As you may already know I have a five year old spitfire little girl full of energy, sass, and observation. She’s truly a blessing. However, just as many other five year old children she has developed this nasty habit of complaining. I honestly don’t know where she gets it, but it’s probably from her mother. (just kidding, Michelle!). And until recently as her parents we really didn’t know how to combat it, but Michelle started doing something different this weekend that I wanted to share because not only is it effective, but it’s literally rewiring how our daughter thinks. As soon as Gigi (my daughter) starts complaining, no matter where we are or what we’re doing Michelle makes her stop and list three things she’s grateful for. And so what do you think are some of the things a five year old is grateful for? I love daddy. I love my doggy. Mommy is pretty. Basic, right? But what she lists isn’t as important as the action of immediately removing negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones. In other words, what we say has the power to give life, and what we say has the power to destroy. The words that we speak are so powerful. Jesus said it like this: “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”. Our society is so plagued by the problem of complaining, but today I want to write about speaking life into every day scenarios.
When I think about complaining in the Bible, the very first place my mind goes is back to the Old Testament. God’s chosen people, the Israelites, who, when they were in captivity as slaves for hundreds of years complained incessantly. Then God did miracle after miracle. He issued ten different plagues to turn the heart of Pharaoh. He parted the Red Sea. He drowned Pharaoh’s army. He fed God’s people with bread from heaven, water from rocks. Their clothes never ever ran out. What did God’s people do? They griped, they whined, and they continued to complain.
In Exodus 14 verse 11, when they said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? We were so happy when we were slaves, but now you’ve brought us out of there. Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians.’ It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians and then die in the desert.” Who were they complaining against? They weren’t complaining against Moses, they were complaining against the Lord! Imagine if every time that we complain, it’s not just about our circumstances or about the traffic or about another person, but what if in God’s eyes, we were actually complaining about him? Perhaps that is the way He sees it.
What is it that you complain about the most? If I’m being honest, for me personally it would be about being quarantined, social distancing, about having to wear a mask everywhere I go, being inconvenienced by this virus. I think a lot of us could probably fit in that boat together. But I want to caution you because the problem isn’t being forced to stay home, social distancing, or having to wear a mask, no, the problem is that we’ve taken our eyes off the goodness of God and we’ve instead placed our eyes on ourselves- and that can lead to a constant curse of complaining.
One of my favorite characters of the Bible is Paul. Here’s a man who’s sole goal in life is to preach the Gospel. He wanted to go to Rome because he knew he could have the most impact there and he wanted to preach for Jesus- instead he was arrested, and sent to Rome as a prisoner. Locked up for two years and awaiting execution. From preacher to prisoner. Would you be complaining? If I’m honest, I’m probably muttering some things under my breath. But instead of complaining, instead of whining, instead of telling God why He got it wrong, this is what the apostle Paul penned in a letter to the Christians in Philippi.
Philippians 2:14-15. Paul said, “Do everything without complaining so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Hey listen, whatever you do, wherever you are, and whatever deed or word, do everything without grumbling or complaining. This was the problem with the Israelites. They were negative when they were in captivity. They were negative when they were free because their negative mindset trained them to be even more negative and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my daughter to go through life preconceived to find the bad, when there’s already enough bad in the world. I want to help her train her mind to find that which is good, that which is pleasant, and that which is helpful and hopeful, instead of always focusing on what’s negative.
So how could Paul be in prison, awaiting his own execution, and offer praise and worship to God? Because Paul was not the center of his own story. Jesus was the center of his story, and because Jesus was the center of his story, that could take a negative circumstance and Paul could change his perspective about it in such a way that it would impact what God was able to do through this negative circumstance. Another way to say it is Paul could speak life into his current situation by first speaking life into his perspective.
How does he explain this to the Christians in Philippi? He says Now, I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” He’s not complaining. He’s changed his perspective, and he’s seen the power and the goodness of God in it. He says, “As a result, it’s become clear through the whole palace guard.” All these soldiers, they know that I am in chains for Christ.”
We have no idea how God is using what others would see as a negative situation to advance the gospel. In other words, this isn’t my plan. This isn’t what I would have chosen. There’s a lot of reasons why I would probably complain about this, but because I can’t change my circumstance, I am changing my perspective. I know that my God works in all things to bring about good according to his purpose to those who love him and are called by his power.
So if my daughter can’t change her circumstance, I want to teach her to change her perspective. I want her to change the way she looks at things. I want her to change the way she thinks about things. Michelle is helping her change the words that she speaks about them. Rather than complaining about something she cannot change, we’re encouraging her to choose to see God’s presence and his power, even in the middle of something she would have never asked for.
How do you do it? Just recognize this. You are not the center of your story, Jesus is the center of your story. When you keep your focus on that one truth, your perspective becomes greater than your circumstance. Speak life into it.