A couple of weeks back, our senior pastor gave a message exhorting us all to live with a little less complaining. Or a lot less (he included himself as the target audience). Our church started a reading plan in September to get through the entire Bible in 9 months. And in tandem with this plan has been the pastors preaching from current reading. That has brought us to Numbers.
If you're familiar at all with the desert years for Israel, you’ll know complaining is a common theme.
One passage has stuck with me through the years. Phil 2:14–16(a)
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may 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, holding fast to the word of life
That first sentence hit me hard, especially during a period when I worked for a particularly inept supervisor back in my corporate life. I would dispute regularly. Worse, I would grumble constantly (many translations use complain here instead of grumble, but both words convey the same idea) and often when this person was not around. It was an area of sin for me, one brought on by my own pride.
And while I was in that situation, I felt convicted that my behaviour was wrong. However, I was not able to get past it; I was unsure how to change how my heart felt. And we all know that what the heart feels, the tongue eventually makes it known.
It was only recently that I’ve come across what I believe is the solution for complaining. The long-term, life-long solution for not grumbling.
A Life of Gratitude
Over the past 2 years, I’ve had the blessing of teaching at length from both Philippians and Colossians. As usual, I always feel that I get far more from teaching a class than anyone attending. When you're taking the time to prepare lessons, you tend to be more saturated with a few specific pieces of Scripture. My time in these two books was an immense pleasure and a source of peace for me.
And while my lessons were often focused on the larger whole, one aspect began to jump out at me. Paul is constantly preaching a life of gratitude. This is true for Philippians and Colossians, but also for his other epistles. The more I looked, the more I found a regular, rhythmic focus on being grateful.
In his epistles, the word thanks or some derivative (thankful, thankfulness, thanksgiving etc) is used almost 50 times. Here are a couple that have caught my attention.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
You read these over and over through the years and it can be easy to gloss over it. But when I started noting how important being thankful was to Paul, I was amazed at the consistency of his
A cup half full
I’ll be very honest with you: I’m a negative person. A cup half empty kind of guy. I’ll notice what I don’t like far before I find the good in things. Just ask my children!
As Christians, there is a bit of baseline thankfulness that has to exist. In order to believe that you must be saved, you have to face your sins, your flaws, and recognize God’s right to judge you. From there, you feel your need for a saviour. And when you make that choice to accept Christ in such a way, gratitude is the natural reaction.
But being thankful about that does not automatically result in a grateful approach to all areas of life. That’s why I love Paul’s emphasis on the topic.
In some cases, thankfulness is the end, the result of our circumstances. But in other cases, he’s exhorting us to choose to be grateful. The thankfulness is the means rather than the end. Phil 4 is a great example of this. Let me paraphrase this passage:
- The Lord is near
2. Therefore, do not worry about anything3. Instead, ask God about everything you need
4. And do so with thankfulness
5. If you do that, you will experience God’s peace, which transcends all things and will guard you from future worries
The end is experiencing God’s peace. But the means is having a grateful attitude.
Living it out
What that has meant to me is to pull back in situations where I would normally complain (if I can catch myself), then consider what I can be thankful about in that moment. There’s always something there if I look for it.
When my particularly disagreeable son is pushing all my buttons, I try to stop and appreciate how he’s improving his skills in debate. When the sun is down at 5pm and I think how we have 4–5 more months of cold weather ahead, I try to be thankful for a warm home and peacefulness of a fresh dump of snow. And when the
Sadly, I don’t have this all together. In a lot of scenarios above, old habits kick in and I miss the chance to make something better of it. But I’m learning.