Complaining and the Ungrateful Heart: Lessons from the Wilderness
This past week, my Bible study focused on the Israelites and their complaining in the desert. God had just delivered them out of Egypt, and they had also just witnessed the true power of God when He parted the Red Sea. I can only imagine how awestruck they must have been! After only three days in the desert, however, the Israelites were already complaining (Exodus 15:22-25). One month later, they had reached a point in their complaining where they actually wished they had died back in Egypt.
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“If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” – Exodus 16:3 (NLT)
They may have had food and water in Egypt, but they had somehow forgotten about the slavery and physical brutality they had endured there. God miraculously rescued them from over 400 years of slavery and cruelty, yet they still doubted that He could meet even their most basic of needs.
So God challenged me this past week to pay attention to my own habit of complaining.
I had no idea when I began this week how easy it was to justify my complaining until Saturday night happened….
Both my daughter and my husband woke up sick to their stomach in the middle of the night. I ended up taking care of my daughter (and doing some major cleaning and laundry) all night long. Every bone in my body wanted to complain! I was exhausted. It was the stomach flu, and they were both sick for the rest of the week. My poor husband wanted to help, but he literally couldn’t move from the couch. I was on my own.
So after my crazy week of paying attention to my own complaining, I’ve learned a few things:
- When we choose to complain, we take our focus off of God and His goodness.
When my 3-year-old daughter woke up sick, it was so hard not to feel sorry for myself that I had to stay up all night. I know that sounds completely selfish, but that was honestly going through my mind. I brought her to bed with me, and I decided to pray with her. In fact, we have done more praying this week than ever before. When her tummy began to hurt, she wanted to pray. What an amazing lesson she has learned through all of this! God is her healer, and He cares about her tummy. Even in her sickness, God is good. My complaining almost kept me from recognizing that fact.
- Complaining causes us to focus on our problems rather than the answer.
The Israelites were complaining in the desert because they had forgotten all that God had done for them. In every circumstance leading up to this point, God had provided for them. They were so focused on how they felt (tired, hungry, thirsty, etc.) that they had forgotten that God had always provided for their needs. If we give Him the chance, He will always prove Himself to be faithful.
- When we complain, we destroy our Christian witness.
It is way too easy to “vent” our frustrations to others. Instead of telling others about all that God has done in our lives, we end up complaining about our lives and our current circumstances. Why would anyone want to serve the God of someone who was unhappy and complaining all the time? We misrepresent our good and faithful God when we do nothing but complain.
- Complaining keeps us from our God-given tasks.
The enemy loves to keep us focused on our problems. God has big plans for each and every one of us, but when we get into a complaining mindset, it’s easy to stay there. We can’t accomplish much when we are unhappy with life. If it were up to the enemy, we would live in a constant state of misery and discontentment. It cripples us from doing the things God has called us to do.
- Complaining about our circumstances won’t change them.
Can you think of a time when complaining accomplished anything? Probably not. All complaining ever does for me is make me even more upset. I actually become angrier when I complain. I begin to feel “entitled” somehow…even bitter. Circumstances are changed when we change our attitudes and take action accordingly. Complaining is pointless and won’t get you where you need to be.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with confiding in a trusted friend about your life struggles. You can pray together and grow stronger in the Lord. Complaining, however, involves a completely different mindset.
Complaining stems from an ungrateful heart.
The Israelites weren’t thinking about all of the amazing things God had done for them. He had been faithful in every circumstance. Instead, they were focused on themselves and their current struggles.
We need to stay focused on Christ. We need to remember His past faithfulness and learn to have a thankful heart in all circumstances. I can assure it that it is easier said than done. I am definitely a work in progress when it comes to the area of complaining. I have learned, however, that the more we thank God for all of our blessings in life, the more we recognize His presence in our lives.
He is so incredibly faithful.
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*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
**Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash