the church, I’m to think on these things (v. 8).
I wonder how conversations with others would improve if I spent more time dwelling on what the church has done right. This church is where grace and mercy became realities in my heart. It’s where biblical truth is preached from the pulpit, helping me discern Satan’s lies. Older saints in this congregation model a lifestyle of prayer and perseverance under trial. Thanks to their example, my prayers and trust in God have deepened during personal crises.
My craving for the Word began in this church. Every day I drink its milk, and I’m standing firm in faith because my spiritual bones are stronger. I’ve developed “ears to hear” the sermons, inviting the swift slice of conviction to penetrate my heart. God has expanded my gifts in music ministry and taught me the meaning of genuine worship.
When I put my mind to it, much about the church is excellent and praiseworthy. The more I think on my spiritual milestones because of this group of believers, the less I notice its flaws.
Keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. A few weeks before revival, the pastor distributed bracelets printed with the letters E. F. O. J. — Eyes Fixed on Jesus — a creative reminder of where my focus should be. I dismissed it as a gimmick.
But that little bracelet had it right. Complaining had turned my eyes away from Jesus to people and peeves. Why don’t you quit the music ministry? a diabolical voice whispered in my ear. Nobody understands how you feel. Why don’t you find another church?
Complaining had also affected my love for Jesus. I realized this while chewing on the evangelist’s link between complaining and Revelation 2:4: “You have forsaken your first love.”
Had I? My heart’s bubbling over sins forgiven, its burning while in His presence, its bursting over answers to prayer — these were still intact. But absent in the climate of complaints were commitment and surrender — the go-anywhere, do-anything heartbeat that defines the depth of love for Christ. Had I kept my eyes on Jesus, I would have seen Him setting His face toward Jerusalem, the very place of His suffering (Luke 9:51). I would have watched His determined march to that city leading to Gethsemane and an agonizing prayer of surrender to God (Matthew 26:39).
This was not an easy prayer for me, and it didn’t come instantly. Over time, however, I turned from complaints and committed myself to march forward in the church God had called me to. To this day, I ask Him to “renew a steadfast spirit in me” (Psalm 51:10) when I want to quit. I revisit Gethsemane when irritations arise, yielding to God all I dogmatically hold dear. The more I do this, the more I regard complaining not as a right but as a weight I must strip off in order to reach the finish line (Hebrews 12:1).
That finish line might not be too far away. Jesus is preparing a place for me (John 14:2). When He shakes off heaven and puts out the welcome mat, my cache of complaints will vanish. In keeping my eyes on Jesus instead of grumbling, I’ll be preparing for my first love while He’s preparing for me.
Am I completely cured of chronic complaining about the church? I wish. But I’m not the same as before revival either. Staff members have acted on some concerns I’ve prayed about. The church board provided an open forum for the congregation so members could discuss several issues, which were reported to the senior pastor. And I’m learning that often my complaints are opinions, not absolutes worth fighting for.
Nowadays when my spirit rebels over something I don’t like at church, Philippians 2:14 drifts into my thoughts and quiets the agitation. The Holy Spirit is adding it to my memory by sheer repetition. It’s His way of nudging me back to my first love — and keeping me there.
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Sherri Langton, associate editor of the Bible Advocate magazine and Now What? e-zine, has worked over 20 years in Christian publishing. She is an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in Focus on the Family, In Touch, Upper Room, Today’s Christian Woman, and other publications. Sherri also has contributed to book collections. You can contact her at email@example.com.
This article was originally printed in the May-June 2008 issue of Discipleship Journal.
© Sherri Langton. Used with permission.
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