by Dale Reeves
In our teaching series at church this past Sunday, our senior minister Brad Wilson spoke about the habit of complaining in our lives. It’s not just a habit. It’s actually a sin. The children of Israel complained and grumbled after Moses led them out of slavery in Egypt, and as a result of their constant complaining, God allowed them to wander in the desert for forty years! If you missed last Sunday’s teaching, I encourage you to check it out here.
A sin?—you might be thinking. That’s a pretty strong word. We wouldn’t put it up there with the “big sins” like murder, lust, adultery, stealing, and lying under oath. Some might call it a “white collar” or “church people” sin, along with gossip, gluttony, prayerlessness, and jealousy. I would submit that in our culture today, it is soooo easy to give in to the habit of complaining on a daily basis. Whether we’ve just heard fake news or horrible news in the media outlets or on social media, we can find something to complain about every hour if we so desire.
Just this last week I heard (or said) comments like these:
“I drove through a fast-food drive-through just the other day. The restaurant still hasn’t opened for inside seating. There was a line about fifteen cars deep. I finally got tired of waiting and pulled out of line . . . I’m sure they would have messed up my order anyway.”
“I went to the deli at the grocery store the other day. They only had two people working behind the counter. I waited for a while for the fried chicken I was going to buy. After about five minutes of no one coming to help, I gave up and left. Doesn’t anybody work anymore?”
“It’s unreal what we have to pay for gas at the pump these days.”
“The traffic today was horrible. I got behind someone who couldn’t decide what lane they wanted to be in. It’s amazing that some people can even get a license! I didn’t want to try to pass him, he might not even have insurance!”
“Welcome to May in Ohio. It’s so cold and rainy outside again today! I need to mow my jungle of a lawn, but it’s still pretty damp! Oh well, in a few months I’ll be complaining about how hot it is outside!”
“I’m so tired of my allergies and waking up every day with a headache and itchy and runny eyes.”
And I haven’t even touched on politics and policies, and other things that might cause us to go on a rant. My brother-in-law Ed talks about the right of old guys (a la the two bald-headed guys who sit in the Muppets theater) to be “curmudgeons.” We’ve earned the right to share our opinions, haven’t we? Like it or not, as followers of Jesus we are called to a higher standard, one of gratitude rather than complaining.
The apostle Paul challenges us with these directives:
“Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people” (Philippians 2:14, 15, NLT).
In our church staff meeting this past Tuesday, one of our staff members, Laurie Cullen, who handles our database and IT coordination, led us in some compelling thoughts based on a book she read recently. The book is written by someone you may have heard on the radio if you listen to Christian music. His name is Brant Hansen, morning radio host on Star 93, and the title of his book is Unoffendable. The premise of the book is that as followers of God we should . . .
“. . . forfeit our right to be offended, forfeit our right to hold on to anger. When we do this, we’ll be making a sacrifice that’s very pleasing to God. . . . We should be the most refreshingly unoffendable people on a planet that seems to spin on an axis of offense.”
All too often Christians are viewed by nonbelievers as judgmental, intolerant, and hateful. But when we have the kind of perspective that Brant encourages us to have, it makes us others-centered, and when we live this way, it can change everything. That doesn’t mean that we condone others’ sin, it just means we treat everyone with the love of Christ that we have been loved with ourselves. As one reviewer said about the book,
It “effectively calls all-too-easily-offended followers of Jesus to a far less grumpy witness and a whole lot less toxic faith. A good antidote to the dis-graced faith we have become all too accustomed to.”
I encourage you to check out Brant’s attitude-changing book here.
Different Is Good
Just last night at our church we hosted a National Day of Prayer gathering. President Harry Truman first proclaimed a National Day of Prayer in 1952. Every year since that date, Americans have observed this. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law designating this day be observed every year on the first Thursday in May. Congress designated that people in our country should “turn to God in prayer and meditation.” Last night’s prayer event included times of praying for our country, our world, our local government, local schools, and first responders. We focused not on complaining about what’s wrong with our country and world, but on the power of prayer and God’s Holy Spirit to bring about positive change. It was not a night to be offended, but a night to be grateful.
Would you rather be known as a grumpy or a grateful person? Which one is more fun to be around? In describing the attitude of the grumbling children of Israel who wandered in the desert for forty years, the psalmist penned these words:
“Then they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise. They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the Lord” (Psalm 106:24, 25, NIV, emphasis mine).
Did you notice how grumbling and disobedience go hand in hand? The opposite of that attitude is that we would not complain and grumble, but that we would be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15, ESV).
This, my friends, is one of the things that is to set Christ followers apart. They’ll know we are Christians not by what we say we believe, not by what we believe, but by our love—expressed in tangible words and actions. And, when we are viewed as non-complainers in the midst of an obsessed-with-criticizing-and-complaining world, we may have the chance to explain to others just what makes us different!