The Israelites are in the desert and begin complaining about their circumstances. God sets their camp on fire. (Numbers 11)

They complain about their food and God makes them stay in the desert for forty years. {A trip that should have taken seven days!} (Numbers 14)

They complain about the desert and about Moses. God sends fiery snakes to kill a ton of them. (Numbers 21).

It sure seems like God has a thing against complaining. I always read those passages and wondered what the big deal was. I mean sure, it can be annoying to be around a complainer, but enough to take out thousands of His people? Seems like overkill. Or perhaps, that there is something deeper than complaining.

What is complaining at its core? It is being ungrateful for what God has given you, whether it be circumstances, possessions, money, family, friends, or anything. And, why is gratitude so important? It is the root of worship. King David was a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) because he knew how to worship.  He sinned bigger and badder than many other people in the Bible, yet he retained this title because of how passionately he worshipped!

So, if gratitude is the root of worship, and ungratefulness is the root of complaining, then clearly they are opposites. It is impossible to genuinely thank God and in the same breath complain about something you have been given. Understanding complaining (grumbling, whining, criticizing…) as the opposite of worship suddenly makes it a much graver offense. The Israelites now seem more like rebellious enemies of the Lord than gripey boy scouts.

It is so easy for us to look at the Israelites and shake our heads, thinking that we would never make such a mistake. After all, they were the ones who built a golden calf to worship after Moses was gone a couple days! (We’ll talk about modern day idolatry later.) Even if you are not a verbal complainer, I want to urge you to check your heart. See if there are things you long for that you don’t have, but someone else does. Or situations that, ‘once it’s over, you will be content!’ See if you are falling into the exact same trap of the devil that the Israelites did.

Replace critical or whiney thoughts with gratitude.

On thanksgiving, George A. Buttrick writes:

We need deliberately to call to mind the joys of our journey. Perhaps we should try to write down the blessings of one day. We might begin: we could never end: there are not pens or paper enough in all the world.

The more we can eradicate complaining from our line of thoughts, the closer we will be to the heart of God. Replace whining with worship; griping with gratitude; and aggravation with appreciation. You may not see the circumstance change, but I guarantee you: you will.

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