I've written on this topic before, though it's been 11 years (cf. 04/01/05). In that lesson I stressed the command of Philippians 2:14 - "Do all things without complaining and disputing." The Lord doesn't want us to be complainers! We also spent some time noting the pitiful record of the Israelites on this matter. They were so richly blessed with many things for which to be thankful. And yet when problems arose their immediate reaction was to murmur (cf. Num. 14:22).
It is easy for us to shake our heads disapprovingly at the Israelites. The faith of those complaining Israelites was small, and they were a rather selfish bunch. Sadly, it sounds all too familiar. Let's first consider five common reasons why people (even Christians) complain and then move on to some practical solutions.
1. We grumble when we are short-sighted.
When we view circumstances with a temporal view only, murmuring is likely to result. Isn't that what the Israelites did? They only thought about what was right in front of them (hunger and thirst, or the food they enjoyed in their past).They didn't consider all their options. They chose to grumble instead of humbly approach God with a prayer of petition. They didn't even entertain the possibility that God was trying to teach them something through their circumstances. Let's face it, don't we often react immaturely before we have stepped back, focused on the big picture, and looked at all the options (cf. Heb. 12:1,2)?
2. We grumble when we feel treated unfairly.
When we feel we are not getting what we deserve or our rights are being infringed in some way, complaining often follows. For some reason the Israelites seemed to feel that God (and Moses) owed them. They seemed to feel that they deserved better than what they had received. Often we feel that people should drop everything so they can attend to our needs. We feel that we deserve more respect, more support, and more consideration than we are getting. But we must ask, why do we feel this way? Who says that we deserve these things? We are not more special than others even if we have deluded ourselves into thinking we are. Many in the world suffer more than we do and are blessed materially far less than we are. We have nothing to complain about (cf. Phil. 4:10-13).
3. We grumble when our faith is weak.
Faith develops and is strengthened when we embrace the word of the Lord and trust it as truth (cf. Rom. 10:17). The Israelites were so feeble in their faith, although they had every reason to trust God's word. He had made promises to them, and He had never let them down. He had blessed them repeatedly with miracles and had graciously provided their needs. But they were fickle and so are we. We don't remember all the blessings God pours out upon us and we forget all the ways He has delivered us from trials in the past. We lack faith in Him and whether He really is in control or not. We don't strengthen ourselves in His word as we should and consequently end up grumbling instead of trusting.
4. We grumble when we are lazy.
Some things in life take hard work. People who are lazy would rather grumble than dig in and invest the necessary time, effort, and sweat for success. We don't want to work hard at relationships; it's easier to complain. We don't want to be accountable to authority; so, instead we complain. We don't want to adjust our desires; maybe we can get our way if we complain. Laziness is certainly a common reason for murmuring.
5. We grumble when our view of God is insufficient.
Perhaps we think God needs to be convinced to meet our needs, or we think He is naturally stingy or reluctant to bless. Some think that God is not all-powerful or all-knowing. They believe He can't or won't do anything to help us. They feel alone and helpless and therefore complain. God is great! He will take care of His faithful children (cf. Matt. 6:33; Heb. 13:5,6).
In our next lesson, we will begin considering some practical suggestions for overcoming grumbling.