For a few glorious months at the end of 2011, I hardly ever complained. I had endured several months of treatment for a rare cancer and had just been declared cancer free. I didn’t know how many healthy days I would have with my young family before the cancer returned, and I was determined to squeeze as much joy out of each day as I could.
To put it bluntly, my lack of complaining came from the realization that, statistically speaking, I should have been dead. I’d been given the gift of life, and gratefulness overflowed.
But it didn’t take long for me to forget what I’d been given. I fell back into old habits of grumbling, just like the Israelites in the desert who stood in awe of God’s power at the Red Sea but didn’t trust Him to provide drinking water (Ex. 14–15). Although I’d seen the Lord’s faithfulness through the deep waters of suffering, I forgot His goodness in the smallest puddles of my day, such as gloomy weather or a slow-moving line at the coffee shop.
When we encounter the minor frustrations and inconveniences of daily life, we have a choice to make: gratitude or grumbling. As we strive for gratitude, we need to recognize the sinfulness of our grumbling, examine the heart attitudes beneath it, and discover its remedy in the gospel.
God’s grace compels us to respond with gratitude, not grumbling.
The Sin of Grumbling
We may bristle at the idea that our complaining is sinful. But in Philippians 2:14, Paul admonishes us, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” In contrast, he exhorts us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18). In Numbers 14, God describes the complaining Israelites as a “wicked generation” and denies them entrance into the promised land (vv. 26–30). Scripture clearly shows that God sees our grumbling about our circumstances as sinful complaints against Him.
Grumbling and gratitude cannot coexist. When we choose grumbling, we sin against God. When we choose gratitude, we obey God and glorify Him as we shine as lights to the world around us (Phil. 2:15). This perspective helps us fight temptation when we face frustrating circumstances.
The Root of Grumbling
Sometimes our complaints stem from a desire for justice or a commitment to the welfare of others. In Acts 6, the church rightly brought a complaint on behalf of widows who weren’t being cared for. When we experience or witness acts of injustice or abuse, we need to bring those complaints to the proper authorities.
But most of our complaints are rooted in our own sin rather than our concern for others. Our self-focused grumbling comes from ingratitude, pride, and unbelief. In our ingratitude, we fail to thank God for all His good gifts. We focus on what we lack rather than rejoicing in what God has given. In our pride, we think we know what’s best for us. Rather than trusting God’s plans, we want our own way. In our unbelief, we don’t trust God to give us what we need. We say to God: “What You’ve done isn’t right. What You’ve given isn’t enough.” We need the Holy Spirit’s help to pull these weeds from our grumbling hearts and instead grow gratitude, humility, and dependence on the Lord.
The Remedy for Grumbling
The remedy for our grumbling is remembering the gospel. On those complaint-free days in 2011, I was acutely aware of how I’d been spared from sickness and death and granted health and life. It was easy to see God’s goodness and faithfulness.
But sometimes, our challenging circumstances overshadow God’s good gifts. We struggle to give thanks when reasons for grumbling abound. On those days, we need to cultivate gospel gratitude. When we look at what God has done for us in Christ, we have endless reasons to trade our protesting for praise.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have been rescued from death and given new life. Christ has given you “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). All the circumstances of your days are ordained by your good, faithful, wise Father. When you face earthly struggles, you can rejoice in your eternal riches in Christ.
Whether we’re frustrated by a coworker who won’t cooperate or children who won’t obey, whether our day is disrupted by a minor inconvenience or by major heartbreak, this truth remains: God’s grace compels us to respond with gratitude, not grumbling. When we do all things without complaining, we bring glory to the One who gives us every reason to praise Him.
Marissa Henley is author of Loving Your Friend through Cancer: Moving beyond "I'm Sorry" to Meaningful Support.