I woke up the other morning in the mood to be irritated about everything. Truth be told, things are really good in my life right now; but the facts have never stood in the way of my complaining.
There wasn’t anyone around to complain to, but that didn’t stop me. The running litany in my head was about how I was annoyed with someone and unhappy that something else wasn’t happening when I wanted it to…and on and on.
I sat down to do my bible study and went to the lesson on Philippians I was up to in “Not Your Average Bible Study” by Jeffrey E. Miller in Bible Study Magazine.
It was on complaining.
In the grand scheme of things doesn’t God have more important things to do than organize the publication date of a magazine and the topic and order of the Bible studies in that magazine so that when I get around to working on them the one on complaining lands on the very day I am raising that skill to an art form?!
The passage I was supposed to read was Philippians 2:14 where Paul says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.”
In the past, I had always viewed that more as a suggestion than a command.
Problem is, God doesn’t make suggestions.
I looked up the word for “grumbling” in the Greek hoping it had some other meaning.
It means to express discontent or displeasure.
In the Bible study Jeffrey Miller says, “Even our right to complain is something Paul invites us voluntarily to set aside for the gospel. God wants more than our obedience; he wants our joyful obedience.”
The next verse in Philippians explains the reason we are to do everything without grumbling or arguing: “so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.”
What if I gave up complaining? What if I decided to look for what I could be grateful for in situations instead of what I didn’t like? What if I stopped focusing on myself and petty irritations?
It would make me different.
Our culture has institutionalized complaining. We have complaint departments, links on websites for complaints and surveys in which complaints are solicited.
I understand that businesses need to have feedback on how to improve. They want more people to use their services or purchase their products and are probably honestly trying to figure out what turns people off.
More power to them.
My responsibility, however, is to consider other things.
Paul is saying that if I stop complaining I’ll stand out…like a bright star in a dark night sky. He’d like a lot of us who follow Jesus to be bright stars. Things people notice.
That’s how I started following Jesus in the first place. I met people who stood out like stars in a dark sky. They were fun to be around, kind, happy, thinking about other people more than themselves…it made me stop and ask why they were different.
The answer was Jesus.
If Jesus is really in charge of our lives, if God really runs the universe, then I need to be watching for his fingerprints in my life and in my world…and be grateful for them.
And that does not involve complaining.
But that also doesn’t mean I ignore the pain and hurt and brokenness in my own life or in the lives of others. Later in Philippians Paul says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6–7, NLT)
Being able to tell God what hurts, what we can’t handle, what is broken that we’d like him to fix is an important benefit of being his child. That’s not complaining. That’s depending…on him. And God promises that the outcome will be inexplicable peace.
But notice what Paul says we are to do along with telling God what we need…we are supposed to thank God for what he has already done.
The reality is that in the darkest, worst moments of my life, and there have been a few, God has been there caring for me. In those times there have been things, perhaps small things, but things nonetheless, that I could be grateful for.
I sat on the patio of the hospital. A few days prior I had rushed my mom to the Emergency Room. Since then I had been sitting in the ICU. I needed to get out for a few minutes. So I went to the hospital patio.
As I sat there, I felt the warm sunshine of my shoulders instead of the chill of the hospital air conditioning. I heard a breeze rustle the tree leaves above me.
A sparrow landed and hopped by. So different from what I had been seeing, hearing and thinking about for the last few days. Small things to be grateful for.
Jesus said in Matthew 10:29-30 that God takes care of even the sparrows…and us, too. Another thing to be grateful for. This time not so small.
Gratitude fixes my eyes on God; thanking him for what he’s given and asking him for what he hasn’t.
Complaining fixes my eyes on myself; embittering me about what I don’t have and making me blind to what I do.
So I did my Bible study the other morning. And I changed. Coming in contact with the God of the universe will do that to you.
I’m pretty sure I’ll slip into complaining again. Maybe when I do, though, I’ll stop and think of stars in dark skies and sparrows on patios.
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