The Worst Kind of Complaining

Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp (Numbers 11:1, NASB).

God hears and hates our complaining. He hears our complaints about the weather, traffic, taxes, social decline, the price of gas, our age, and whatever else we grumble and murmur about. God knows every negative thought and word. But there is one particular brand of complaining that grates most on His ears. In the terrible tale of  Numbers 11, the complaining of the children of Israel infuriated God, for “the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD.” Did you catch that? The worst kind of complaining is complaining about adversity. It sounds like this: “Why me? Why must I endure this trouble when life goes smoothly for everyone else? I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. When will all this end?”

Echoing through those complaints is a common chord: my trial, my hardship, my lot in life, my misfortune, my adversity. This nauseating, maddening noise rises to the very ears of God until He basically responds, “Could you get away from Me with that chronic complaining?”

How quickly we forget that we should expect adversity in this life—it’s as certain as death and taxes. Jesus reminded us, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33, ESV), and the writer of Hebrews warned, “Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:5–6). So why do we act surprised and indignant when troubles come?

God has entrusted to every person a measure of adversity—just the right amount to accomplish God’s eternal purposes in our lives. Your measure of adversity is like no one else’s, just like God’s eternal purpose for your life is like no one else’s.

For some, the adversity is a health crisis. For others, it’s a struggling career with continuous job changes. Others shoulder an unbearable weight of grief and responsibility following a long-ago family tragedy. Still others made a poor decision early in life, like dissolving their marriage, and now they struggle with hard consequences in their blended families. Some desperately long to be parents, yet God has not allowed them to have children. Still others long to be married, while God has not provided the right mate. The shades and variations of examples are endless.

Whatever your adversity, it’s your cross to carry—and by His grace, God will help you shoulder that load. Every one of us has a unique measure of adversity, and God Himself measured it out. For that reason, every person has something in his or her life that God doesn’t want to hear complaints about.

Instead of rejoicing in all the good things God has done in our lives, we complain about That One Thing, whatever it is. But it’s so hard! we might argue. True, it is hard to live with adversity, and it’s hard not to complain about it. But when we complain about our trials, we forfeit the grace that could be ours.

All the grace and strength you need in order to experience joy and victory are available to you—but by choosing to complain, by clinging to the idol of a perfect life, you flush away the grace of God. As Jonah wrote, “Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies” (2:8, NLT), or in the wording of the NKJV, “Forsake their own Mercy.”

Is idealism the false god in your life? What about comfort? Do you feel entitled to a perfect, adversity-free existence? Remind yourself that the very adversity you so often complain about is That One Thing God wants to use to keep your heart close to His. In His grace, He allows adversity to draw us closer to Him.

Is it hard? Yes! This is not to belittle or make light of very real, very hard adversity. However, worse than adversity is a complaining response to it. God simply will not tolerate repeated complaints about the measured adversity in our lives.


  • What is your measure of adversity—That One Thing that’s hard to endure without complaining?
  • How have you been responding to the adversity in your life?

Lord God, to each of us You have given a measure of adversity. I don’t like mine. Thanks for letting me be honest with You. But rather than complain about this adversity, by Your grace help me to accept it. I ask You to use this hardship for my good. Through it, please draw me closer to You. I ask you to give me the strength to endure well. Please refine my character so I’m more like Your Son. Convict me when I start to complain, Holy Spirit; I don’t want to forfeit the grace and mercy that could be mine. My example is Jesus, who asked You to remove the cup of adversity from Him but then prayed, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). In His matchless name I pray, amen.