Are there good forms of complaining?

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Today, I would like to draw our attention to a branch in us that bears no fruit: the branch of complaint.

I think we should start by differentiating between two forms of complaint that we find in the Bible. The one is technically a “lament” and the other is a complaint. Doug Goodwin helps us tell them apart:

A lament has to do with those ancient Biblical prayers spoken by devout people who needed to express their grieving emotions to God. A complaint has to do with expressing displeasure in someone or something. A lament is a prayer to God. A complaint is a gripe, pointing out a fault, in our estimation. A lament is releasing an emotion of mourning that is heard beyond human ears. A complaint often turns into an outburst.

In the Bible, we are clearly instructed to avoid the griping, grumbling kind of complaint:

Philippians 2:14-15Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.

1 Peter 4:9 (but also verses 8-11) — Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 4:29 (but also verses 29-32) — Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 

James 5:9Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

If we are prone to complaining, grumbling, or griping, the Vine-grower likely has his pruning shears ready to lop off those branches. But before we surrender ourselves to that sort of trimming, we should heed at least one word of caution:

In our efforts to eliminate complaining, let’s not swing the pendulum the other way by assuming that the opposite of complaining is keeping our mouth shut. Rather, the opposite of complaint is mature expression of our concerns. To do that well, we will have to start with curious self-examination — something like this: “What’s my real concern here? … Is it something I need to express? If so, how can I express it in a constructive way that is full of grace and truth?

TODAY’s PRAYER: Holy Spirit, as I go through my day today, I invite You to show me every complaint I’m tempted to utter. Father, I give you permission to prune any grumbling and replace my thoughts with something constructive and compassionate. May my life bear fruit and may You get the glory. SDG!

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