In the late 1970’s as a junior in college I was privileged to serve in a wonderful church in Madison, Alabama. Each weekend I traveled from Chattanooga to minister in a variety of ways. They were very special years in my life. I learned so much about ministry and people.
One of my favorite couples in the church was Ronnie and Earlyne. They served in the bus ministry which ran routes each week and brought children to church on Sunday. Every Saturday they visited children and invited them to ride their bus. It is a very rewarding ministry, but one that demands a lot of time, energy and love. My friends were so faithful and cared for the kids on their route.
There were many attractive qualities about this sweet couple, but the one that influenced me (and many others) the most was their incredible attitude in very difficult circumstances. Earlyne has one of the most severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis I have ever seen. She struggles to walk because of the pain, but never complains and always has a smile on her face. Anyone that knows her is affected by her positive and joyous spirit. Her husband, Ronnie, is truly one of my heroes!
Even after Earlyne’s disease worsened they continued their ministry of bringing children to church on their bus. If Earlyne was able, she would be on the bus with Ronnie picking up their kids each week. Most people didn’t see the ordeal that was involved just for her to get ready for church. It was a chore for both of them.
Ronnie would help get her dressed, comb and fix her hair, and sometimes put her in a wheelchair and then help her get on the bus. They continued to do this for many years until it became impossible for them to do so. Ronnie’s burden was different than his wife’s, but it was not less of a burden.
He never complains and treats his wife like the queen she is. Whenever I express my admiration for his care for her his eyes often fill with tears and is humbled and embarrassed by the attention given to him. Both the hurting one and the caregiver are powerful testimonies of the reality of God’s grace.
I believe when they stand before Jesus for their reward that the bulk of it will be based on their joyful attitude in spite of adversity. It has been the source of their testimony and has touched scores of lives, mine included. I wish you could know them. I enjoy spending time with them, seeing the wonderful joy they have in spite of their battle. Paula and I love them very much.
Remember the definition of griping – speaking to another person in a negative way about something which they can do nothing. The complainer isn’t focused on a solution to the problem, but moaning about their negative state and even finding problems in any solutions people might bring to them.
Ronnie and Earlyne are different than most of us. Their condition is one where there aren’t permanent solutions, just the constant reminder of a nagging, painful reality. Yet, they have a phenomenal influence wherever they go. Why can’t I be like that? How can I change my complaining spirit to one of joyful gratitude?
The beginning point is to understand what causes complaining. At the root of griping is displeasure with a circumstance or person in our life. Before griping is verbalized it is pondered in the heart and justified in the mind.
That’s why there are so many sour Christians. They have never come to peace with God’s will for their lives. It is easy to say, “Praise the Lord”, when it involves a pay raise, a good report from the doctor, or something to soothe an emotional or physical pain. It’s not easy to say that when it involves discomfort, pain, or rejection.
God’s will is “good, acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Until we see it as such in our mind we will buck against it (usually internally with our attitude and then verbally). Because my knowledge is limited I must accept this by faith sometimes. God honors those that trust and serve Him with an attitude of willingness rather than having a negative and griping spirit.
Until you are able to come to the place where you realize that life is not about you, but rather pleasing the Lord you will be a perpetual griper. Life simply doesn’t go our way and there are times of adversity. The very purpose of our creation is to please the Lord, not to live for our pleasure – “…thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created”. (Revelation 4:11)Have you ever acknowledged griping as a sin? Have you confessed your complaining to God? The first step to cease negative words and a cynical spirit is to surrender your will to God’s will. Until you come to the place where you see life is not about pleasing yourself, but the Heavenly Father you will always complain when things don’t go your way.
It’s possible to love God and struggle with His ways without complaining to others. We see this in the greatest Christian in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul. Note his transparency as he writes about his struggle with pain in his life.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (II Corinthians 12:7-10)
He speaks of his “thorn in the flesh”; this was likely a physical problem for him that caused great challenges. For you it may not be a physical issue, but in the financial, emotional or relational arena.
God permitted Satan to bring suffering into Paul’s life for a greater good. It was to humble him which created a greater dependence on God and resulted in greater usefulness.
This was not an easy experience for Paul. This “thorn in the flesh” would “buffet (him)”. It was so severe that he asked God to remove it from him on three separate occasions. If you will, this was a complaint from Paul for God to change his circumstances. (He took his questions and burdens to God rather than griping to others who could do nothing about them).
However, rather than change the circumstances, God gave Paul the strength to deal with his trial by His grace. The result of this personal pain was spiritual power. When Paul saw God’s higher purpose in adversity rather than complaining he was able to “glory” and to “take pleasure” in his problems. One of the reasons God used him so mightily was how he responded to his problems.
It is in the crucible of suffering that we grow from selfishness and complaining to trusting God and being able to rejoice even when we do not have all the answers. Note the following Scriptures that reinforce the fact that we are to rejoice rather than complain about our state in life.
“…we glory in tribulations also…” (Romans 5:3)
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake”. (Philippians 1:29)
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations”. (James 1:2)
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us”. (Romans 8:18)
To have this kind of response and attitude it requires us to surrender to God’s higher purposes in our trials. Those that complain have never surrendered to God’s perspective. They are bitter with Him (and others) that have caused the hurt. It’s natural to complain, but it’s supernatural to rejoice and be grateful.
I heard the story about a man that wanted to be a monk, so he went to a monastery and inquired what he needed to do. In that specific group they were only allowed to speak two words each year. Though it was difficult he decided to attempt it.
He was shown his room and for twelve months never said a single word. At the conclusion of his first year he was invited to meet the head monk and permitted to speak his two words. He said, “Food bad”.
After returning to his dorm room and assignments he continued another twelve months without speaking a word to anyone. Again he was ushered to the master monk’s office to share his two words and he said, “Bed hard”.
Incredibly he stayed for a third year and was completely silent until invited to the office to share his two words after the completed term. He looked at the senior monk and said, “I quit!”
The older man looked at the protege’ and said, “Well, I’m not surprised at all! All you’ve done since you’ve been here is to complain!”
It’s a silly story, but if only I complained that little in my life. Complaining is an evidence that we are discontent with something God has allowed in our life. We know we have accepted God’s way when we have changed our attitude from griping to gratitude.
A believer ought to be known as one that is thankful, even in every type of circumstance. The opposite of complaining is being thankful. Gripers are not grateful and those that are thankful are able to rejoice. This doesn’t mean everything is comfortable, but we are able to see it from Heaven’s perspective.
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you”. (I Thessalonians 5:18) It doesn’t say, “For everything give thanks”. I can be thankful in a trial even though it may have come from an evil intent.
“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. (Ephesians 5:20) Gratitude is to be all the time (“always”) for everything (“all things”). Only God’s grace can enable us to do this.
“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God”. (Philippians 4:6) My prayers are to be characterized by gratitude, not grumbling.
“By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name”. (Hebrews 13:15) When I am grateful to God in difficult times it is a sacrifice I have offered unto Him that brings pleasure to His heart.
The only way we will stop complaining and start being grateful is to see life from God’s eternal perspective rather than our puny, temporal viewpoint.
A lady was watching her grandson one afternoon and while he played she was busy cross-stitching. The little fellow got bored with his activities and ran to his grandmother and looked up at the bottom of the cross-stitching hoop as she followed the pattern from above.
“Grandma, what are you making?”, he said. “I’m making something that is very pretty to hang on the wall”, she replied.
“Can I see it?”, he asked. From his perspective underneath there was no pattern at all, but rather a lot of disconnected threads with no coordination whatsoever.
She said, “Why don’t you run along and play some more and come back in a while and I’ll show it to you when I am finished”. Again, he tired of playing and returned to see if she would show him her final work.
“Grandma, now can I see what you are making?” As he glanced up toward her handiwork, he was embarrassed to say how he really felt. Whatever she was making was unattractive, even a mess. Loose strands of different colors of thread hung down from the fabric. There was no plan she was following. He didn’t want to tell her what a poor job she was doing.
She brushed him gently away, “I’m almost finished! Come back in just a few minutes and I will show it to you”. He left, feeling sorry for his grandmother. Rather than something nice to hang on her wall for others to see was just a bunch of loose threads with colors that didn’t blend well. Now, he didn’t want to see her work at all.
Finally she called him back and, once again, he gazed underneath at the cross-stitching hoop. His grandmother had worked so long on something that was ugly. She reached down and pulled him up on her lap and he saw the finished produce from a different perspective, his grandmother’s viewpoint, which he hadn’t seen.
It was incredibly beautiful! All of the threads combined perfectly and created a flawless picture. He said, “Oh, Grandma! It is so beautiful. It looks so different from up here”.
And so it is with our God as He works in our lives. One day the Heavenly Father will seat you beside Him and you will see things clearly and it will be beautiful.
Right now, we cannot see the pattern and have to trust His ways. From our limited perspective it often seems ugly, disjointed and without a plan. From His perspective there is a pattern and it is all fitting together to create a wonderful and incredible life.
As long as we see life from our limited perspective we will gripe and complain, and even become bitter. If we will accept by faith that what is happening is for our good and His glory then we will rejoice and be thankful. Our griping will be replaced by gratitude.