There is something satisfying about complaining, isn’t there? Even though we know it’s sinful, we still find a sick satisfaction in it. For some reason, airing our grievances seems to be a form of therapy. It does not take much to reveal the discontentment that lurks just beneath the surface of our lives.
I can’t say life has been particularly easy in recent weeks, and too often I’ve found myself complaining about some of the circumstances I am in. Some of these are related to my health and my inability to type as often or as painlessly as I’d like, some are related to the fatigue that comes with this worldwide project I’ve taken on this year, some are related to people I interact with on a regular basis. Whatever the circumstance, I face the temptation to grumble. And in the face of such temptation, I’ve found it helpful to revisit some counsel I’ve received in the past. Here are some ways I’ve had to speak truth to myself.
Remember God’s care and kindness in the past. All through your life you have been the recipient of God’s undeserved kindness. Despite this unblemished record, it’s possible God could charge you the way he charged Israel: “But they soon forgot his works” (Psalm 106:13). The human memory tends to be faulty and slippery when it comes to remembering past mercies. But there is a high cost to such forgetfulness: It deprives you of the comfort you need and God of the glory he deserves.
Trust God in times of need. God has been faithful in the past, so what reason do you have to doubt his provision in the future? Of course this was exactly the temptation that Israel faced: “He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people” (Psalm 78:20)? It is absurd to doubt God’s care in the future when it has been so consistent in the past.
Acknowledge the sheer evil of grumblings. You are tempted to grumble when your circumstances change from favorable to what you perceive as unfavorable, but grumbling is not made any less sinful because it is universal or habitual. If you acknowledge the sheer evil of the sin of grumbling you will be slow to complain when circumstances no longer accord with your desires or preferences. Conversely, you will be quick to identify and admire God’s bounty in every circumstance.
Refuse to display discontentment. Commit to not showing even the slightest discontentment with any circumstance. Instead, choose to be pleased and satisfied with all that God gives you. Choose to say, with David, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6). You can have confidence that the circumstance you experience now is the one God has determined is best for you, and equal confidence that some day you will see how this is so.
Seek God in your times of desperation. If you truly believe that God’s providence brings about every circumstance, then it becomes your responsibility to worship God in whatever he brings. Remember God’s command: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Remember God and he will not forget you.
Combat sinful fretting. Jesus makes it clear that when you are concerned about provision you simply need to look to the birds. He was not referencing pet birds that are fed by hand every day, but wild birds that do not know where their next meal will come from. If God provides even for the birds, won’t he also provide for you? Combat the sinful fretting that distracts you from living with joy and confidence.
These precious truths come courtesy of John Flavel and his wonderful book The Mystery of Providence. They’ve ministered to me before; they minister to me now.