Pastor Steve Wellman
Luke 6:45, Matthew 15:18
There was an article in a popular Psychology magazine entitled “Behaviors That Keep Us Poor.” It described some characteristics we accept as habits that may not strike us as fatal, but they turn out that way. They are the silent killers. The psychologist writing the article isn’t original on this diagnosis. Jesus spoke directly about behaviors people tend to downplay as harmless. At the top of the list of seemingly non-threatening behaviors is the practice of complaining. Consider the behavior that turned out quite severe during the exodus from Egypt. It is the often-repeated word “murmuring” or the related word “grumbling.” We might think complaining is a minor flaw, but Scripture doesn’t. Murmuring and grumbling kept many people from inheriting the Promised Land. Why is it such a severe problem? Jesus announces, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” The repeated daily action of murmuring and grumbling reinforces an outlook and establishes a perspective. Hebrews 11:6 announces, “Anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him.” Words of complaint don’t demonstrate the belief God is a rewarder. Complaint assumes God’s a supreme miser. Jesus shows how words reveal what we actually believe about God.
During the exodus from Egypt, when the people murmured or grumbled, God would tell Moses, “they are not complaining against you, but me.” The words expressing our deepest attitudes toward the world are not neutral. Something mysterious occurs in the heart as the interior clay gets formed. Actions repeated over time take something soft like clay and harden it until it is rigid as stone. This is why Paul advises believers to not only drop bad behaviors but replace them with good ones. We aren’t to go through life avoiding complaints, but we are to intentionally practice singing hymns, reciting Scripture, and offering adoration to God. Only by replacing the fatal with the fruitful can we shape the heart in the way God desires. A person may wonder, “What if I don’t feel grateful?” Jesus demonstrates how rightly aligning the life before God isn’t based on feelings but faithful obedience. Whether we feel appreciative or not, daily disciplines form the heart strongly toward the requirement of Hebrews 11:6. Our prayer each day may need to begin, “Lord, I’m not feeling grateful, but Your Word says I must learn to approach you as a rewarder of those who earnestly seek. Help me move closer toward a sense of confidence so that I may eventually feel what I practice.” Faithful obedience enables us to form new emotions we wouldn’t have had unless we first honor God’s expectations.
As we take our first steps into the New Year, if there was a reminder we needed to begin, it’s the words of Jesus in Luke 6:45 and Matthew 15:18. Complaining is no small thing. Begrudging my circumstances is no minor problem. Murmuring about daily life isn’t something harmless. The words uttered aloud shape the deepest attitudes that impact how we experience and relate to God. If complaints are excused, then attitudes are quietly formed in the heart that God isn’t reliable. Rather than a rewarder of those who seek, our perspective will suspect God deprives us. In the secret recesses of the soul, we will maintain an attitude God is no different from Scrooge. Like Bob Cratchit, we will consider ourselves lucky if we end up with a piece of coal. Jesus knew some people were decent and well-behaved in public, but their hearts were far from God. The dividing wall which separates us isn’t something we consider extreme. Over time complaints repeatedly form the interior of the soul until it is like stone. As we take Jesus at His word and obey with action, He will take our hard hearts of stone and replace them with His Spirit turning complaints into joyous songs.