Complaining. We can’t stand it when we have to listen to it. Yet, it’s such an easy thing for us to fall into. Many of us grew up in families where we heard it all the time. We complain about the weather, about other people’s driving, about our children’s behavior, politics, religion, our spouses. our work load, and pretty much everything else! But why do we complain so much? How do we stop complaining? Let’s dig into the Bible to answer these questions.
Why do we complain?
If we look at the books of Exodus and Numbers, we read a lot about the children of Israel complaining. At every turn they complain, about the lack of water, the lack of food, they type of food they got when God provided for them, and so on. Every time they had a need, instead of taking it to God or to Moses respectfully, they complained and whined about it. Even to the point where they wanted to kill Moses at times!
To me, this looks like a lack of trust. The Israelites didn’t trust Moses, or God, to provide for their needs. In their distrust, they try to take some control of the situation, but the only thing they could control in the situation was their reaction to it! They were also uncomfortable, from being hungry and wandering in the heat of the desert wilderness. The way they chose to react to all of this was complaining.
In 1 Samuel the Israelites continue to complain. Verses 19-20 say,” But the people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a King over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and go out before us to fight our battles.” They complained to Samuel and rejected God’s plan for their government out of envy for the way other nations did things.
Another person we learn about in the Bible who complained was Job. If you have never read the Book of Job, a quick synopses would be that Job was a man who God had blessed generously. However, in order to tempt Job to curse God, the devil killed all of his children and livestock, and stole all of his wealth. In the anguish and grief over his loses, Job never did curse God, but he did complain. In Job 7:11 he says, “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” Job complained because he was sad, hurting, angry, and bitter over his circumstances.
In Psalm 55, David complains about the evil things others are doing, saying, “I am restless in my complaint, and moan noisily, Because of the voice of the enemy, Because of the oppression of the wicked; For they bring down trouble upon me” He is complaining because of the trouble other people are causing him.
All through the Gospels people complained against Jesus. For example, Luke 5:30 says, “And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, ‘Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?'” In John 6:60-61 the disciples even complained against Him; “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you?”” People complained about Jesus because they thought He was doing something wrong, and because they didn’t understand what He told them.
Do you see yourself in any of these scenarios? Do you complain when a need of yours hasn’t been met yet? Have you lacked trust in the Lord or the authorities over you, and complained about it? Do you complain whenever you are uncomfortable? Have you fallen into complaining abut what you have because of envy of what others have? Are you complaining about things in life that have hurt you and made you bitter? Do you complain about the troubles other people cause, or because they are doing something wrong in your eyes? Have you complained about something you didn’t understand? I admit, I have been guilty of complaining about all of these topics.
If we look at all the reasons for the complaints, they all have something in common. All of the complaints are self-centered. They all have to do with the individual’s comfort, emotions, and opinions. When things aren’t going the way we think they should, we complain. While this is very normal behavior, it is of the flesh and not something God wants His people to do. In Philippians 2:14-15 we are told “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” God wants us to stop complaining so we can represent Him well!
5 Steps to Stop Complaining
One step we can take to stop complaining is to pray. We need to pray to confess this sin to God and thank Jesus for cleansing us of that sin. When we pray we can ask God to identify why we complain, and ask His help to change us. We should also ask the Spirit to bring it to our attention when we start to complain, and teach us to speak differently about the things that bother us.
Another reason its important to take our complaints and worries to God is because most times He is the only one who can do anything about it! We can’t change the fact that someone hurt us. However, we can give our hurt to God and allow Him to heal us, and pray that He works in their heart so they don’t do it again. We cannot always meet our own needs and provide some things for ourselves, but God can. If we don’t agree with something going on in our church, complaining about it will not solve the problem. Praying for wisdom on how to address it with those in authority, and praying for God’s wisdom and direction for them, can.
Further, the people we’ve been complaining to can’t help us with these things either! All they can do is worry and complain with us, which tends to make things worse rather than better. Complaining also steals our peace and rials up discontentment. Prayer counteracts that. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
2. Renew Your Mind
Complaining can often come from person’s mindset. We may have grown up with it and therefore it’s ingrained in us. We see it all over the news, on social media, and in nearly every interaction we have in this world. The second step to changing it is by renewing our minds. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
3. Shift Your Focus
Like I mentioned earlier, complaining comes from a place of self-centeredness. It says “I don’t like this, and I am going to tell you all about it.” When we focus on ourselves and what we don’t have, or what we don’t prefer, or how someone hurt our feelings, or how we don’t understand something, complaints flow out of us like a river.
However, when we shift our focus, we also change what things flow out of us. If we focus on God, thinking about who He is and the great things He’s doing, thankfulness, worship and encouragement will flow out of us instead.
The Bible also tells us to shift our focus in Philippians 4:8, saying, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Don’t focus on the unjust or the ugly or the bad reports of the world, but shift to keep your thinking on the noble, pure, virtuous things.
Now, this isn’t to say we should stick our heads in the sand and ignore the problems we see. God has also called us to be salt and light, to preach the good news, and to take care of people. To do those things effectively and without complaining we need to have our mind focused on the good and positive.
4. Count Your Blessings
When we think about what we don’t have or the abilities we may be lacking, we quickly fall into complaining. We may say things like “I wish we could go on vacation every summer like they do.” Or maybe, “It’s not fair that I have this illness. I want to be able to do all the things they can.” We may even say, “Why was she blessed with such a beautiful voice? She’s only using it for her own gain! If I had a voice like that I would use it for God’s glory.” When we think that way and complain, however, we discount all the blessings we do have. When need to remember what the Lord has done for us and all the blessings we’ve received.
Counting our blessings will cause us to stop complaining and be thankful. there are many ways to do this. We may make a list of all the blessings we can think of. We might journal about one thing each day we are thankful for. Writing “What are you thankful for?” on the bathroom mirror gives you the reminder every time you’re there. Or a list in a memo pad on your phone makes it easy to remind yourself of and keep track of your blessings everywhere you go.
When we lack empathy for others, we may find ourselves complaining about them. We may complain about our server at the restaurant for being too slow. But stop and think that maybe the restaurant is short staffed so they have more tables than usual. Maybe they have a medical issue that causes them to be slow, but they have to work to provide for their family. This is just one example of many I could include. If we try to see things from other people’s perspective we may be more understanding and less apt to complain. After all, if the roles were switched, we would hope to be treated with empathy and understanding rather than criticism and complaining.
What do you tend to find yourself complaining about? Which of these steps would be the most effective to help you? Let’s talk about it in the comments!