A Difference Between Grumbling, Complaining

by Kevin Burton

   There is a right way and a wrong way to bring our concerns to God, according to a Christian social worker.

   Laura Kuehn, LCSW, writing on the website cornerstonesforparents.com, points to the book of Joel in drawing a distinction between grumbling and complaining.

   This is a passage from Joel 1:4-12 she uses to teach us how to “complain like a prophet.”

   “What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten.. . A nation has invaded my land, . . . It has laid waste my vines and ruined my fig trees. It has stripped off their bark and thrown it away, leaving their branches white. . . . The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up; the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the olive oil fails. . . . the harvest of the field is destroyed. The vine is dried up and the fig tree is withered; the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree- all the trees of the field-are dried up. Surely the people’s joy is withered away.”

   “This is a hard passage to read. Joel sounds desperate because he is,” Kuehn writes. “The nation of Israel has just endured a great natural disaster and we hear his raw grief and despair.”

      “I think sometimes we may mistakenly think that ‘good’ Christians have a peaceful smile on their faces even as things around them crumble. A quick read of the book of Joel will tell us otherwise.”

   “These are challenging times in our nation and as Christians we can be tempted to either grumble in our hearts and with each other or to stuff our feelings. Neither is helpful,” Kuehn writes. “ Let’s figure out how to ‘complain like a prophet’ when things hurt. But first we need to differentiate between grumbling and complaining.

   “Grumbling is what the Israelites did in the desert. They were starving, thirsty and mad that God had dragged them out into the desert to die. Their eyes were focused solely on their surroundings and their circumstances. They thought only of themselves. They thought nothing of God.”

   “Complaining, on the other hand, has a heaven-ward orientation. We hear complaints all throughout the Bible. David complained to the Lord in the Psalms. Jeremiah and Habakkuk complained too. But these people didn’t focus on themselves. They took their complaints to the Lord. It was a sort of pouring out of their inward groanings.”

   “In Joel 1:19, amidst all the pain and sorrow, we see that he knows that God is still there and can be called upon. Joel is complaining but he is not grumbling. He knows the source of His help and his hope. Complaining involves a spirit of submission. Grumbling is tainted with pride and self-centeredness,” Kuehn writes.

   “So how do we complain like a prophet?

1) Get it all out. Be specific and honest about what hurts (Joel 1:2-12 and Joel 2:1-11).

2) Come clean about any darkness in your heart related to the issue (Joel 2:12-13).

3) Punctuate your complaints with hope because restoration is coming (Joel 2:25). You can say something like, ‘Lord, I am so upset about _________. But I know that you are good and you are a God who restores. I choose to have hope.’”

   “Almost all of the lament-type psalms end in this fashion,” Kuehn writes.

   I think grumbling versus complaining as defined by Kuehn, is a condition of the heart, and has a lot to do with being yielded or not yielded, to God’s Holy Spirit.

   We get some New Testament examples from a passage on the gotquestions.org website.

   “We can’t concoct the attitudes and behaviors of Jesus Christ through our own human effort. We must submit ourselves to God and allow Him to work in us, giving us ‘the desire and the power to do what pleases him’ (Phil. 2:13, NLT),” the passage reads.  

   “Without God’s power operating on the inside, we cannot obey Him on the outside. That power comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:16–1726Acts 1:8).
   “In Ephesians 1:19–23, Paul prays for believers to ‘understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:19–20, NLT) the passage reads.    “The same Holy Spirit who empowered our Savior is available to work in us so we can do all things without grumbling and complaining.”

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