The Heart of Complaining

I never get any sleep.  I can’t lose weight. It’s raining again?  Ugh! It is so hot! I hate this job. This house is too small. All I wanted was 5 minutes of peace. Can’t you ever stop?  Why is he in leadership? That’s a stupid law. I’m so busy. I’m so tired. My friends want too much from me! Can you believe they give that person a driver’s license?  Why are they going so slow? I can’t believe I have to make three meals a day! Won’t they ever grow up? He never picks anything up. She never listens. Why did God give me this body?  We have to eat macaroni again??? Murmur, murmur, murmur. 

Does this sound like your friend or family member?  Does this sound like you? 

The grumbling of the human mouth and heart is a toxic weed that soon becomes a whole field of thistles.  Murmuring even sounds like itself in an onomatopoeic way. Mrrrrrrmrrrrrr 

What is this complaining and murmuring?  Why are we so prone to it? Why does God command against it?  Why does Philippians 2 say outright: “Do EVERYTHING without complaining and arguing?” (Emphasis mine.)   

Grumbling is a negative response to something unpleasant, inconvenient or disappointing. Grumbling rises from a self-centered idea that you are receiving something undeserved. You may think, “This is hard.  I don’t like it. I don't feel good. I'm going to tell everyone (or at last the first person in my path).” 

Kevin DeYoung says, “A groan is one thing, a grumble is another. A groan says, “Oh God, this is hard.”  A grumble says, “Oh God. You are really hard. A groan says, “Oh Lord, I would like something different.”  A grumble says, “Oh Lord, I wish You were someone different.” Do you see the difference? The Bible isn’t against groaning, but it is against grumbling.” 

Grumbling is distinctly revealing about what’s going on in your heart.  It may sound like general commentary, but we must look at the heart behind the words. “What is in your heart comes out of your mouth.” (Matthew 15:18).  A disgruntled attitude is clearly different than a sighing under a weight.  

When it comes to complaining, there are two sides revealed in Philippians 2:14: the emotional side (complaining) and the intellectual side (arguing via questioning or doubting the truth of a matter).  Have you ever heard yourself trying to reason why things should or shouldn't happen a certain way? Our hearts are prone to say, “We should have done this or that,” when something goes wrong that we thought would go right. We stop trusting in God and dispute with His providence and sovereignty. In these moments with my own heart, I have had to preach to myself the words of Charles Spurgeon, “Had another condition been better for you than the one you are in, Divine Love would have put you there.”  Spurgeon also said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that has cast me upon the Rock of Ages.” Deep thoughts such as these should cause us to do some self-examination. Have I learned to embrace trial and hardship or am I still fighting it against it? 

There are a lot of hardships and trials that enter life.  There are trials when we are single: trudging through life alone or while waiting for the “next big moment in life.”  There are trials and hardships in marriage: sharing the load of life brings more opportunity for dying to self, and compromising  These challenges can increase when you add in more relatives, loved ones, and children. There are trials and hardships in parenting:  each soul you add to your home brings blessings, but also trials as our sin splashes onto other people. Small children with no sin-control or self-control bring trials and hardship into their parents lives as they work to respond properly... to be patient and kind in the face of irrational behavior, tantrums, unkindness and complaining.  I have a lot of grumbling and complaining in a family with six kids. We seek to not allow it, but it still happens.  As children mature, they become teenagers.  The teenage years require a whole new level of teaching them about embracing trials and hardships.  They typically want to reason or argue through things with as their awareness of life blossoms. There is a constant need to be pointing them to God's divine plans. 

As parents, we must learn first to accept Gods' will with submission and graciously embrace what the hand of God gives us. Those who don't argue or complain much are sitting under those wings of God without arguing against God.  This does not come easily. First, we must master our own hearts in this regard, as we call our family and friends to the same. 

The Complainer & The Contented in Christ 

The difference between a contented person and a complainer is easily observable from the outside.  You likely know someone who always has something to complain about. Those who are always complaining or always arguing with you if you try to point them to “the bright side”.  You can never win with them. They typically don’t “hear you” when you point them to the good side of things, the work of the Lord’s providential hand, or counting their blessings in trials.  However, God is not silent about the heart of complaining versus the heart that is contented in the hardships of life. Perhaps others have told you this describes you, or you are seeing it in your own heart right now! 

In the second chapter of Philippians we see Paul build up in the context towards God’ command to never complain.  In verses 1-4 God calls us to pursue unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, primarily by putting off self-love and self-interest.  In verses 5-11 we see the perfect example of Christ who displayed perfect humility and obedience to God for the purpose of glorifying God. In verses 12-13 we see God working in us, and us working out.  I love this picture of God filling us with energy while we “work out.” 

Finally, in verses 14-18, we are shown how to live as lights in this world.  Keep in mind that this passage was written over 2,000 years ago! The world was crooked and perverse then, just as it is today.  So, we must seek to live as lights in the darkness of this culture around us. This is seen largely with the use of our tongues before God and mankind. 

If God is working in and through you, then it should be largely manifested by the words that your tongue finds to say.  As Jesus said, “what is in the heart comes out of the mouth.” Thus, if you are a complainer with your mouth, we can follow the words backwards to a heart of discontent with God’s providence in your life. 

A Short Story:  

Many years ago, I took my children to another church for a weekday Bible club, as our church was very small at that time.  The program was run by senior saints- which I thought was very sweet. Many senior saints have learned to embrace the trials and hardships of life, but not the particular woman who signed the children in each week.  This great-grandma was what we might call, “cranky”! She would bark at the kids and her words were curt and lacked sweetness. She was constantly complaining about this issue or that, this pain or that one. I didn’t spend a lot of time with her, but when I crossed her path, I knew I would hear a heart of complaining.    

At the same time, I had a sweet friend in her forties.  She attended my small church and was constantly fighting with her own body when it would reject typical care and maintenance.   One night, on the sidewalk outside midweek Bible club check-in, I was able to pry some details out of my friend about her health.  She was in a cast of some sort, hurting in her midsection and trying to raise a small child and a teenager. I asked her, “Why have I heard so little about all the trials you are under?”  My friend said, “I don't want to be known as that person who complains.” Just then I realized the child check-in grandma was walking right by us. I may never know for sure, but soon after that something changed with “check-in grandma.” There was a marked difference in her attitude, complaining and general crankiness.  She suddenly was joyful, uncomplaining, and kind. God had worked in her heart and words! 

Walking by Faith or Sight  

We need to be walking by faith as women of God.  There are terrible, terrible things that you may have experienced in your life that a pastor may need to help you through.  I don’t want to downplay that. However, you may need help to direct you to specific truths in God’s word to help you see God’s loving care in all areas of life.  There are many truths that will help you trust the Lord despite dark providences. In all things, both in blessings and in deep trials, we must look in the word, and to the Lord.  Job said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)  Our hearts should agree with the Psalmist, “In His presence there is fullness of joy, at His right hand are pleasures evermore.” (Psalm 16:11) 

Psalm 46 has been my favorite Psalm since the time I was saved. The terrifying picture of the earth falling apart contrasted with our commanded focus on the Lord of Hosts. The spilled milk, or more painful trials, melt away as we look at this passage. “Come behold the works …"  What does God say? “Be still.  Cease Striving.  Know that I am God.  I WILL be exalted.” (Psalm 46:10, emphasis mine)  Have you ever seen a whiny, screaming, complaining little child? Or adult?  He calls us to “Be still,” as this is what we look like to Him when we complain about our lives.  He can see the end from the beginning. We must have faith and trust in Him that He is working “all things for good.”  (Romans 8:28-29, Colossians 1:17)   When we choose to trust in God, knowing that He knows the end from the beginning, we live with hope and peace and the words on our tongues speak truth, blessing and praise! 

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” Proverbs 3:5-8 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, 

    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”  Psalm 19:14