And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp (Numbers 11:1, ESV).
Why do we complain? We would all agree that complaining changes nothing, yet why is it such a battle? The reason: because it satisfies our sinful natures. Complaining releases negative emotional energy in a way that provides momentary relief from a frustrating situation or circumstance. That’s why it’s so hard to resist.
The problem, though, is that complaining isn’t harmless. It’s venomous. Complaining is an attitude choice that, if left unchecked, will wither your capacity to experience joy and genuine thankfulness. Wrong attitudes are hard to change because they are habitual, harmful ways of thinking about life and circumstances—but we still have a choice.
Complaining is expressing dissatisfaction with a circumstance that is not wrong and about which you’re doing nothing. It’s whining without proposing a solution, murmuring under your breath, venting mental or verbal outbursts of frustration without any constructive attempt to remedy the situation.
Consider these examples: complaining is grumbling about your spouse’s lack of time with your children instead of talking with him and working together toward a creative solution. It’s telling the person seated next to you on an airplane how rotten the food is rather than politely requesting a different entrée. It’s whining about social issues instead of praying, voting, donating, or contacting your leaders.
Complaining hurts the complainer, evolving into anger, bitterness, or even depression—and it distances us from God. It hurts those around us, bringing them down too. And it hurts God. God hears our vocal dissatisfaction, and He hates it! It insults His grace. It questions His sovereignty. It makes Him angry.
God heard every word of every complaint from the children of Israel. “And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled.” Standing somewhere on the edge of their makeshift city, they were whining and grumbling—about something. Maybe it was Moses’ leadership style, or the food, or the weather. Whatever the topic, it was the final straw for God, and He sent fire among them. It should be very clear how God feels about complaining.
And it’s a relevant news flash for us today. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). The story of the Israelites was intended as an example for us; let’s not miss it.
Even in this day of grace, God’s fire still consumes. He judges our complaining attitudes as surely as He judged the people of Israel’s. For now, His fire doesn’t consume our existence; it scorches our happiness, and life becomes a wilderness. Those who choose complaining as their lifestyle will spend their lifetimes in this wilderness. Does your life feel like that—all dry, dead, and cheerless, a wasteland where joy wilts away—because your pattern of thinking formed over a long period of time always sees the negative?
Ask yourself some soul-searching questions…
Am I a complainer? Complaining is hard to see in ourselves, especially when it has reached the habit stage.
Is my relationship with God reaping the consequences of complaining? Imagine God whispering to you, “I’m listening. I hear every thought and word.”
Am I willing to repent? Does your life lack joy and a sense of God’s favor and presence? You need only repent—agree with God that your complaining spirit is sin—and ask His forgiveness, choosing to turn from your next complaint to finding a grace-filled solution instead.
Lord God, I see so clearly the patterns of complaining in the children of Israel, yet so often I’m blind to my own sin. And sometimes I try to belittle my sin, as if complaining were acceptable. Forgive me, Father. Help me to see my complaining as You see it: as sin. Holy Spirit, please convict me when I start to complain. Remind me that You hear every word, and that my complaining spirit insults You, damages our relationship, and poisons others. Transform me from a complainer into a joyful, thankful follower of Your Son, Jesus, in whose name I pray, amen.