By Dave Zuleger, Lead Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church (south campus)
Grumbling is Natural
Grumbling happens naturally for most of us. The circumstances of our lives collide with our expectations, hopes, and dreams and in our hearts, we begin our fist-shaking. I’m often tempted to excuse my grumbling heart by saying things like, “It’s just so frustrating.” For me, this temptation often comes when the brokenness of this world shows up over and over again.
It’s easy to think, “Why is this happening to us?” “Why does this have to happen now?” “Doesn’t God know how worn out we already are?” (Hear an annoyed tone in those questions?)
Grumbling is when I doubt God’s goodness in his providential and sovereign plans for my life.
It’s so easy for me to see this in other people (especially my kids!) and so easy for me to excuse it in my own heart.
Grumbling is Evil
And yet, the Bible is so clear about the evil that is going on my heart in those moments:
- We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. (1 Corinthians 10:9-10)
- Do all things without grumbling. (Philippians 2:14)
Yikes! Do all things without grumbling? Every single thing? That’s the call. How serious is this sin of grumbling? Citizens of Israel were destroyed for their grumbling against God. Why?
Because it’s a direct assault on the character and wisdom of the all-wise, sovereign, and holy God who orders all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph 1:11). It’s saying we think we could do things better if he’d just take our advice on these things. And frankly, it’s an insult to the love of God for us in Christ. It’s us saying, “Yes, we know that you have promised to pursue us with goodness and mercy all the days of our lives and work all things for our good—but I want you to love me how I think is best.”
Have you ever had a situation with little children where they were frustrated and grumbled about the decisions you made? What were they missing? Normally, they are missing the bigger context. Little children simply can’t see what adults can see. They don’t as much and haven’t been through as much and aren’t think as broadly. There’s a gap in the amount a child knows and the amount and adult knows.
How much wider is the gap between what we know as children of God and what he knows as our infinitely wise, all-knowing, and holy Father?
So, Should We Just Always Be Happy?
I think Romans 8 helps us see how the Holy Spirit can help us fight the sin of grumbling in our hearts.
The answer is not necessarily that the circumstances will change. Now don’t get me wrong, I recently preached a sermon on how we ought to pray for the gifts of the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 12:8-10) to make much of the presence and power of Jesus among us—and we recently saw a man healed at our church as he called the elders to pray (cf. James 5).
However, Romans 8:17–18 tell us that suffering is coming for those who want to enter glory with King Jesus. It’s coming for us. So, how do we fight against grumbling in our hearts by the power of the Spirit?
The Spirit Comforts Us in who we are in Christ.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. (Romans 8:15-16)
The Holy Spirit reminds us that we’ve been adopted as children of God because of the blood of Christ. We are in Christ and there is no longer any condemnation (Romans 8:1). Because of that reality, we have access to the throne room of grace to cry out to our Father when the circumstances of life make us want to grumble. We won’t always find clear answers and it won’t always make the pain or difficulty magically go away, but we will be reminded that we have a Father who controls it all and is totally for us. We can talk to him about our pain and admit it’s hard. But, ultimately we can rest in his goodness toward us because of Jesus and know he will only do good for his children to conform them to Christ and lead them to glory (Romans 8:28-30).
The Spirit Confirms Where We’re Headed in Christ
If you read Romans 8:17-25 you see that the world (and we are part of it) has been cursed by God because of sin. Yet, it has been cursed in hope. God subjected the world to futility. But, he subjected it knowing that he would send his Son to ransom sinners and bring them to glory.
We, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan as the Spirit reminds us that through these sufferings we are headed to glory with our Savior. We will have redeemed bodies free of sin and suffering to worship in the presence of our King.
Grumbling doubts God’s goodness and shakes our fist at him. Groaning by the Spirit hates the brokenness of the world—the sin and the suffering—because it’s not how it’s supposed to be, but also holds onto the sure that that one day, things will be exactly how they’re supposed to be forever.
So, as you are tempted toward grumbling in the next few days (because we will be!), remember that it is sinful and then turn your pain into groaning with hope as you remember who you are and where you’re headed because of the love of your Father who purchased you and will not let you go.