A number of years ago I led one of my churches through the 21 day Complaint Free Challenge. The challenge was to go for 21 days in a row without complaining. We each were given a purple wristband to wear throughout the challenge. You were to wear the wristband on the same wrist for 21 straight days. If you caught yourself complaining, then you had to switch your wristband to the opposite hand and start you 21 day challenge again. Some of the studies I read said that it takes most people about a year to go 21 consecutive days without complaining. I forget how many months it took me to get to that point.
What was the purpose? To help people break the habit of complaining. For many people complaining is simply a bad habit. Will Bowen, who invented the 21 Day No Complaining Challenge says that most people complain for one of 5 reasons using the acronym G.R.I.P.E.
Excuse Poor Performance
When we habitually complain to get attention, to remove responsibility (shift the blame) inspire envy, exert power or excuse our poor performance, we dig a behavioral rut and complaining becomes our default response to just about any situation. That’s a sinful habit from which we need to repent.
In order to break the bad habit, like any bad habit, one must counter the undesired behavior with more desirable behavior. The goal of the complaint free world experiment was to improve the world by reducing the amount of complaining that goes on. During that process I became aware of just how often I did complain. I don’t like hearing other people complain all of the time, I don’t think anyone does. Parents don’t like to hear their kids complain all of the time. Spouses don’t like to hear their husbands/wives complain all of the time. Children don’t like to hear their parents complain all of the time. Students don’t like to hear their teachers complain, and teachers, I’m sure don’t like to listen to their students complain. Churches don’t enjoy hearing their pastor complain all of the time and pastors don’t like hearing church members complain a lot the time. And guess what…even God gets fed up with human beings complaining all of the time.
In today’s reading, God has been busy taking care of Israel. He led them out of slavery to the Egyptians by performing ten amazing signs. When Israel was being chased down by Pharaoh’s army and looked like they were doomed for destruction, God miraculously parted the waters and brought them through on dry land. God led them by cloud during the day and fire during the night. God was taking them on a journey to a land that he was going to give them. God was doing nothing but good for them.
And how did God’s people respond to all of this goodness? They complained. We’re thirsty… we’re hungry. They sounded like a bunch of whiney kids on a long trip. If you’ve gone on a long trip, the experience is very different for the parents up front and the children in the back. Think about a family going on vacation. The parents are the ones preparing for the trip. Mom’s doing the laundry, packing everyones clothes, preparing snacks, arranging for neighbors to come and feed the animals and water the plants. Dad is making sure the car is running well, changing the oil, getting the mail stopped, gassing up the car, checking the route to make sure there are no road closures. The parents buy the tickets for wherever they are going, pay for the meals along the way, pay for the hotel rooms, make sure the kids have stuff to do in the car/van/suv. And what do the kids do? They complain: I’m hot… I’m bored… I’m hungry…I’m thirsty… I have to pee… sisters looking… brother hit me… and are we there yet? I had 11 children and I know what I’m talking about here.
Imagine Moses… and God. They are moving roughly 2 million men, women and children across the wilderness toward the promise land. There are no McDonalds on the journey. There are no Holiday Inns with an indoor pool. There are no air conditioned SUVs with built in blue ray players and no iPhones or Nintendo Switches to keep them occupied. They are tired, they are hot, they are thirsty and hungry, and they are complaining… a lot!
If I’d been Moses or the Lord I would have been tempted to say “Ya’ll be quiet or we’re turning around and going back!” Fortunately the Lord, and Moses have more patience and grace than I ever had:
Exodus 16:6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.” 9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’” 10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. 11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
God heard their grumbling and he gave them quail and manna to eat. There it was, as much as they wanted. They were able to eat their fill. And after that they never complained again. Well, that’s not true…. before long they were complaining about being thirsty too.
What God should have done was give each of them a purpose wristband to remind them not to complain. It would take them a few more lessons before they quit complaining.
I’m sure God does get tired of hearing our complaining… but he still loves us and he even gives us ways to complain in the Bible. Many of the Psalms are called Psalms of complaint and/or Psalms of lament. Jesus himself, while he was on the cross prayed one of those Psalms of complaint/lament, Psalm 22 which begins: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” When we are suffering real pain, real sorrow, real trials, God wants us to turn those into heart felt prayer and we should. God is able to handle our complaints and do something about them. At the same time, too often our complaining comes from a place of ingratitude. The ungrateful complaining that fails to acknowledge and appreciate God’s blessings needs to stop; legitimate complaining for true hurt in faith is something God is ready and able to hear and respond to for his glory and our blessing.
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+16-18&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 19-21 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan