This past weekend was Thanksgiving. It is a time when we give thanks for the blessings we have and experience in life. But when you think of what the opposite of that is, what comes to mind? I think the opposite actually is—grumbling, complaining, and whining. Thankful is very active. If I am a thankful person, I’m responding. The opposite I think is knowing that there is around you all these good blessings but what you do is instead of being thankful you complain and you whine and you grumble.
I think there is a myriad of reasons to share about the opposite of thanksgiving, but I think I will focus on three of the most common. Firstly, it is one of the most acceptable sins in the church. Grumbling and complaining have become not only a national pastime as a nation (just check out Facebook) in spite of all the blessings we have, people can focus on the things they don’t like and can spend a lot of time complaining and grumbling. But it’s sort of percolated into the soul of the church. Many people in many churches feel like it’s not only their right but their responsibility to complain about anything they don’t like. We say things like, “Well, I don’t like that music. I don’t like that particular song, I don’t like the key it was played in. I don’t like the way the person arranged it. I don’t like that message. I don’t like the fact that the pastor went two minutes over.” As a pastor, I have fallen into it!
The truth is, we pick things apart and it’s become so much a part of our culture we have to be careful it doesn’t become part of the church. Because there’s a poison to the complaining, a negative spirit. That’s true in your home, in a relationship, in the church, in your workplace. If you’ve ever been somewhere where there’s this negative, critical spirit, it is poisonous, it’s damaging. But so often it is seen as acceptable and it shouldn’t be.
We have a garden that over the summer, we kind of let things go and some things got overgrown. This leads to the second reason this needs to be dealt with, dealing with grumbling, whining and complaining, is like weeding a garden. To have a garden flourish and be fruitful, you need to be active and pulling out weeds. Now many weeds have long tap roots and are almost “impossible” to fully remove, but the point is, we need to keep on top of it or they will grow back. In the church, one of the most powerful sins that seem to come up and strangle the church is this critical, grumbling, and a negative spirit.
Thirdly, this is something that God takes very seriously. The Bible talks about it a fair amount. In the history of God’s people, this was one of their most profound and returning sins that came again and again and again. When you think back to the Israelites in the wilderness, they did a massive amount of grumbling which led God to almost destroying them. To get an idea of what the people were like, take a look at Exodus 15-17.
For 400 years the Israelites were in Egypt. At first, it worked out really nicely. Joseph brought his family down there but they multiplied and grew and then the Pharaohs didn’t remember Joseph and they began to oppress the people of God. To the point where they were actually turned into forced labor, all of God’s people were slaves of Egypt. They were not only enslaving them, but they also weren’t giving them the resources they needed to do the work they were going to do, and they were killing their sons when they were born because they were multiplying too much. It was oppressive.
But God stepped in and set them free through miracles. He called them out of Egypt, God parted the Red Sea, and they walked across on dry land. God had a pillar of fire that went ahead of them in the nighttime and a pillar of smoke in the day. God was with them doing miracles. After 400 years of captivity, they were free.
But then it did not take long for their attitudes to sour. They said to Moses, “We want something to drink,” there’s nothing to drink. They start to whine. Remember what God had just done? Miracles, He parts the Sea, pillar of fire, pillar of smoke, and they’re complaining, grumbling, with all of God’s blessings around them.
But it continues to the point they tell Moses they prefer slavery to be free! They’re complaining about being free? Can you imagine if someone was let out of prison and did this? These people don’t even remember their history and what they were rescued from.
So then God does something amazing. He provides for them and “manna” falls from the sky providing them with sustenance. Free food every day! Now you’ve got to be thankful for that, right? Of course, now the grumbling is done, right?
But then they get thirsty, so much so, they were about ready to kill Moses and Aaron. So God provides water for them out of a rock. And God continues to provide for them by providing meat, quail from the sky! We look at this and think, now they’ll be happy. Look at all the good things they have, right? Wrong. It just cycles again and again.
As a matter of fact, every morning God rains down delicious cereal, they eat the manna. You know what they start complaining about now? We don’t have enough variety. We walk into a store and you’ve got a row of hundreds of kinds of cereal. But they start complaining, there’s not enough variety.
When I worked for the Mustard Seed, we provided bag lunches for our guests as they left the shelter for the day. Due to budgetary restrictions and being dependant on donations, most of the time the lunches were pretty similar. Included were a ham and cheese sandwich, a piece of fruit, a snack and something to drink. How did the guests respond? Most were grateful, but there were more than a few who would say, “Ham and cheese… again!” That is how the Israelites acted when God provided for them!
In 1 Corinthians 10, now 1,600 years have gone by and God is speaking through the Apostle Paul to this church in the city of Corinth, and he is giving them a little history lesson. He’s reminding them about this very time when they were in the desert in those forty years, and God is pointing out their sins, the recurring, perpetual sins that over 40 years kept coming up again and again and again. I want you to notice these four sins. God says to the people through the Apostle Paul, “Do not be idolaters as some of them were, as it is written, ‘the people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.'” God’s saying, “In the wilderness wanderings you got into idolatry and that’s sin, stay away from that.” Verse eight, “We should not commit sexual immorality as some of them did, and in one day 23,000 of them died.” God says, “I take that seriously.” Verse nine: “We should not test the Lord as some of them did and were killed by snakes.” And here’s the fourth one. “And do not grumble as some of them did and were killed by the destroying angel.” Then we read this, verse 11, “These things happened to them as examples and are written down as warnings for us on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”
1,600 years later God speaks through the Apostle Paul and says to look back at all those years, and learn from their bad example, and don’t be like that. I think actually of all those sins that are listed, the fourth one is actually the climax of that whole thing. The worst of Israel’s sins was the grumbling because it happened over and over and over and over. It became like a national pastime, and it broke the heart of God, because God is looking, saying there is so much for you to be thankful for and all you seem to be able to do is complain about what you don’t have and what you want, and you’re not thankful for what you have.
Philippians 2:14, says, “Do all things without grumbling or arguing.” and Peter says in 4:9, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Repeatedly, Jesus confronted His own disciples with the amount of grumbling they participated in. Grumbling is not an option for a Christian, a follower of Jesus.
We know it is important to express our concerns, but to do so in a constructive and God-honouring manner is challenging. So in closing, let me ask this question: “How do we do it in a way that honors God?” How do we live out the Bible’s teaching on grumbling in a practical way? How do we express real concern without being negative, like the children of Israel?
I think there are three things to remember. Firstly, Pray. Ask God for timing, wisdom, and grace. This leads to the second thing to consider: bring it with the right spirit. Doing it with grace means we have the right spirit: one that is gentle and humble. Thirdly, you need to talk to the right people. Too often, we run to those close to us and share our concerns, but instead of it being constructive, it becomes gossip.
Now, I do not claim to have it together in this area. But, it is something we need to keep in check moving forward. To expect God to work in and through us when our hearts are filled with complaining, whining, and grumbling, how can God work? Being thankful requires us to have a proper and positive attitude founded on prayer. As Paul told us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing and in everything, give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
May that be our attitude and experience as we grow in wisdom and knowledge of Him.