Years ago, Bob Newhart acted in a skit where he played the part of a counselor and a woman came to meet with him. Every time she said she was struggling with something or complained about one area of her life or another, Bob simply said, “Stop it!” It was pretty hilarious. Certainly, we value vulnerability in the body of Christ and when we are hurting we need empathy. However, if ever there was a sin that easily trips us up, it’s grumbling or complaining. I’m not talking about genuinely sharing your challenges and asking for prayer from your friends. I’m talking about when complaining and grumbling becomes a pattern in your life. That pattern, while it may seem insignificant, actually damages your spiritual life, your relational life, and even your intelligence.
The writer of Hebrews wrote that, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, “We should throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1). I believe that one of the sins that easily entangles us is our propensity to grumble and complain. Think about it – it’s so easy. We complain about gas prices. We complain about the weather. We complain about long lines in the grocery store or about how stressed out we are. Let me give you a personal example. Yesterday, the internet went out in our area. I felt frustrated because I had a lot to do and yup, you guessed it, I complained and grumbled about the internet service. When I lay in bed last night and reflected back on my day, I knew my attitude had not pleased God. I mean, yes, not having the internet was an inconvenience, but not worthy of all the complaining I did. I prayed and asked the Lord to create in me a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me. I asked Him to restore to me a grateful attitude.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian believers, “Do everything without grumbling” (Philippians 2:14). In the Old Testament, the Israelites complained continually after leaving Egypt and, as a result, God had them wander in the wilderness for 40 years. Apparently, God takes complaining pretty seriously.
In one of my favorite books, Holy Habits, Mimi Wilson shares the story of finding her mother’s notebook after her mother had passed. Her mother had been a missionary in Africa for many years. In the notebook, she had written her five rules to gain contentment. The first one is a great reminder! “Allow ourselves to complain of nothing, not even the weather.”(1)
Ah, it’s so easy to lose sight of all the ways God has blessed our lives and give in to the temptation to complain. But here’s the thing: complaining ruins the joy you find in Christ. Complaining ruins your friendships because people don’t like being around negative people. Complaining ruins your brain’s capacity for clear thinking. According to research, the more you complain, the more likely you are to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Isn’t that shocking? Perhaps that’s one of the reasons God’s Word instructs us so clearly to stop complaining.
The next time you’re tempted to complain, in the words of Bob Newhart, just stop it! Instead, confess your negativity and shift your focus to gratefulness. God wants His people to shine like lights in the world. Complaining dims your light. Ask God for the grace to give up complaining for good!
Lord Jesus, You see how easy it is for me to complain. I confess to You that I haven’t nurtured gratefulness enough. When I am tempted to complain, please send immediate conviction from your Holy Spirit. Free me from negativity once and for all so that I might shine with the light of Your love to those around me.
(1) Mimi Wilson and Shelly Cook Volkhardt, Holy Habits, (Colorado Springs, CO.: Navpress, 1999), 184