Many monastic orders had a "no talking" rule. One of the reasons for this was to curb complaining. Stand by a 21st century watercooler or hang out in the parking lot outside an office building and you will quickly learn that complaining is still a problem. Even church parking lots after Sunday service can be a hotbed of complaining. Human beings complain. The Bible is full of complaining people. A monastic gag order doesn't solve the heart of the problem, which (ironically) is our own hearts! So, as scary as it sounds, the best person to complain to is the only one who can change our hearts. In this blog post, I talk about why we need to complain more... to God!
Why we should always bring our complaints to God
My pastor recently preached on Psalm 13, a psalm of lament. Lamentation prayers are helpful to teach us how to navigate difficulties in life; the lamenting psalmist brings his complaint to God and implores the Lord to take action on his behalf. My pastor noted that one-third of the inspired psalms are in a “minor key.” It is astonishing how few of our hymns and prayers are laments. Clearly, God is showing us that we need to lament more! Oddly as it may sound, we are exhorted to learn how to complain to God.
I have been reflecting this week on why we struggle to bring our complaints to God. One reason is that we know that much of our complaints are often rooted in wrong motives! We complain to ourselves or others because we think we deserve better, or we feel undervalued, or we feel some people aren’t doing their share, or we are envious of what others have. We complain to our friends, co-workers, spouses about our friends, co-workers, and spouses to justify ourselves in the eyes of others. We may even complain about chores or extra work to get out of certain responsibilities. Such complaints are rooted in a sinful mindset. Should we bring these complaints to God?
Wrong motives, right prayer
The answer is yes. Even these sorts of unfounded complaints should be brought to God. Here’s why: when we bring to God what’s bothering us, such complaints will inevitably become confessions! We begin to see all of our circumstances in light of God’s will for our lives. Praying to God is a powerful way to change our prayers and change our perspectives. Always, always, always go to God. Don’t reserve time with God for so-called “holy” prayers on “holy” topics. It is Christ who makes our prayers holy (Ephesians 2:18); it is the Spirit who interprets our groaning (Romans 8:26 – 27), and it is the Father who answers our prayers according to his good will and purpose (1 John 5:14). Complain to God and see what God does. He will answer your prayer by first changing you, the complainer.
Complain to God and see what God does. He will answer your prayer by first changing you, the complainer.
Petty problems? No problem
Another reason we don’t complain to God is that we think that the things that bother us are too small or too petty for God. We feel we should be complaining to God about important matters like our unsaved friends, family, or neighbours; we should be complaining about the evil in our world, or the persecuted church, or the lack of glory and praise given to God. Yes, we should be crying out to God for these things! But we need to remember that we are still growing in the faith, still being sanctified, still being made more like Christ day-by-day. We end up spending ten minutes in prayer for “spiritual concerns” and then spend the rest of the day worrying and complaining about the things that bother us. Here’s the key: when we are open to complaining to God about everything on our hearts and minds, we begin to learn to lament for the things that really matter. A child will bring her small problem to her mother, maybe a misplaced toy or mismatched sock. To a child, these seem like weighty matters. To a mom who is juggling 101 things, these concerns are like a “grain of sand.” Still, the mother will gently and kindly respond, assisting where she can but also teaching the little girl to “see the big picture” and not get “worked up” about the small setbacks in life. As the child grows, she learns this lesson and becomes mature. But the way the little girl started to learn this lesson was by complaining to her mom and then listening to how her mom responded. How much more can we learn from the Lord?
To a big God, there are no small problems
Even to adults, what seems big to us, isn’t really big. Take a grain of fine sand, which is 1/8 of a millimetre (0.125 mm). Compare that to a grain of table salt, which is 1/3 of a millimetre (0.333 mm). Salt is twice as big as a fine grain of sand, yet to us, both are small. Sometimes specific problems seem twice as big as other daily woes, and therefore, more “worthy” of bringing to God. In truth, all of our issues are small compared to God. We need to bring all of our complaints to God, big or small! When we bring our problems to him, we begin to learn that our God is much bigger than we ever imagined. All of our difficulties and setbacks are small compared to him! Yet—and here’s the most astonishing part—he is big enough to care about the little things. Our big God is sustaining the universe—planets held in orbit, stars kept ablaze, comets guided through space—as well as watching the lowly sparrow in a beech tree and clothing the blooming lily in a meadow (Matthew 6:25 - 34). He is so big that nothing is too small! Sorting out grains of sand from salt is too much for us, yet God numbers each grain of sand, each star in the universe, and each hair on our head (Ecclesiastes 1:2; Psalm 147:4; Luke 12:7). There is comfort in this glimpse of divine perspective. Our Abba Father has infinitely broad shoulders, so he can handle our biggest or smallest woes.
Remember that God, like a loving parent, also knows how small we are and how big our problems seem to us. Remember that the incarnated Jesus came to earth with a cosmic mission to bring salvation to the world and all human history. And yet, he took time to chat with a woman at the well, to heal a leper, to raise a man from the dead, to turn water into wine, to feed a crowd of hungry listeners. There are no topics of genuine prayer that God deems not worthy of his time. True, we need to continue growing in our understanding of prayer and how to pray. But to believe there are unworthy complaints is an idea that comes from a wrong view of the world, as though God separates things into “worthy” spiritual matters and “unworthy” earthly matters. Complain to God. See how much bigger he is compared to your biggest or smallest problem, your most spiritual or earthly concern.
Remember that God, like a loving parent, also knows how small we are and how big our problems seem to us.
Complain because God cares about you
Peter tells us to cast our cares on God because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). He cares for you! He cares about your struggles with your co-workers, and your debit card that stopped working, and the unexpected brake repair, and the cold snap that wiped out your spring tulips. As you “complain to God,” the Spirit will work in your heart. You will be less preoccupied with these matters because they are cast on his infinitely broad shoulders. You will begin to care more and more about the things that should matter more and more to you. He knows what you need and he knows what is bothering you. Prayer is really about changing us, encouraging us, and awakening us to God and his purposes in our life. Through these sorts of prayer, the reality of Romans 8:28 begins to sink in, and we can say with confidence that "we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
Complain for the Glory of God?
When we are complaining to God, we are truly being honest with him and with our feelings of frustration and despair. In Jeremiah 12:1, the prophet writes, “Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you.” When difficulty comes, we are often at a loss. We don’t understand why things are happening as they are. When we come to God with our frustrations, we are declaring that only he knows the answers, that only he acts righteously, that only he has the power to make things better. In short, our complaints to God bring glory to him. Such is the case for how so many lamentation psalms end. The complaint isn’t necessarily resolved, but God is exulted and the complainer is transformed. David writes,
“But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:5 – 6).
Jeremy W. Johnston
Christian, husband, father, teacher, writer.