When Complaining is Okay

I’m still studying the Book of Exodus and am so grateful for how God’s word is affecting my heart. I’m encouraged, comforted, convicted, inspired…and I’m not even halfway through this epic book full of drama, romance, war, miracles and instruction. Who says the Bible is boring?

One thing I’ve noticed is how often the Israelites complained to or about Moses rather than taking their concerns to God. This is one of the numerous ways I’m seeing my own story on the pages of this ancient book.

As a younger Christian, I used to wonder how in the world people in the Bible could respond to situations the way they did. For example, how could the people who saw the Red Sea open up — and stay open long enough for 2 million people to cross over — so soon thereafter start complaining and accusing Moses of wanting to kill them?

Now I’m much quicker to see myself in the struggles of those who have gone before me.

When is complaining okay?

King David complained. He wondered why the wicked prospered seemingly more than the righteous; felt alone and abandoned by his closest friends; was hunted down by mean-spirited persecutors; suffered loneliness; and skirted death on numerous occasions.

There’s something interesting, though, about David’s complaints. They were directed toward God, not men.

“With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him” (Psalm 142:1-2).

Complain to God??? What about “do all things without grumbling and complaining?” Isn’t complaining just wrong…period? And no one should complain to God of all people — much less admit it!  “Yeah, this morning I had a great devotional time just pouring out complaints about all my troubles to God.” I don’t know about you but in the past I would have thought someone like this needs some toughening up. And I certainly wouldn’t admit it openly if I was that person!

The truth is we all complain; it’s just a question of who is within hearing distance. What is different about David’s complaints and the “no complaining” directives in the scripture?

“Hurling a barrage of complaints at Moses exemplified the natural tendency to assume the worst and to lash out at the nearest human target,” says my new favorite commentary.

In recent years I’ve learned that the Bible really doesn’t condemn complaining to God. When I do this, sometimes the light goes on to self-pitying attitudes about how I’ve been wronged, disappointed or hurt. Other times I recognize that anger or an attitude of entitlement (for encouragement, gratitude, praise, affection, or numerous other desires) is slithering out of my sinful heart. But I always receive the tender comfort of One who knows what it’s like to suffer.

David’s complaints weren’t the self-centered accusations “hurled” at people to whine and grumble about things not going his way. Rather, his complaints were the heartfelt cries of a needy, broken man who knew Who was best able to bring perspective, help, hope and change. David’s honest pleas for help are not the rants of an embittered, entitlement-driven man but of a vulnerable, honest struggler who knew where to turn for help.

Who are you complaining to? There’s Someone waiting to listen, adjust whatever is needed in your perspective, comfort and bring you hope, too. The truth is people hurt us. Circumstances crowd out our joy. Bad news comes. Illness happens. Children and spouses and friends mess up. And we bring our weakness and sins to the mix as well.

Like David, let’s complain to the right Person. Tell Him all our troubles. Pour out our hearts to Him. Open up our struggles and share with Him what He already knows and sees.  The fruit can be sweet. Conviction of sin. Promised grace to the humble. Hope, not necessarily for a change of circumstances but for a changed heart. Peace in the midst of the storm.

No wonder David reserved his complaints for his God. Reserving our complaints for Him governs our whining and positions us for real help from a powerful and eager Father.

2 thoughts on “When Complaining is Okay

  1. Soooo timely for me. I’ve complained all day about my current circumstances and sought to make everyone aware of how challenging my day has been. But I’ve been complaining to the wrong person. Thank you for posting this! (btw, exodus is one of my very favorite books – I could curl up with it on a rainy day! 🙂

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