It seems to me that one of the hardest things to do in life is not complain. Whether it’s about traffic, the weather, politics, co-workers, neighbors, or just having to go through the day when we would rather be sitting at home on the couch - there just doesn’t seem to be an end to things that we can find to complain about. It’s a reality I was confronted with this morning as I found myself sitting in traffic, mentally complaining about having to sit there when I had so much to do. And once I started complaining, it was hard to stop - as my mind started running through all the things happening in life that I’m not excited about.
Fortunately, God interrupted my complaining mindset - and He did so by reminding me of a story out of Exodus 17:23-26, which says: When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”). Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded. So Moses cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. Moses threw it into the water, and this made the water good to drink. It was there at Marah that the Lord set before them the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness to Him. He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, obeying His commands and keeping all His decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”
In this passage, we read how the Israelites - who were desperately thirsty - were provided for by God. However, in His provision, they chose to focus on the fact that the water He gave them was bitter. Their response is especially interesting in that this is a group of folks who God had rescued out of Egypt with all kinds of miracles. As a matter of fact, they had just witnessed God open up the Red Sea for them to cross. So obviously they were being cared for by a God who could do amazing things, and actually did those amazing things in order to take care of them. Yet, when they get to Marah, they quickly returned to looking at their problems from their own perspective, completely forgetting the miracle-working power of their God.
The result was that they complained against Moses. But I think what they failed to realize was that they were actually complaining against God, because it was God who had been their provider. This is something that Moses must have understood, because when he heard their complaints, the first thing he did was turn to God for help. And in doing so, he gave the Israelites - and now us - an example of what to do when we have problems: we go to God for help.
For some reason, we tend to struggle with this idea. So often, just like the Israelites, we focus on our challenging situations with our human eyes, and not with eyes of faith. That leads us right into the trap of complaining, as we ignore all the amazing things God has done in our lives. And if you’re like me, once I start, it can be really hard to stop. Actually, I usually keep going until the Lord does what He did this morning - remind me that when I complain, I’m actually complaining against Him. Here's a truth we can never forget: the same miracle-working God that led the Israelites out of Egypt, is still at work today, planning miracles in our lives as well. Our challenge is to keep from letting grumbling and complaining blind us from seeing what God's doing, because we're so focused on what He's NOT doing.
Complaining is one of those sins that I think we are often willing to let go unchecked in our lives because we're too focused on other sins that seem more important to us - sins like lust, or lying, or other "sins of the flesh". But the truth is, having a complaining spirit is equally offensive to God, because it communicates our lack of trust in Him being able to be the God He says He is. So today, let's take time to ask God to remove any hint of a complaining spirit that we might have in us. And instead, let's ask Him to give us a joy in His provision for us - no matter what that provision looks like today.