Friday, January 6, 2017

Turning the Tables on Complaining

God’s Book distinguishes between a complaint and complaining. One, handled rightly, helps our relationship with God, and the other hinders it no matter how it is handled. I would like to share how to encourage us in bringing our complaints to God, while turning the tables on our complaining.

A complaint is some kind of injustice we need to present to God for help. It is a real issue of someone doing us wrong. God never tells his children to deny such things.

For example, the psalm-writers lead the way in showing how to bring our complaints before God. They testify about how, “Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.”[1] Their examples is, “I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.”[2] And they express this to God in prayer like this, “Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.”[3]

All that to say that it helps our relationship with God when we bring our complaints before him like little children who need our Father to help us through the injustices of life. It also helps our relationships with other believers when we do this together.[4]

On the other hand, complaining is the bad habit of constantly griping about how bad our lives are. Often it is the result of not bringing our complaints to God when the injustices happen so we spend a great part of our lives complaining about how poorly we are doing in life.

Complaining about everything does not improve our relationship with God since the goal is not to surrender to God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will for however he chooses to work everything in our lives for good.[5] Instead, the complaining becomes a drain on relationships as nothing the church does is ever good enough to make the complainers feel better.

Today’s lesson on turning the tables on complaining includes the testimony of two men who had legitimate complaints of injustice against them, but they also had such a high view of God working everything for good that they did not waste their lives complaining about how poorly they were treated.

The apostle Paul wrote the churches to encourage them about how to view his imprisonment for preaching the gospel. It was obviously an injustice, but he wanted them to have a kingdom-centered view of such things. Amongst a number of other expressions, he stated this:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.[6]

The simple point is that, since Paul’s primary interest was the “advance of the gospel”, he didn’t want the churches complaining about what was going on with him. Instead, he wanted to introduce them to his new audience. His imprisonment gave him the opportunity to share the gospel with “the whole imperial guard” because they took turns guarding him. While, technically, he was the prisoner, the guards were really his captive audience because they had to listen to him preaching the gospel throughout their whole shift!

At the same time, there were “all the rest”, likely referring to other prisoners who also heard the gospel from Paul because they were captive to his vicinity, and heard the good news whether they wanted to or not.

Paul’s message to the church was that they were to see his trouble, his legitimate complaint of injustice, as one more opportunity for the gospel to advance. When we follow this example, and look at our problems and injustices in life as opportunities to make Jesus known to distinctive audiences of people, we discover that we have nothing to complain about. We still present our complaints to God for help, but we don’t tear down our churches by complaining about all the negative things we perceive in our lives.[7]

Another example is that of Joseph.[8] This young man was great grandson to Abraham, grandson to Isaac, and second youngest son of Jacob. The short story version of his life was that he was hated by his brothers because he was their father’s favorite, he was sold into slavery by his brothers, he was falsely accused of sexual misconduct, he was unjustly imprisoned, and he was forgotten by a fellow prisoner who had been exonerated.

However, at the end of the story, after God used all his misadventures to position him as Prime Minister of Egypt, Joseph’s testimony to his brothers about what they had done was not to berate them with his complaints against their unjust behavior. Rather, he presented this conclusion:

  “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.[9]

The only explanation for this is that Joseph’s view of God’s sovereign goodness was greater than his experience of injustice from so many people. Yes, he did have the legitimate complaint that his brothers meant evil against him. It’s just that he had something far more, what God meant to do with his situation.

When we truly appreciate “that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”,[10] it helps us see even the worst of situations as something God is working for good. Joseph saw how thousands of people were saved from a severe famine, including his own family, because God used his unjust experiences to position him for God-led leadership during that time. Paul saw how his unfair treatment by his opponents positioned him for the distinctive ministry of sharing the gospel with the whole imperial guard along with his fellow prisoners.

The question is, do we have such a high view of God’s sovereign goodness that we are too busy appreciating the people who are presently in our lives due to whatever negative circumstances we have experienced to waste time complaining about how hard done by we feel? We can still express our complaints to God, confessing whatever we need of him for what we are going through. But then we can look at whoever is in our lives now, even as a result of painful circumstances, and ask God how we can join him in his work in those people for the advance of the gospel. It’s been done before, and we’re still blessed to hear about it to this day. Perhaps someone needs the blessing that would come if we followed these examples.

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Psalm 55:17
[2] Psalm 142:2
[3] Psalm 64:1
[4] I mean by this that, when believers bring their legitimate complaints of wrong-doing and injustice from others, it builds the church up to present these things to God together in prayer, promoting a corporate sense of trust in our heavenly Father as the one person who can lead us through such things, heal the injuries and wounds that have occurred, and work every form of trauma, hurt, disappointment and rejection for good. When people need that feeling of, “I’m really glad I got that off my chest!” the person they need to talk to first and foremost is God.
[5] Romans 8:28; 12:2
[6] Philippians 1:12-13
[7] Remember, we can and should present all our legitimate complaints to God, but still in the mindset of how he works all things together for good, and we simply need his help with whatever we are going through at the moment.
[8] Joseph’s story is told in Genesis 37-50
[9] Genesis 50:20-21
[10] Romans 8:28

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