No Perfect Families…Or Churches

Our large family recent went on a vacation together; nearly 30 of us in the same house for a week.  It was loads of fun.  But there were also challenges.

Our church family goes through fun and hard times together, too.  Just like yours.

You can read about my experience and how God used our vacation to point me to some real life stuff in our church here.

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.

My Heart…The Sponge

Earlier this week I found out that something we need is going to cost more than we thought. I’m a planner (well, about some things). So I figured out that we would have enough money to take care of that need, as well as provide something fun for someone else. One thing is a need: the other is a “Granma wants to do this.”

Have you ever noticed that using money for needs isn’t nearly as enjoyable as writing a check for something “extra?”  Finding out the need was more costly than I anticipated exposed something in my heart.  Years ago I heard a sponge-squeezing analogy. When you squeeze a sponge, whatever was in the sponge comes out. Whether it was dirty dishwater or good-smelling cleaning solution, what comes out of the sponge was whatever was already in it. Like sponges, our hearts get squeezed by trials…or unexpected financial news…and whatever is already in there is what comes out.

What came out of my heart was ugly. While I kept it all to myself (until now…smile) grumbles and complaints started forming in my mind.

“Why is this going to cost so much?” I whined to myself. “This means I won’t be able to do that other thing I wanted…. And the reason why we have to spend this money is due to the fault of someone else anyway! If only that hadn’t happened. Oh, Lord. Why must we have to continue to deal with this? Oh, and how am I gonna tell my granddaughter I won’t be able to do that thing for her after all? I don’t like this, Lord. Hmmmph.”

This morning I was reading Exodus 17-18. The people are yet again complaining to Moses. Hey, I can understand. They were in the desert without water! I would have been right there with them, “grumbling against Moses” and probably joining in on those accusing him of bringing them into the desert to die.

Once again, Moses cries out to God — the true source of their help. God provides a creative solution by telling Moses to strike a rock and, out of it, water flowed. God can take any situation and supernaturally provide for those He loves. Amazing.

Soon after, Moses’ father-in-law, whom he hasn’t seen since he left to go back to Egypt, comes to bring Moses’ wife and sons to join him. (So not only had he walked through some serious trials, he had also been without his family. There’s another lesson there for we wives about how the Lord sometimes has to take our husbands through difficulties without us…)

What struck me this morning was this:  Moses was in the same desert experiencing the same thirst as the people. Yet his perspective was different. When he sits down to tell his father-in-law the story of all that happened in Egypt and following, Moses is honest about “all the hardships (18:8) but also about “how the Lord had delivered them.”

The outcome of their conversation was that Jethro “rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel” (vs 9).  And even more stunning is his declaration in verse 11: “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods.” The way Moses communicated about everything resulted in Jethro praising God!

This morning I’m asking myself some hard but necessary questions about how I communicate when I’m going through challenges. The fact is, sometimes life is hard and disappointing. Things end up costing more than we thought. People break our heart. Family members are insensitive or mean. Friends jump to wrong conclusions about us. Children make sinful choices. We get taken advantage of and don’t get the thanks we deserve. We have to say goodbye when we want to stay together.

Here’s what is stirring in my heart today:

  • When I’m going through something hard, does my story focus on the the details of my struggle or on God’s help and nearness?
  • When people walk away from interactions with me about hard stuff, are they more aware of God’s faithfulness or my struggle?
  • Does how I walk through trials cause people to rejoice in how I’m crying out to Him for help? Or do they feel a mild sense of obligation to become my helpers?

Those of you who visit here often know I’m all about being open about the hardships that come from living in a fallen world with fellow sinners. And I’m also a strong advocate of living in Christian community where believers walk out the “one anothers” of scripture together.

But honesty and community can’t be an excuse for complaining and expecting people to be our Provider.

I’m experiencing the tender conviction of the Holy Spirit over my grumbling about money. As I type I’m smiling about how God is using a man long dead to bring hope and comfort through his example. Later in the book of Exodus I’ll read about how his angry rebellion against God cost him dearly. Yes, he’s like me. One day trusting and God-centered, and the next day a self-sufficent, broken failure.

Today I’m asking for God’s forgiveness for my whining and complaining. I want my trials to bring hope to others as I speak of God’s faithfulness, power and help. The honest cries of a needy or hurting believer are needed: but we can’t stop there. God is always near. Always faithful. And always able to bring water from the jagged, craggy, dry rocks in our lives.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Ps 19:14)