I got married in February and, immediately following our honeymoon, we moved into our first home…if you want to call it that. It was more of a full-fledged construction zone than a home, really. It had no refrigerator or dishwasher, half of a floor, cobwebs and dust bunnies everywhere, weird smells, drywall dust that would turn your shirt white if you leaned on a wall, and much more griminess.
It was actually pretty fun. “We’ll get to tell our kids that we slept on a mattress in the middle of the living room floor one day!” we told each other.
At least, that’s how it was for the first couple of months.
Then, it all started to get to me. We still slept on that mattress on the floor in a room without a door. Our clothes were organized by heaps on the floor because we had no dresser. Nothing had its place and there was no place to give anything. The drywall dust was the real killer, though. It kept multiplying, didn’t leave, and it gave me sore throats and coughs. I would sweep and mop the floor, and it would be dusty within an hour, with white footprints everywhere. And it didn’t seem like any of it would be fixed any time soon.
I started walking into friend’s houses and comparing their nice-smelling, clean houses to mine. My excitement for future projects dwindled because, I thought, “at this rate, I’ll never hang anything on the walls.” I started grumbling, mostly against my husband. And instead of being thankful, I was listless and discontent. “If only my house was more finished, I would be happy.”
Perhaps you’ve been there too. Maybe a situation that seemed fine at first has turned into a total drag. Maybe your outlook at the beginning was of joy, but now all you see is bad. Or maybe the situation was never good in the first place. And now the only reaction you can muster is to complain.
We can come up with one excuse after another as to why we have the right to complain, but the root of the problem stems from us. We are the ones who dig ourselves deep in discontentment. We are the ones who are not fixing our eyes and hearts on the right things.
Our complaining reminds me a lot of a familiar set of events from the Old Testament…the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness. Although they made excuses for their constant complaining, there was always a greater reason to rejoice instead. We’ll look at three of those reasons here.
Reason To Give Thanks #1: God’s Past Victories
As every Sunday School child knows, Israel had been in bondage to an evil ruler, but God sent miraculous plagues against Egypt. These were absolutely unexplainable things, like an entire river turning into blood and the death all of the Egypt’s firstborns. The Pharaoh, terrified, finally allowed the Israelites to flee, but forsook his promise and sent his army to chase them down. Even then, God opened the Red Sea for His people, allowing them to reach the other side in safety, and swallowed the Egyptians with those same waters.
This was a great and glorious victory, one that would be talked about over and over again in other parts of Scripture. Yet, just a few days and weeks later, the Israelites grumbled against God because of their lack of food and water.
They had forgotten God’s power, and instead of being confident in His protection, they grumbled. (God graciously gave them food and water as a result, but He would have done the same if they would have confidently entreated Him instead. It’s the difference between a child asking, “may I please have some water, mama?” vs. throwing a fit and screaming “I’M GOING TO DIE OF THIRST”)
I forget God’s power too. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude when prayers are answered, but I quickly forget about them, especially when I’m feeling down about a circumstance.
Put It Into Action
What are ways we can purpose to remember God’s victories? Maybe it’s a journal dedicated to prayers and the subsequent answers. Maybe it’s displaying photos that remind us of God’s care. Maybe it’s covering a wall with sticky notes every time we see God’s hand at work. Whatever it is, purposing to remember God’s past victories when struggling with a complaining heart will take our eyes off the sticky situation and onto His goodness.
Reason To Give Thanks #2: God’s Daily Faithfulness
Every morning, the Israelites walked out of their tent to find manna from heaven on the ground. This predictably happened every day, for years. But the Israelites forgot that the bread was a sign of God’s daily faithfulness. They forgot they always had just the amount of food that they needed. They forgot that God had never failed to give them their daily bread. Instead, they got bored with God’s provision.
“…the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” (Numbers 11:4-6)
I don’t have bread falling from heaven in my backyard each morning (although I wish I did). But I certainly do have daily reminders of God’s faithfulness and provision…and so do you.
Yes, my house has a lot of unfinished parts and drywall dust and brown insulation staring at me when I take a shower. And yes, I often fall into complaining about it. But it’s also filled with kitchen supplies and pillows and blankets and towels that were given to us with love. God provided a beautiful floor from a dear friend. We were given all of our appliances. Our house is a blessing, and if I look, I can see God’s faithfulness in every room.
Put It Into Action
When we’re about to complain, we should consider the ways that God is faithful in our situations. Maybe you need to write those ways down on a piece of paper so that you can be reminded of them often. Maybe you need to purpose to speak those ways in conversation instead of turning to grumbling.
What if your situation is so troubling that you can’t think of any ways that God is faithful in it? That’s what godly friends are for. Confess your complaining spirit to them and ask them for ways they see God’s faithfulness in your situation. It’s often much easier for someone on the outside to see God being faithful in ways such as working in your heart and growing your faith than it is for you yourself to recognize it. This happened to a dear woman in my small group. Her situation seemed so terrible that she could see nothing good in it. And although it was indeed a bad situation, the other ladies in the group could see the good in it– God growing her deeply in her faith. It was a beautiful thing to see.
Reason To Give Thanks #3: The Promise of Heaven
The Israelites were standing on the verge of the Promised Land, given to Abraham generations ago. This is where God had led them. This is the land that was to be theirs, a green and fruitful land. They sent spies to search out the land and to give them more of an idea of what they were really like, and they came back with a report:
“Thus they told him, and said, “We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. “Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there.” (Numbers 13:27-28)
Caleb, one of the spies, was sure of God’s promise of the land and was sure that He would give them the strength to defeat the land. But the other spies weren’t quite so sure…and that made the rest of Israel quite dramatic.
All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! “Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:2-3)
The Israelites were more concerned with what their eyes could see than of God’s steady and sure promise. They had lost sight of the reality of the land, and doubted that it would ever come to pass. They became so unsure of the Promised Land that they were certain it would have been better to die than to get to this point.
But just as God was leading the Israelites through the wilderness so that they might surely inherit the Promised Land, we are just passing through this earth so we may surely inherit Heaven. Our present circumstances and the trials we must face before our death have no bearing on the joy and glory that we are going to have with Jesus in heaven. My unfinished ceilings will pass away, but heaven will not.
But how often does the reality of heaven affect your view of your present circumstances? Does your awful situation make you less likely to trust the joy that heaven will bring, or do you let the reality of an eternity with Jesus eclipse your sorrows here in this life?
Put It Into Action
We need to think of heaven and the glory that awaits us there more in general, especially when we’re in the mood to complain. I suspect that if we kept passages such as Psalm 16 in our head and if we focused our eyes on the joy we will one day receive, we would find ourselves not as likely to inwardly or outwardly grumble.
“You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Psalm 16:11)
Again, we can easily find excuses right and left for dwelling on how bad our situation is. However, if we purpose to remember God’s past victories, consider God’s daily faithfulness, and ponder the promise of Heaven, we won’t find those excuses as powerful, nor will we be as apt to wallow in discontentment or complain to our friends. We’ll start to find joy in our situations instead, even if that drywall dust never stops creating white footprints on our floors.