Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do.”
In his classic book, Games People Play, psychiatrist Eric Berne said that one of the most frequent of human pastimes is a game he called, “Ain’t It Awful?,” in which people trade complaints back and forth.
So the familiar line from Numbers 11 has an almost proverbial ring to it:
“And the people of Israel also began to complain….”
And they’ve never really stoppped.
Jude (v16) promounced a fierce judgment on “grumblers and fault-finders” (which in the AV is “murmurers [and] complainers.” And James (5:9) noted the same point: “Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged.”
Judged for whining!
Certainly, right back in the book of Numbers ( a book which discusses the subject in painful detail), the question of God’s harsh treatment of whingers comes much to the fore.
Paul is explicit about the opposite trajectory, of pleasing God: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you.” (Philippians 2:13-15)
But, given that the problem is so endemic, is it even possible to “Do everything without complaining”?
Whinging is certainly a dangerous habit to get into. It has something of mockery, sneering and sarcasm in it. The old word is “Murmur” which Webster defines as ” a half-suppressed or muttered complaint.” Half the problem is in the quiet subversive quality of it, like the secrecy of shared gossip.
Imagine sitting next to someone who is always quietly making slightly cutting remarks about your teacher: his dress, his accent, his teaching style. What do you do?
There are only two responses: you either move away or join in.
There’s a line in Psalm 1 announcing blessing on the one who does not join in in “the company of mockers.”
The trouble is when they say something funny -or true! It lures you into agreement and tempts you back into the old game. But it’s not godly, and it’s not helpful to anyone. Least of all you.
In the world today, there are many ungodly murmurers. Complaining and murmuring never gives God glory. What it does is repel people away from God and, indeed, according to the book of Numbers, it is defined as “rebelling against the Lord.” From Scripture it is very clear that God hates all forms of “murmuring.”
But stuff happens! We never get an easy trouble-free ride through life. I mean to say: there’s always something to complain about! But trials that happen in life are to build us in Christ and we can rest assure that all things work together for good.
Nether is it simplistic to remember to stay grateful; and stay counting your blessings.
And make sure you get some alone-time, free of outside influence, when you can talk with God. Fix it in to the program every single day. Decide to trust in God even in tricky situations. Expect him to talk you through it. Ask for help to be content. Never let Satan steal your joy in being alive.
Why is it so dangerous to “murmur”?
- It does nothing, but causes unneeded stress.
- It nakes you forget all the things God has done for you.
- It deteriorates your faith.
- It gives Satan an opportunity to sneak in. It opens us up to his many lies.
- It gives a poor testimony.
Whatever the picture above may suggest, there is no miracle elixir that stops you whinging. According to James 3, it’s a wrong and unnatural use of the tongue. But we’re all in the same boat! James writes: “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check…” In fact, he goes on: “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
Isn’t that the truth? Stuff just slips out that you bitterly regret. Oh, the damage we cause with our bits of gossip and thoughtless jokes!
And no human being can tame the tongue!
And here’s his conclusion: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”
His point is that this complaining, critical voice that you’ve grown accustomed to using is unnatural. Your tongue was intended for blessing, for building and empowering – not for criticising, devaluing and mocking.
So what’s to be done?
In the life of Isaiah, we are given an amazing picture of the time when he experienced a call into the ministry of speaking for God and proclaiming his word. Isaiah expressed his inadequacy for any such calling. What makes this natural response relevant is the way that Isaiah understood his shortcomings as relating to his use of his tongue.
Here’s the passage, in Isaiah 6:5f:
‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’
And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ “
Perhaps you, like me, are a person of “unclean lips.” Perhaps you recognise that it inhibits your service and shames you in the presence of the King.
There’s only one solution. It is to receive the gift of God’s sacrifice, the “living coal” from the altar of sacrifice, purifying your lips, atoning for your sin, and readying you to say “Here I am, send me.”
This is the only “elixir” that will prevent you (and me) from whinging and bellyaching our way through life. And the grace of God is a constant resource. Lord, set a guard on my lips! -today!
Every single time you open your mouth to speak, you decide whether to curse or to bless.
I think it was Roy Bennett who said: “Maturity is when you stop complaining and making excuses in your life; you realize everything that happens in life is a result of the previous choice you’ve made and start making new choices to change your life.”
Maturity is when you stop complaining and making excuses, and start making changes.
Start today. Change the way you speak.