In Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, God commands His people to “remember” over 15 times.
“Remember the Lord your God brought you out [of Egypt]” (Deut 5:15), “remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh” (Deut. 7:18), “Remember…that the Lord your God has led you these forty years” (Deut 8:2), “Remember…Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…” (Deut. 9:27)
Yet, over and over again, we see the Israelites grumbling. “We’re thirsty. We’re don’t like this food. Moses, why did you bring us here. It would be better to go back to Egypt!” (my paraphrase of Numbers 14:2-3, Numbers 21:4b-5) The complaints even warrant physical consequences at some points like fire from the sky and poisonous snake bites (Numbers 11:1, 21:6). Yikes!
It’s easy to look at the Israelites and think “How could they complain? God literally split the Red Sea, defeated Pharaoh’s army, and made food fall from the sky!” Nehemiah 9:21 even says their clothes didn’t wear out and they “lacked nothing”
But then I remember how often I grumble myself. The temperature in this room is too cold, gas prices are so high, the neighbor’s dogs won’t be quiet, if only my students would listen and follow directions, why don’t I have a boyfriend?, traffic is so bad, we have to wear these annoying masks, our refrigerator has been broken for a month and we don’t have any ice! — the list goes on and on.
And I realize I’m not much different than the Israelites. We’re both on a journey. God has spoken promises to both of us. And we’ve both forgotten.
The New Testament doesn’t beat around the bush. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Phil. 2:14); some translations say “Do all things without complaining or arguing” A few chapters later, we see how to tangibly do this. In both Phillippians 4:4-7 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16,18 we are exhorted to “rejoice always” and “give thanks”
It’s the same command from a different angle. Remember.
Remember there is One worthy of worship. Remember He is the Giver of Good Gifts. Take the focus off of what seems to be looming in front of you and remember the bigger story.
You see, our outward circumstances do not dictate our “right” to be discontent. If anything, they reveal where we are finding our peace and placing our hope. When we grumble and complain we forget the Lord’s faithfulness and are blind to His provision. In a way, complaining is another form of worry; it’s lamenting a situation out of our control and choosing to be grumpy about it. Complaining is a distrust of God’s goodness and His ways.
Secondly, grumbling blinds us to the needs of others. How often do we complain about something someone else might be longing for. This room might be chilly but somewhere closer to the equator, people are living without air conditioning. Gas prices might be high but I have a car to put it in. My students may be stretching my patience but what a gift that we have facilities to dance in. Your kids may leave legos on the floor yet how many people are longing for a child? When I am focused on why my life is inconvenienced, I can’t see ways to serve those around me.
Anne of Green Gables says “There are ever so many bright sides” And I agree with her on most days; we can find them if we look. I’m not saying that we should ignore the seemingly crumby parts of our circumstances nor should we pursue a false sense of optimism. I’m encouraging us (myself, most of all) to remember. To resist the temptation to complain and choose to find contentment in Him —even in the wilderness.
He makes us lie down in green pastures
He leads us besides still waters.
In Him we lack nothing (Ps. 23:1,2).
He makes the boundary lines fall for us in pleasant places (Ps. 16:6)
Let us choose to remember His faithfulness. Let us remember the One who really did have every “right” to complain but didn’t. The One who instead sacrificed His life for us and asked us to remember in the bread and the wine (Lk. 22:19). And in our remembering, let us look beyond ourselves to the needs of others. For He is our hope and peace; and will lead us to the Promised Land.