I’ve never cared for math and numbers, but I do love formulas. The predictability is irresistible. We add A to B and always get C. But when we try to apply the formula to life, we are often met with disappointment.
We think if we say the right words in the right order, relationships won’t be as frustrating.
We think if we schedule our days in the most effective routine, we will feel accomplished and energized.
We think if we take the right order of vitamins, supplements, and medications, our bodies will be healthy and strong.
Despite our best efforts, sometimes things just don’t go according to formula. What happens when our carefully managed lives suddenly seem out of control? We usually complain, grumble, and whine. And if you’re like me, you might even justify your grumbling because, in all truthfulness, this is a broken, hurting, and dysfunctional world.
One morning when I felt particularly whiny, I heard a sermon on a passage that I have been thinking about ever since: Philippians 2:14-18. I went home and read it in the Amplified Version and felt my convictions confirmed. The Holy Spirit spelled it out to me clearly:
Complaining always has a direction—it’s always directed at God.
“Do everything without murmuring or questioning [the providence of God], so that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and guileless, innocent and uncontaminated, children of God without blemish in the midst of a [morally] crooked and [spiritually] perverted generation, among whom you are seen as bright lights [beacons shining out clearly] in the world [of darkness].” (Philippians 2:14-15, AMP).
Grumbling is the act of talking to yourself or others in a way that shows you do not trust God with your pain and disappointment. God is always the recipient of our complaints. Not only that, but God’s Word also says that complaining contaminates, or corrupts our soul (Ephesians 4:29). It dims our light to a world that is dark.
When we complain we are really questioning the providence, protection, and presence of God. Ultimately, we aren’t complaining at injustice, broken systems, or health problems, we are subtly rebelling against God. We wish our trials away because we see them as obstacles, not opportunities.
Elisabeth Elliot said it best: “Let us beware of rebellion against the Lord. Circumstances are of His choosing, because He wants to bless us, to lead us (even through the wilderness) out of Egypt, that is, out of ourselves. Settle the complaint with God, and it will settle other things. Be offended with God, and you will be offended with everyone who crosses your path.”
I like the parallel that she draws: When we complain about our life after we’ve been freed by Christ, it’s comparable to the Israelites complaining after they were set free from slavery in Egypt. They grumbled to Moses and wished they never left the land of slavery because they didn’t like the food. They missed meat and cucumbers (Numbers 11:5) and figs and pomegranates (Numbers 20:5). In a fit of dramatics, they even said that they would have rather died fat and happy in Egypt (Exodus 16:2-3). They saw the Lord God every day as a pillar of cloud and every night as a pillar of fire to guide them along the way. Yet they weren’t satisfied. They knew of God’s provision and presence but they were blinded by their frustrations.
Don’t we do that in our own lives?
When the Jewish people were rescued from Egypt, God was personally in their midst and provided daily food, direction, and shelter. The same is true for us. We have been redeemed from the darkness and He is constantly in our midst, providing for us and showing us the way.
He reveals His nature and reminds us that we are created in His image. Since He is a God of order, we are naturally drawn to formulas and routines. But because our broken hearts are a result of our broken world, they don’t often fit into formulas that easily remove the pain. Instead, when we seek Him and let Him exchange our grief for joy, we can shine bright in a world of darkness. That’s a mysterious kind of formula that I most enjoy.
Are we willing to rethink worldly formulas and adopt the divine? Rather than expecting ourselves to do everything in a precise order to achieve a predictable outcome, let’s start expecting to discover beauty in the broken and adopt God’s formula: Give my brokenness to God and exchange my pain for His power.
We can trust that no matter what comes into our lives, God will use it for our good and for His purpose (Romans 8:28).
When our pain is not expressed in grumbling to others, but in offering it to God, it becomes a treasure to Him. Then, He invites us to experience a new formula: exchanging complaining for gratitude and grumbling for grace.
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