Nicole Pajer, a freelance columnist for Rolling Stone and The New York Times, discovered something interesting about complaining. After deciding to participate in what she called a “30-days of No Complaining Challenge,” her entire perspective on her circumstances changed. She realized much of what she complained about were “what-if” situations that had not happened yet. She also found that she was able to be more present generally in life and specifically with others, more grateful for what she did have, and overall she experienced more joy in her life.
As I mentioned this past weekend in my message “Shared Joy,” I’d like to take Pajer’s concept of the “30-days of no complaining” and connect it to spiritual growth in light of Philippians 2:14-15, which says:
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’
Following on his discussion of living as citizens of a new kingdom in a manner worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27), and after highlighting Jesus as the example of selfless love and humility, Paul the Apostle calls the Philippian believers to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you” (2:12-13). Unexpectedly, Paul’s chief application of this is toward our words and speech. Specifically, he calls believers to let go of grumbling and arguing so that joyful witness to Christ might rise up. This is a veiled reference to the failure of Israel to live as a blessing to the nations, instead to devolving into grumbling after their deliverance in the Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea.
For those of us who follow Jesus, this exhortation from Paul is both challenging and helpful. Paul is basically saying to us: do not let anything in or from your mouths hinder your witness. He is saying to the early church, and through them to us: learn from Israel’s failure and respond to God’s grace from your hearts, in your lives, and with your mouths. Yet how challenging that is!
Now, there is a difference between complaining and pointing out something that is wrong. There is a right and good place to say hard things in a way that contributes to the good in ourselves and others. One example is that famous proverb, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Grumbling and complaining, however, is rooted in a disposition of discontent that leads to murmuring or muttering in every direction. In a sense, grumbling and complaining are expressions of how much we feel out of control in life or our circumstances. Likewise, arguing, at least in the sense that Paul is addressing here in Philippians 2:14, is an attempt to assert control when we feel out of control. Grumbling, complaining, and arguing are contagious in the worst ways possible.
Yet, a basic truth of life that we all must realize is that we are truly out of control in life. Although we do have domains of responsibility, all of our spheres of control are ultimately contingent or delegated to us. As those who know God through Christ, the freeing truth is that we are out of control yet we are held by the only One who is ultimately in control. This realization can move us from complaining to rejoicing, from grumbling to gratitude.
So, I want to invite you to join me in a “30-Days of No Complaining Challenge.” Think of it as a form of fasting within your speech. Maybe you want to choose with me to take the next thirty days to:
- turn away from ourselves and our grumbling, complaining and arguing
- turn toward God in prayer, rejoicing, and gratitude
- learn from our failures in our words about our tendencies to grumbling and complaining
- surrender to God in new ways, particularly in our speech, in order to reflect Him more truly
Jesus said, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). Grumbling and arguing arise from a disordered heart. Join me in allowing God to do a new thing in our lives that begins in our hearts and minds and overflows into our lives and mouths, so that we might “shine like the stars” in our witness to Him and He might get the most glory out of us.