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WPC Pulse - April 2015

Grumbling in My Wilderness
by Tiffany Owens, MD

While studying the life of Moses this year in a small group Bible study, I have savored learning about Moses—his triumphs, his failures, his leadership skills, his intimate relationship with Yahweh and how he foreshadows the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. I studied expectantly these wonderful truths, yet I somehow felt distant from the Israelites and their plight. It was as if I thought I am too different as a Gentile believer, redeemed by grace, and on this side of the cross to truly identify with the Jewish people, freed from a life of slavery and traveling to the promised land.

As I studied more, however, I realized that the Israelites and I have several similar less-than-desirable characteristics in common such as periodic disobedience, failure to trust God at His word and frequently sinning by complaining.

I am not entirely sure why I never reflected much on complaining as a potentially sinful act. Maybe it is because complaining is so ubiquitous in our culture. I have given my sin many alternative titles: “blowing off steam,” “critical appraisal,” “problem solving” and so forth. Certainly, there are appropriate times for re-evaluation and improvement in processes; however, I’m thinking more of the day-to-day mundane complaints I express and allow my mind to dwell on: Patient X is always late for appointments. Patient Z always has too many questions. Why do I have to see more people on Friday afternoon? My husband annoyed me because... My kids are driving me crazy... I’m just not getting “filled up” at that worship service...

The Israelites complained about daily life details too: the food (even though manna miraculously appeared from heaven), the water (even though God continually provided water in the driest deserts) and their previous lives in Egypt (even though they were treated inhumanely as slaves there).

When it comes down to it, the sin of complaint is sinful because my complaints indirectly say that I don’t trust God enough to know what He is doing. My complaints direct my focus on my wants, not my needs, and away from the provision God has already made. Further, my complaints serve my selfish ambition, rather than my efforts to deny myself and follow Christ, and distract me from pursuing God’s calling, leading and direction in service.

I am trying (slowly, and painfully, at times) to rethink my complaints before I allow my mind to process the poisonous thoughts repeatedly and before I allow my mouth to articulate my discontent. Here is my process:

  • First, I’m trying not to immediately voice my complaint to my nearest friend or co-worker. Discussing the complaint with God first often sorts through the problem quite rapidly.
  • If I’m still wrestling with an issue, I then ask, “How does my complaint line up with God’s Word?” Frequently, with wisdom provided by the Holy Spirit, the shallowness of my complaint is exposed.
  • Lastly, I ask God to help me redirect my thoughts to magnify the focus on Him and His blessings rather than on my selfishness. Philippians 4:8 provides guidance on which to reflect: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (NIV 2011). Thinking about “such things” is truly rejuvenating, while a complaining spirit wearies my soul.

Just as He was so many years ago for the Israelites, God remains faithful and merciful to each of us today. He continues to welcome me, even when I fail to fully trust Him. He is big enough, is powerful enough and, thankfully, cares enough to help me sort through the mundane complaints and change my heart toward a perspective of praise.

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