Complaining & the Way of Jesus

I was speaking with a friend who serves at another church recently about ministry life, and how things have changed in the last few years. And he told me something that gave me pause. He said “You know, I’ve found that post 2020, people at church complain a lot more about a lot more stuff.” He continued to list examples of complaints, large and small, from God’s people over the last year or so. “I don’t like this” and “why did we do ____ this way when we could have done it this way”. 

I thought, “Well that’s not what I’ve experienced with my church people.” But there are other ways to complain than complaining to a staff member at a church about church things. And it’s a pattern that has grown radically with the rise of social media. I cannot scroll Facebook or twitter without reading posts or comments bullet-pointing someone’s negative perspective on some issue, be it about politics, sports, or society. Complaining has become western society’s favorite pastime. Move over baseball! You’ve been upstaged.

Now this isn’t something Christians alone struggle with. Negativity and the reproduction of negativity is the moving current of our society, and the Church is rowing down the river with everyone else. A preacher said once that when you see yourself doing what the world is doing, you know you’ve got something backwards. It reminds me of Romans 12:2, and I love how the NIV bible translates the text. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” 

Negativity and the reproduction of negativity is the moving current of our society, and the Church is rowing down the river with everyone else.

Our world has patterns, habits, leanings. It’s not an intelligent creature, but a mob. The mob has a way of looking around and declaring realities that suit it best at the time. Truths and lies change and twist with each decade or two. So the apostle Paul describes worshiping God in this way: sacrificing your perceived reality and that of the world around you, and allowing your way of living to be molded after the way of Jesus. 

The world complains. And so do we. But why do we do it? Why is it so easy to be negative, to complain about things we cannot change?   

I read this quote by Psychologist William Berry, “when you judge the decisions of the government as ridiculous, you feel smarter (or more honest) than those creating policy. Humans judge naturally. Evolutionary theory suggests we needed to make quick decisions about whether others were with us or against us. As such…people are always judging others to evaluate where these others stand relative to them… Much complaining is about others, and likely falls into the category of ego reinforcement. Even given its negative motivation, it feels good and therefore perseveres.”

According to Berry, we complain about others because it makes us feel smarter. Even if we’re complaining about a process, a decision, a circumstance, it usually leads back to a person or group of people. So we stroke our ego by essentially talking about how we would do it differently. When we’re done talking about it to our friends, family, and strangers, it makes us feel more superior, or we receive attention for it. And, even though our discussion is not about this subject, the reproduction of negativity often leads to arguments. We argue because it feels good to complain, and we don’t want that taken away from us. Then like minded people come to our aid, and the habit is fed, and thus continues. But the habit of complaining is clearly counter to the Christian ethics we see modeled in the Bible.

Christians in the Bible are marked more than anything by hope and love. Both of those run counter to a habit of complaining and arguing. When we complain, we show an absence of hope. We show a narrow view of life, and lose track of the reality of Heaven and future. When we argue about earthly things, we demonstrate our need to be better than our fellow man. We show disregard for larger commonalities as we focus on petty differences. Piece by piece, every pointless argument on social media degrades our ability to empathize and see God’s people as He sees them. Every face-to-face interaction where we tear down someone’s decision causes a rift between teammates. 

When we complain, we show an absence of hope.

We’re teammates in the fight, you and I. And I would argue we’re a type of teammate with anyone and everyone on this earth. Satan is our enemy, not the other political party. Your flesh is what opposes God’s spirit in you, not your Facebook friend who believes differently than you. The corrupt norms of the world (society/culture) are against God’s values, but that stranger who has a Vote No sign in their yard is your neighbor and a creation of the Most High. God help me when I condemn those only He has the right to condemn! And God help me when I complain just to make myself feel better instead of turning to Him for that. 

Christian, you are called to be the salt of the earth… not acid. Too often we continue to corrode situations instead of bringing redemption to them. 

This brings us into part two of our discussion: Words matter. You can’t read the Bible and miss the importance of what you say. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me? There may have never been a more untrue rhyme… Words have power! (Proverbs 18:21 – death and life are in the power of the tongue) The ability to curse or to bless… to bring healing or further destruction… to mend or to break… to lead the lost to life or point them closer to death. And I think some of us would hate to hear what Jesus has to say about this (Matthew 12). “For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. A good person produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil person produces evil things from his storeroom of evil… For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Or take Ephesians 4:29 into account, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Words matter. 

Instead of complaining about things we cannot change, Christians should be marked by hope. We should be the most hopeful, positive people on earth! 

Those of you who constantly rail against government and economy, this and that, things you’re impacted by but far from… Aren’t you tired? Was Jesus caught up in these things? Who’s our model, our baseline? It’s the Son of Man, and he couldn’t care less about the state of the government. We have no record of the Messiah condemning Rome for oppressing Israel. Have you noticed this? The only truly political thing He ever said was about taxes, and it was a side-step. “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”. Our Messiah could not have cared less about the political goings on of the day. Why? Because nations come and nations go. God’s kingdom is a world kingdom, not a Peruvian kingdom, an Iranian kingdom, or an American kingdom. 

How much have you fixed by constantly dwelling on it? How much ease of life have you been granted by waking up and religiously reading/watching/listening to the news spin of your choice? My guess is the only affect is has is stirring up hopelessness, frustration, and anger in your own heart, and that those feelings are filling up your attention and spilling out into your interactions with others.

Have you ever met a strong believer of another country, specifically third world countries or countries with harder circumstances than most? Don’t they have a lot to complain about when it comes to their government, their economy, their way of life? But I’ve found those are generally some of the most positive people I’ve ever met. That’s how WE should be! We have a hope that reaches even beyond death! There’s not an issue that can come up that can come close to threatening the hope and joy we have in Jesus. Whole parts of the Bible were written so that Christians would stand confidently in times of trouble with their hope firmly set on the Lord’s victory. And in the context of those people, most of them were facing ACTUAL PERSECUTION. We’re just unhappy with this or that, and negativity and complaints spew out of us like a fountain. We keep trying to fix America. But we’re not citizens of America; We’re citizens of Heaven! We don’t belong here. Their problems aren’t our problems. If you take issue with that, look at Jesus. 

Side note: Now don’t misunderstand me to be saying, “Don’t bother voting. Don’t bother writing letters to your government representatives, etc.” We should certainly do our part to make the world around us better. But gauge your habits. Are you talking about problems and personally finding solutions? Or are you merely complaining about something you will never actually fix? 

In the West, it’s easy for us to fall into the earthly citizenship mindset. There’s no real persecution here. From time to time you may get your toes stepped on, and while that’s uncomfortable, it’s not persecution. So we blend into secular society because we can freely enjoy the benefits of living comfortably within the system. Pretty soon, we’re lulled into sleep with those comforts. But there are believers in darker parts of the world (and at times in history) who claim heavenly citizenship with much more zeal, and I think I envy them. They’re being marched to the gallows while we’re willingly overdosing on morphine. Oh how I would love my reality to be forced out of the way for me so that I could see more truly the way of God. 

We are a people of hope and positive words. Here are some scriptures on this: 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Philippians 2:14 – “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.”

Proverbs 16:24 – “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Proverbs 12:25 – “Anxiety weighs down the heart of a man, but a good word cheers it up.”

So how do we fight these habits practically? Most complaining starts with our mind drifting toward negative thinking. I’ve heard it said recently that our emotions are a product of focus. That means our happiness, our sadness, and everything between is caused by what we are thinking about, what we are ingesting, what we are dwelling on. That’s why Paul wrote what he did in Philippians 4, that we would dwell on what is good and pure and honorable (i.e. the things of God). 

  1. Remember negative thinking is a product of our enemies: The Devil, our flesh, and the world. So we have to counter that thinking with God’s spiritual power within us. It’s not a physical fight or a fight of the will; it’s a spiritual fight wherein we turn to spiritual disciplines. We devote ourselves to cultivating positivity born out of God’s grace and goodness and our security in Christ. Jesus’ focus was not on this problem or that. It was on the will of the Father. Let me say this a slightly different way. You don’t choose to be positive by saying, “ok, I’ll be positive from now on.” I don’t know about you, but my own will power only gets me so far. Instead, you fight by prayer, by fasting, by loving your neighbor with intentional acts. You make these small acts into habits, and the habits into character. You fight by immersing yourself in God’s word so that His spirit does work in you to remember where your hope lies. It’s a spiritual fight with spiritual weapons. That’s the positive application here. The negative application may be saying goodbye to social media. It may mean phasing yourself out of certain relationships, staying out of certain conversations, or turning to a different radio station on the way to work.
  1. Remember turning that negative thinking into negative actions and negative conversations is a sin. The above verses are biblical commands and biblical principles. So it’s safe to say complaining and spreading negativity is contrary to God’s design, thus sinful. How do we combat this? When trouble comes, God’s people turn to Him. We turn to Him in prayer for the things we cannot change. And then we focus on the race in front of us. Christian, you are not given to all the problems of this age. You are not even given to all the problems you know about. When others complain, we point them to the One who is in control. Hopelessness is the best opportunity we ever have to evangelize. Think about how ofter you’ve heard testimonies, maybe this was your own, of someone coming to the end of their rope, and there and only there were they able to see the mercy of the Lord! God desires a broken heart, because humility is fertile soil for the Lordship of God to take root. 

Now I know the idea of focusing on positive things is a whole other ballgame for some of you reading this. Some of you are in the middle of a health battle. Some have experienced heavy loss that affects you daily. Others are overwhelmed with the stress of financial burdens or broken relationships. Let me just say this. The path of Jesus does not come with a magical shield that protects you from all troubles. What it does come with is a place to turn over those troubles, those feelings and thoughts, and supernatural blessings to help and guide you. You have been freed from carrying those burdens alone. And in turning over those heavy weights, we have a God who gives us grace to make it through each day, relying on Him. 

In the passage I mentioned at the beginning, Romans 12, Paul went on to write this about what the life of the Christ-follower should look like. 

Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. 10 Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Take the lead in honoring one another. 11 Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit;[c] serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. 13 Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. 18 If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. 20 But

If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
For in so doing
you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.[e]

21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”

So brother and sister, do not be conquered by evil. Do not be enslaved by your flesh, lied to by Satan, or carried to dark places by the current of society. Instead, conquer evil with good.