A medical survey suggests that chronic complainers live longer than people who are always sweet and serene. It claims that their cantankerous spirit gives them a reason to live. Each morning they get up with a fresh challenge to see how many things they can find to grumble about, and they derive great satisfaction from making others miserable. I question whether those who complain actually do outlive those who don’t. Maybe it just seems that way to everybody around them. I’m sure it seemed that way to Moses. As you read the book of Numbers, you can almost hear Moses groaning. The people complained against him in Egypt; they complained against him at the Red Sea; they complained against him on the way to Sinai, and they have complained against him on the way from Sinai. It seems like every morning the Israelites got up with a fresh challenge to see how many things they could find to complain about Moses. They did little else for forty years but grumble and complain. When we read these stories we wonder how they could complain so much.
The constant complaining of Israel in the wilderness was on the Apostle Paul’s mind when he wrote, “There must be no grumbling and disputing in anything you do. That way, nobody will be able to fault you, and you’ll be pure and spotless children of God in the middle of a twisted and depraved generation. You are to shine among them like lights in the world, clinging on to the word of life,” (Phil. 2:14-16 NTE). Paul sees the church as the people of the new Exodus. We were brought out of the Egypt of sin and death through the Passover action of God in Jesus, and now we’re on the way home to the real promised land. And this time we should get it right. That remains the challenge before the church today just as in the first century.
As Christians who continue to struggle with sin, it can be easy at times to fall into a habit of complaining about things. Complaining satisfies our sinful nature. However, when the Israelites complained, they failed to see the countless ways God continued to sustain them. The same may be true of us. Complaining displays a lack of trust in God, and a problem deep within the heart. We can fail to see that, “God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him,” (Small Catechism II:1-2). Instead of complaining, we should be thanking and praising Him, serving and obeying Him.
We must remember that when the Israelites were complaining, it was not just against God, but against Moses, the leader whom God had appointed for them. “There’s nothing to drink, Moses! We want meat, Moses! I have blisters on my feet, Moses. Who died and put you in charge? Are we there yet, Moses?” God has given us pastors who are called and ordained to be our shepherds. Instead of complaining about our pastors, we should remember that, “they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you,” (Heb. 13:17 NRSV).
How did God react to all this complaining? God severely punished them for their complaining. He sent fire to devour them (Num. 11). He forbade the entire lot of them from entering the Promised Land (Num. 14). He made the earth open and swallowed some alive (Num. 16). He sent poisonous serpents to bite them (Num. 21). God does not like complaining. He doesn’t like when we complain against him or those whom he has appointed to be leaders. What did Moses and the people do when they felt God’s displeasure at their complaining? “The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people,” (Num. 21:7 NRSV; cf. 11:11; 14:13). Notice the Israelites confessed. They confessed that their complaining against Moses was also against God. They also confessed that by complaining they had sinned. Moses prayed for them, and God relented and forgave them.
Our self-centred hearts love to take control through the machinery of complaining. What ways might the you be tempted to grumble or complain? The next time any of us are tempted to complain, we should follow the example of Moses and the people of Israel. Stop complaining! Confess your sins. Receive God’s forgiveness, and lay all your problems at the feet of the Lord in prayer. We can follow the example of David who wrote, “With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him,” (Psalm 142:1–2 NRSV). Jesus himself invites you to do so: “Are you having a real struggle? Come to me! Are you carrying a big load on your back? Come to me—I’ll give you a rest! Pick up my yoke and put it on; take lessons from me! My heart is gentle, not arrogant. You’ll find the rest you deeply need. My yoke is easy to wear, my load is easy to bear,” (Matt. 11:28-30 NTE).
Though God has every right to complain about us, yet he invites us to come to him and lay our complaints before him in prayer. We can lay our complaints before him in prayer because, “It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us,” (Rom. 8:34 NRSV). Moses prayed for the Israelites and God relented. Jesus, who bore your sins upon the Cross and rose again the third day, has ascended into heaven where he pleads your case before God the Father. Because Jesus ever lives to intercede for us, we can be confident that our cries, complaints, and groaning are heard by God. Christ lifted high upon the Cross, suffered and died so that through his shed blood, you might be forgiven. Since this God has been so long-suffering with us miserable sinners, we can be long-suffering with one another. So, let’s stop complaining, and start praying instead.