Triumphing Over The Complaining Spirit
Have you no words? Ah! Think again,
Words flow apace when you complain,
And fill your fellow-creature’s ear
With the sad tale of all your care.
Were half the breath thus vainly spent
To heaven in supplication sent,
Your cheerful song would oftener be,
Hear what the Lord has done for me!
William Cowper, 1731-1800
We all are familiar with complaints. People complain about foul weather, poor health, and lack of sufficient funds. They cry about their rights being violated, the mistakes of their civil authorities, and the poor performance of their cars. The list of people’s complaints is practically limitless. We rightly tire of hearing others’ complaints, unless they are ones we share, then we join in the grumbling and criticizing. It perhaps would be easy for us to conclude, notwithstanding our own voices being frequently added to the critical cries, that all complaining is wrong. However, as the true character of a man is manifested by his loves, so it also reveals itself through his complaints. There is such a thing as godly and spiritual complaining.
The natural man assumes that his problems, pains, and frustrations arise from his adverse circumstances. Therefore, he gripes about all sorts of things in his environment. He lacks contentment with what he has and hungers and thirsts for all sorts of things he does not have. His complaints ultimately arise against the just and holy providence of the Lord. He finds fault with the people and the physical, economic, and social factors in his life. His assumption is that if he simply had enough money, the admiration of other people, better health, and finer possessions, then he would be happy. In this, he deludes himself, for the truth is that his seemingly hard circumstances do not constitute his major problem. The sinner, in fact, is his own worst enemy-far worse than all the adversity of his life raised by manifold degrees. Therefore, the complaints of the natural man are not only misguided, but are sinful and compound his misery as well as his guilt before God.
The spiritual man, while he has learned the secret of being content in all circumstances (Phil. 4:11), has his own set of complaints. However, whereas the natural man complains of his situation, the spiritual man complains of himself. The natural man complains of his lack of money, while the spiritual man complains of his lack of spiritual maturity. The sinner groans over such things as his short supply of possessions, while the saint groans over such things as the residual corruptions that remain in him, his cold heart, and his weak piety.
In this connection, we do well to consider some of the complaints of the Apostle Paul. He who confesses rightly that the Law of God is holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12), and joyfully concurs with the Law of God (Rom. 7:22), cries out with respect to himself: O wretched man that I am! (Rom 7:24). Even when Paul is in adverse circumstances, he does not call upon those receiving his letter to pray for his circumstantial relief, but rather to pray for the Lord to overrule his personal weaknesses. For example, Paul was in prison when he wrote to the Ephesians. In his letter to them he asks for their prayers. What he asks from them is that they pray for his bold declaration of the gospel (Eph. 6:19,20). What he does not ask is that they pray for his personal relief or freedom.
At the root of godly complaining is the working of God’s Holy Sprit within the heart of the believer. The Spirit prompts within us a sorrowing groaning over our lack of complete conformity to our Redeemer’s likeness (Rom. 8:23). The Holy Spirit of God does not focus our complaints on things outside of ourselves. In fact, the Spirit inspires within us a contentment with, or at least a resignation to, all circumstances, for no circumstance has power to make us sin, while, by the Lord’s ordaining, all can be orchestrated to work for our good (Rom. 8:28; Phil. 4:11-13). The only thing the Spirit prompts us to lament is the sin in ourselves and the evidences and consequences of that sin within us and others.
Therefore, while the wicked deplore their sufferings, we should deplore our sins. There is a blessing in such holy complaining, as our Lord tells us when He says that those who mourn over their sins will be blessedly comforted (Mt. 5:4). Instead of our aiming our prayers toward the changing of our circumstances to our liking, let us pray that the Lord would keep us out of temptation and sin, while delivering us from all evil (Mt. 6:13). If we are to hunger and thirst for what we do not have in abundance, let us not hunger and hasten to possess the trinkets of this world that is passing away, but let us hunger for and pursue that holiness without which no man will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia
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