Of late, I have spent a lot of time considering the problem of complaining. Meanwhile, people in my life-people I love-are going through difficulty. It has sent me to my knees both literally and figuratively. I am praying for God to work powerfully, and I am praying for smaller works of faithfulness in the lives of those in trial. It shouldn’t surprise me, but somehow it does: God’s faithfulness has become apparent in so many ways! As loved ones are stressed by trial, God allows them to face it with grace. He sends blessings that remind us all that He is in control and involved in the situation and in the lives of those affected.
My grandpa used to talk about the importance of having an “attitude of gratitude.” I am not certain where he picked up this phrase. He didn’t claim to have come up with it, but he certainly seized it as a way of life. Two of the verses he often quoted were I Thessalonians 5:18 and Philippians 4:7 (always emphasizing the with thanksgiving). He kept quoting Scripture even when he couldn’t remember the references anymore, and he lived with a spirit of thankfulness right up until his death at the age of ninety-five.
Recently a friend pointed out how happy he and my grandma always seemed. I think it was the joy of the Lord, but I think the attitude of thankfulness in all circumstances helped that joy to shine through. Someone once told me that the only reason my grandpa could always be thankful was because he didn’t have to live with physical pain. The person seemed sure that Grandpa would not really be able to give thanks in every situation, he had just never had to deal with bad enough circumstances. We can only know how a person deals with the situations God brings his way; we can’t know how someone else would handle our circumstances. We do know that the Apostle Paul was beaten and imprisoned. Inspired by God, he wrote that we should give thanks in all circumstances. I think he knew what he was saying.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
I Thessalonians 5:16-18
My favorite example of someone living out this command was recorded by Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place. After arriving at Ravensbrook, the infamous Nazi prison camp, she quickly discovered that the barracks was infested with fleas. She wondered aloud how they could live in such a place. Her sister Betsie immediately prayed for God to show them how. Betsie quickly realized that His answer had been in the Scripture they had read that morning, I Thessalonians 5:18. She began giving thanks for all of the blessings God had given them, including the fleas.
Corrie told her sister that she didn’t think God could ever make her thankful for fleas, but Betsie admonished, “Give thanks in all circumstances, it doesn’t say, in pleasant circumstances. Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.” Weeks later God would teach Corrie that she could be thankful for fleas. The fleas, they learned, kept the guards out of their barracks, giving them freedom to share God’s word.
I can’t think of a better example of thanksgiving as an antidote to complaining. But let me say that I don’t think complaining is, itself, a sin. There are many examples in Scripture of people who complained to God, and He answered them. In Psalm 55:16-18 David wrote, “But I call to God and the LORD will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice. He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me.” We must, however, carefully guard our attitude and outlook from being clouded by our complaints.
The prophet Habakkuk complained to the Lord and was answered. He complained a second time and was answered again. The answer God gave him was a prophecy of doomsday destruction that could make any reasonable person a “prepper.” Yet, Habakkuk showed that while he had complaints, his attitude was one of rejoicing in God. In fact, he firmly committed himself to rejoice no matter how bad things got:
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
This is the kind of joy that I am seeking to nurture by my decision not to complain. I want to set my heart on God. Habakkuk knew that God was the source of joy, and that when all else failed, his salvation was secure in the hands of the LORD.
I said before that we can’t know how certain people would respond to certain circumstances, we can only know how people respond to the situations God puts them in. In the same way, the only thing people will see of us is how we respond to the circumstance we’re in. How I hope and pray that no matter how dark the world around me gets, that the light of Jesus will shine from me. I don’t want complaining to be curtains that block the light in me. Like Habakkuk, I am trying to determine this ahead of time, and to be prepared. I can’t think of a better way to prepare myself than to try to live it out where I am now. God help me to shine a light and bring glory to Your Name!
The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to the one who orders his way rightly, I will show the salvation of God!