Complaining About Complaining
Funny Stories About Complaining
A young Catholic priest decided to enter a monastery. He joined one particularly strict sect. The head monk told him, at his indoctrination, that they were sworn to TOTAL silence. They could not speak one word at all. However, every ten years, they would be permitted to speak two words. After 10 years of total silence, the head monk indicated it was now time for him to speak his two words. The monk said, “Bed hard!” And then he resumed his silent study and work. Another 10 years passed and the head monk again indicated it was time for him to speak his two words. The monk said, “Food bad!” And then he resumed his silent study and work. Another 10 years passed and the head monk again indicated it was time for him to speak his two words. The monk said, “I quit! “The head monk shook his head and said, “I knew this was coming. You’ve done nothing but complain for the past 30 years!
Some people complain without thinking at all. The Associated Press reported about two men who were robbers. The first was a man who robbed a Wendy’s in Atlanta was so put off by how little money he received from the robbery that he called the restaurant twice to voice his disapproval.
The police say another man, Arthur Bundrage approached a Syracuse, New York, bank teller and demanded $20,000. When he got home, he discovered he’d been shortchanged. Outraged, he stormed back to the bank to tell them what he thought of their service. That’s when he was arrested.
I want us to pause together and think for a moment about the things you’re guilty of complaining about. It seems, as humans we have a talent for finding a reason to complain about everything. If we have a church building, we might be tempted to complain that it isn’t big enough or modern enough or in the best location. If there are lessons being taught they might be too long, or not interesting enough. Maybe our facilities don’t have the right amenities. Maybe we’ll complain about something someone else said you didn’t like or agree with. Maybe something someone else did or didn’t do.
If you want, you can always find something to complain about. This morning I want us to look at some of the best complainers to ever live, the people of Israel.
"1 Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the Lord heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the Lord burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp. "2 Then the people cried out to Moses, and when Moses prayed to the Lord, the fire was quenched. "3 So he called the name of the place Taberah, because the fire of the Lord had burned among them. "4 Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat? "5 We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; "6 but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!” "7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color like the color of bdellium. "8 The people went about and gathered it, ground it on millstones or beat it in the mortar, cooked it in pans, and made cakes of it; and its taste was like the taste of pastry prepared with oil. "9 And when the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna fell on it. "10 Then Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, everyone at the door of his tent; and the anger of the Lord was greatly aroused; Moses also was displeased. "11 So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have You afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all these people on me? "12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I beget them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a guardian carries a nursing child,’ to the land which You swore to their fathers? "13 Where am I to get meat to give to all these people? For they weep all over me, saying, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ "14 I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me. "15 If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now—if I have found favor in Your sight—and do not let me see my wretchedness!” "16 So the Lord said to Moses: “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. "17 Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone. "18 Then you shall say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. "19 You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, "20 but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have despised the Lord who is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever come up out of Egypt?” ’ ”"
- Numbers 11:1–20 (NKJV)
There are several things we can learn from this passage about complaining. Let’s examine them together.
What do your complaints say to God? (God is listening!)
“The Lord heard it.” (11:1)
It’s easy to forget that there are always at least two parties involved in everything you say or do. There is you and then there is God. God isn’t only listening to us when we pray. Sometimes we forget that God is watching us and listening to everything that we say or do. In Matthew 12:36 Jesus warned us saying “for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.” The Hebrew writer warns, that the word of God acts as “is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” and that there is no creature hidden from His [God’s – MM] sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Heb. 4:13) and 2 Cor. 5:10 reminds us that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” God is always watching, ever observant of our thoughts, our intentions, our words and our deeds.
So. when God is watching us, what does He think about the things we complain about?
Think about this from God’s perspective for a moment. They are stubborn at times, rebellious complainers. They are sinners. God owes these people nothing…absolutely nothing. But the Lord is a God of compassion and mercy and grace. So, when the people cry out to Him, He responds to their needs and sends Moses who (through God) frees them from slavery and oppression.
The people were cornered by the Egyptians after they fled from Egypt. They were about to die, so God sends a miracle, not only parting the Red Sea, allowing them to cross on dry land, but He sends the walls of water crashing down on the Egyptians and killing them so they can never pose a threat again.
Then they have no water. Again God comes through. He performs another miracle turning the bitter waters of Marah into sweet drinkable water.
In chapter sixteen the people complain they are hungry, so the Lord sends them manna (bread from Heaven). (Pretty generous, don’t you think?)
Not to mention that the Lord Himself is acting as their tour guide, their personal G.P.S., leading them through the wilderness in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.
Now notice what happens next. Do they break out in praise, thanking God for all of these blessings? No. They complain that it’s still not enough. They complain that they don’t have any meat. And this made both Moses and the Lord angry.
We often complain about things (sometimes the most petty, insignificant, mundane things). Have you ever thought about what God thinks when He hears us complaining about them? Of all the things God blesses us with and (to my everlasting shame) so many times all I’ve seen are the things I don’t have!
How many times have we complained about the bills but forget, instead of complaining about the house payment, the insurance payment and the utility bills, we could be homeless? Instead we should train our minds to think to ourselves, “I’m so blessed to have such a nice, warm, safe place to call home.”.
Have you complained when your vehicle broke down or complained about the price of gas but failed to think about how grateful you are that God has blessed you with a car?
And when the kids are on your last nerve or your spouse has done something to bother you, shouldn’t we remember how blessed we are to have them in our lives and how much it would hurt if they weren’t there?
I had a friend who heard me complaining one time and he turned to me and said, “A lot of people who died yesterday think you’re one lucky person!” (You know, I suppose he was right!)
One cure for complaining is to train ourselves to see the positive side. Some people have a talent for seeing the worst angle on every great blessing.
There’s a story that’s told about a farm lady that was habitual grumbler and was constantly complaining about everything. One day her preacher thought he had discovered something that she could be happy about, because her farm crop was the best one for miles around. When he met her, he said with a big smile, “You must be very happy! Everyone is saying how healthy your potatoes look this year!”
She replied, “True they’re pretty good, but what am I going to do when I need some bad ones to feed the pigs?”
Before you complain, gain perspective. Maybe we could broaden our view and consider how things could be worse. This is one I think I definitely need to work on.
These are some slightly modified lines from various poems. One is by Earl Vickers and another Randy McClave, one entitled, Then I Met a Man and another titled, Lucky I Am:
A man cried out for a new pair of shoes
Until he saw the man with no feet.
The man with no feet complained
Until he saw a man with no legs.
I heard a child cry about food that she refused,
Until she met a child that had nothing to eat.
A man complained because he had no house to live in
Then he met a man who had burned all his skin.
One man constantly complained about his wife
Until he spoke with a man whose wife had left him.
Another constantly complained about his life.
Then he went to a funeral of a friend who had lost his.
When you’re down on your luck
and you spent your last buck
When you’ve gone completely mad
and lost everything you had
Look around and you’ll be glad it isn’t worse
Your entire life could be an endless curse
Then I looked in the mirror on the wall
And I met a man who was lucky after all
I read a funny meme that said “If your glass is half full, pour it into another glass and stop complaining.”
The next time you are tempted to complain, think about how God will hear your complaints. Are you more focused on your blessings or sounding as if you are complaining that God hasn’t blessed you enough?
Don’t complain to people who can’t do anything about the problem. Pray about it instead.
“Who will give us meat to eat?” (11:4)
As I try to discourage complaining, I’m not talking about the times when there is something on your mind and you simply need to vent or need to explain a problem so you can get some advice. I’m talking about confronting someone and taking out your frustration against someone who has no power over the situation.
When the people complained about the meat, who were they complaining to? What could Moses (or anyone other than God for that matter) do about the lack of meat?
Keep this in mind. Whether it’s your boss, your spouse or the preacher, sometimes we lash out in frustration at people complaining at them about things that they really don’t have any control over. Before you complain, ask yourself if the person you are going to complain to really has any real power to help you fix the situation.
Complaining often takes place of praying in people’s lives. Why complain to people who have as much inability to do anything about the problem as you do? The people could have prayed to God just as easily as Moses could have and they should have.
Some complaining is Warranted (Num. 11:4 – again)
But let’s look at this same passage again. Israel does have a real problem. They are in the middle of nowhere without meat. Keep in mind there are women and children on a long, hard journey in this scene and (having recently been slaves) I doubt that they are all in the best of health and in the best physical condition. They do need more than bread to hep them make the long journey. What Israel faces is a potential life-threatening situation. If I were in their position I would begin to worry too.
I want to admit that some complaining is warranted. It was perfectly normal to complain that there is a lack of food. But it was the way Israel went about it that was wrong. Instead of complaining. Again, they should have prayed.
On the other hand, not all complaining is appropriate, warranted or even very helpful. We need to pray for wisdom to be able to discern the difference. Before complaining, ask yourself if it is really worth complaining about at all?
The reality is, some things are simply issues that we don’t have a solution for. When I was fourteen years old, I lost my father to a sudden heart attack. Losing him came as a shock to everyone. It was the most traumatic and difficult thing I had ever gone through in my life at the time. Someone gave us a little plastic bookmark. On the bookmark were some simple words called The Serenity Prayer, words written by Reinhold Neibuhr. They read:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Before complaining, seriously consider whether or not it’s even worth complaining about.
We need to realize when complaining does any good and when it doesn’t. When you are tempted to complain, ask yourself:
After I am finished complaining, will my situation improve?
Am I complaining about something I could (or should) take care of myself?
Will my complaining do harm or good to myself and others?
Most importantly, what will God think about my complaining?
It’s not fair to revise history to make your complaint sound more valid.
“We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic…” (11:5)
When the Israelites complain, they look back, as if to reminisce about Egypt as if to say, “We really had things good there until Moses conned us into leaving it all behind. They paint a picture of Egypt as if everything was so much better there, willfully forgetting that they were slaves who were severely overworked and being beaten by their taskmasters.
When people complain, sometimes they have a tendency to become a bit, shall we say, selective about the facts, in an attempt to make their complaint sound valid. They magnify the bad and minimize the good.
One occasion (relatively rare occasions) complaints are valid. But if we have to be selective about the facts, that’s almost a sure sign we don’t have a strong enough case to warrant complaining about anything.
You shouldn’t complain if you were party to the decision.
“Why did we ever come up out of Egypt?” (11:20)
Moses didn’t force any of them to go flee Egypt. They left of their own free will. So they chose to leave but at the first sign of danger they blame it all on Moses again. In fact, they alter history a bit, acting as if they wanted to stay and serve in Egypt but somehow it was Moses that forced them to leave. Now they are complaining that it’s all Moses’ fault that they are miserable and don’t have enough to eat. Was Moses supposed to pack a sack lunch for everyone?
Some people like the sound of a plan until it doesn’t work out and things go south. Then, at the first signs of setbacks or failure they are quick to point out how this is all someone else’s fault. Before we complain, think back. If you said nothing to object when the decision was being made you have no right to be upset when things don’t work out. Once the decision has been made, ownership, win or lose, is shared by everyone involved.
What do your complaints do to others/the Church?
“So, Moses said to the LORD, “Why have You afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I beget them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a guardian carries a nursing child,’ to the land which You swore to their fathers? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all these people? For they weep all over me, saying, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14 I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now—if I have found favor in Your sight—and do not let me see my wretchedness!” (11:11-15)
Before I address how complaining affects others, have you considered how it affects you? Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining:
Shrinks the hippocampus, one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s. It’s an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. So, complaining leads to brain damage. (Quite literally.)
When you complain, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol making you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It even makes the brain more vulnerable to strokes.
But, of course, complaining doesn’t only affect you. When you complain, do you ever consider what affect your complaining has on other people around you?
All of the complaining Moses had to endure, it pushes him to the point of suicide or mental breakdown. Moses complains that he would rather die than to continue putting up with these people.
Complaining isn’t an innocent pastime. Complaining tears churches apart. It breaks up families. It will hold you back in the workplace. Good preachers leave congregations when confronted with constant complaints. Many good men refuse to serve in the capacity as elders because they suspect the people in the congregation will be too difficult to deal with.
Before we complain, contemplate what it could do to others around you, including the morale of the congregation.
Complaining Often Encourages More Complaining (Exodus 11:11-15 – again)
One other thing I want us to notice from this passage is how one complaint leads to another. If you aren’t happy, now there’s a good chance I’m not happy and so continues the cycle.
When the people are complaining about the lack of meat this is the last straw for Moses. He turns to the Lord, complaining how he simply cannot handle their complaining any longer. The picture I imagine in my mind is Moses walking through the camp, simply trying to go about his daily business. Then, one after another, he is constantly hit with a barrage of people complaining again and again about the same things. Finally, at his wits end and frustrated, he turns and complains to God with his own tirade: Why have you done this to me? “Haven’t I favor in Your sight?” (In other words, why are you against me?) What am I supposed to do with these people who cry to me like a bunch of cranky infants? This time they complain all day about the lack of meat and what in the world am I supposed to do about it? I just can’t take this anymore! I’d rather be dead than to have to put up with these people all day long!
It was bad enough when the Israelites turned against Moses. But now Moses turns to God and indicts His character asking Him, “Why have YOU done this to ME? Why are YOU doing this to ME?
When we complain, nobody’s happy. At the very least, it spreads a negative attitude instead of working toward solutions. Complaining often encourages other people to complain themselves.
Someone once said, “spending today complaining about yesterday won’t make tomorrow any better.” Be careful. Complaining often leads to more complaining.
Instead of complaining, use your energy to create a solution to the problem.
“Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. "17 Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone. (11:16-18)
When Moses became overwhelmed, God intervened to offer a solution to the problem. Instead of leaving Moses to handle all of the needs of these complainers by himself, God instructs Moses to round up seventy other men who could help him deal with this burden.
Another thing to consider is whether complaining is your first response or your last resort.. Paul wrote to the Philippians and told them to:
"14 Do all things without complaining and disputing,"
- Philippians 2:14 (NKJV)
Before you complain, is it something you could take care of it yourself? Many times, if something is worth complaining about it is worth taking responsibility of it.
Charles Spurgeon, a well-known English Particular Baptist preacher from the 1800’s once wrote:
“A heavy wagon was being dragged along a country lane by a team of oxen. The axles groaned and creaked terribly, when the oxen turning around thus addressed the wheels, "Hey there, why do you make so much noise? We bear all the labor, and we -- not you -- ought to cry out!" Those complain first in our churches who have the least to do. The gift of grumbling is largely dispensed among those who have no other talents, or who keep what they have wrapped up in a napkin.”
Spurgeon realized that some people enjoy complaining almost as much as they enjoy doing nothing about it.
Before we complain, we ought to consider if we bear some of the responsibility for the problem.
And I hate to even mention this one but it has to be said…
Is it even a valid complaint?
There are a few people in this world who complain. That’s just their personality. Whether there is a problem or not, they perceive there is a problem to complain about and so they will.
A customer was continually bothering the waiter in a restaurant, at first he'd asked that the air conditioning be turned up because he was too hot, then he asked it be turned down cause he was too cold, and so on for about half an hour.
Surprisingly, the waiter was very patient, he walked back and forth and never once got angry. So finally, a second customer asked him why he didn't throw out the pest.
"Oh, that man I don't care." said the waiter with a smile. "We don't even have an air conditioner."
Before complaining, ask yourself if what you are about to complain about is even a real problem. Some things are preferences, some are annoyances, others are things we wish were one way or another (but aren’t) and then there are real problems. If you must, save the complaints for real problems.