Among the 150 psalms are some of laments or complaints. For example, we find expressions of desolation (Psalm 22), fear (Psalm 69), disappointment (Psalm 74); depression (Psalm 88), confusion (Psalm 102), and sorrow (Psalm 137). For Christians who were taught and socialized to see complaining as a negative thing, this can be difficult to reconcile. However, it is possible that the Holy Spirit preserved these psalms for us to see that in the intimacy of our relationship with our Heavenly Father, we do not have to pretend. There is room for honest talks. According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, to complain is to “express grief, pain, or discontent; to make a formal accusation or charge.” The two distinctions are important as often times our complaints are feeble attempts at the first but more times than not, find their expressions in the form of the second.
People with good intentions often confuse “in everything give thanks” with “for everything give thanks.” Life can be unfair and bad things happen to good people. We live in a fallen world in which some things that happen are hurtful, evil, harmful, and tragic. The intent is not to thank God for those things but to thank Him for His grace and mercy in the midst of them. After all, no matter how bad it gets, things could have been a whole lot worse. It is in the midst of life’s unfairness, those night shifts of our lives, that we find honest laments – the expressions of grief, pain, and discontent. In 1 Peter 5:7 we read, “Casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully]” (AMP). Notice the invitation and the assurance. The challenge for us is taking Him up on the invitation and speaking honestly in ways that He is “OK” with. This is important because the Scriptures are littered with instances of God punishing inappropriate complaining or murmurings (e.g. Numbers 14:29-34).
In his book Night Shift: God Works in the Dark Hours of Life, Dave Shives writes, “Biblical invitations to complain, however, carry a word of warning. . . . Biblical-prayer complaint honors God. The difference is important. Fleshly complaining is ‘complaining to others about how God is treating me.’ Godly complaining is ‘complaining to God about how He is treating me'” (p. 90). Godly-complaining carries with it the promise of Romans 8:28, “And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose” (AMP). What is this ultimate good? That we become like Jesus (v. 29).
So how do we complain and not murmur? As an example, I borrow the words from Shive: “Dear Lord, you know how much I hate the situation I am in right now. But you have permitted these events to come my way and so I come to You for help, crying out for release from this night shift assignment. All of my trust and hope is in You. If You do not deliver me, I have nowhere else to turn. I wait for you to answer this prayer in the best way and at the best time. Amen” (p. 92). God wants to know how you feel; He can handle it. It is “OK” to complain; however, it is not “OK” to grumble. May He grant us the wisdom to know the difference.