Grumbling vs Gratitude

(This devotion is day ten of a 30-Day Thanksgiving Challenge. Each day includes a daily reading that will be accompanied by a post on this blog.)

Read Exodus 14:10–14; 15:22–16:8; Philippians 2:14

Do you have any complainers in your life? They possess a special calling to share their grievances with the world—whether you want to hear them or not. How do you feel after a few minutes around them? There’s something off-putting about murmuring and complaining. It’s easy to see this in someone else, but we all grumble.[1]

I can testify to this from personal experience. One reason I’ve taken up the study of giving thanks is because I’m prone to ingratitude. Instead of noticing blessings, I gravitate toward problems. I’m not quite Charlie Brown in my outlook of the world, but I’m far from being an optimist. Because of these battles, I took up the practice of thanksgiving to recalibrate my heart.

If you’re done judging me, take a minute to search your own heart. Do you tend to think about blessings or things you wish were different? Would people describe you as grateful? Is your prayer life full of saying “thank you” or “give me more”? When you don’t get what you want, have to wait for something, or experience delays to your plans, how do you respond?

Feel guilty yet? If you have even an ounce of self-awareness, you’ll admit you’re not exempt from bellyaching, griping, ingratitude. Just like Israel cries out for deliverance from Egypt one minute (Exodus 3:9) and then complains to Moses when they get what they wanted (14:11–12), we skid down the mountain of gratitude into the valley of groaning as soon as things don’t go the way we like.

Don’t Ignore the Flashing Alert

Do you ever experience spiritual amnesia? Answered prayers or God’s gracious acts fade from memory. We forget our stubbornness and think much better of ourselves than we should. It’s a common spiritual ailment.

Sometimes we forget, other times we mis-remember. As discontented thoughts rise to the surface of our mind—often lies and misperceptions—it shades our view of God. Rather than celebrating God’s provision of manna in the wilderness, Israel grew tired of it and murmured. They recollected bondage in Egypt as if they had been staying in an all-inclusive resort (Numbers 11:4–6). Sometimes our remembering doesn’t square with reality, and the result is we overstate how good things used to be and minimize God’s blessings in the present.

Our spiritual forgetfulness leads to foolishness. We think or speak false things about God. That’s because a grumbling spirit is rooted in something deeper: a wrong view of God. “Grumbling about our circumstances is grumbling about God’s character.”[2] Ingratitude is rooted in idolatry and unbelief.

If your vehicle squeals, squeaks, or rumbles, the problem usually isn’t the noise (though that’s embarrassing and concerning) but something bigger. It alerts us to an underlying cause that might be less visible or audible Grumbling, murmuring, and complaining are symptoms of a more severe problem. When we catch ourselves grumbling, it should be like a check-engine light warning us to look under the hood. Consider a few of the causes of grumbling.

  • Entitlement: I deserve better than this. Things should be easy, fair, or work out for me.
  • Pride: I’ve done all these good things so God should give me the things I want. God owes me.
  • Idolatry: I desire something so much that I’ll sin to get it or sin if I don’t get it.
  • Discontentment: I don’t want what I have or I want what others have.
  • Forgetfulness: I fail to remember the many good and mighty things God has done for me.

While a demanding spirit isn’t unique to today, contemporary Western culture feeds our sense of privilege. We expect lightning-speed Wi-Fi delivering immediate answers, microwavable meals ready in an instant, and two-day shipping to fulfill my wants without delay. We’re demanding, entitled, and easily agitated. Now mix in a participation-trophy mindset where everyone must be lauded with praise, sprinkle in Disney themes about how amazing and limitless we are, and add a dash of social-media breeding discontentment with its filtered images of everyone’s “best life now,” and the cultural conditions are ripe for grumbling.

Connecting our grumbling to its source helps us identify what’s really going on. We’re not just “venting” but we’re unhappy with God because of the circumstances He’s allowed. Those are the deeper issues we need to attack. You have to apply grace and the gospel to your disgruntled heart. Only a heart change can replace our groaning and griping with gratitude. Consider the following remedies to ungratefulness.

  • Grace: God has not given me what I deserve (mercy) and given me many things I don’t deserve (grace).
  • Humility: I don’t dwell on myself and what I think I’m entitled to but trust in God’s care and kindness.
  • Trust: God will provide for my needs according to His wisdom, goodness, and love.
  • Contentment: I rest in God’s providence and provision in my life.
  • Remembrance: I thank God for the ways He has been faithful, loving, and powerful.
  • Gratitude: God has and does bless me with many good things, including ________________.

We need grace to combat our grumbling. We need to nurture a habit of thanksgiving, but even more than discipline we need to warm our heart next to the fires of the gospel. A right view of self, aware of our sin and how undeserving of anything good we are, and a grasp of God’s shocking mercy and grace to us through Christ jolt our memory with gratitude. God has treated you infinitely better than you deserve. You’re entitled to nothing but death and judgment, but God, in His lavish grace, pours blessing after blessing on us. The gospel awakens gratitude and buries grumbling six-feet under the ground.

“Do all things without grumbling” (Philippians 2:14). “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Only a gospel-fueled gratitude can help us fulfill these commands. “The longer praise is in our hearts and in our mouths the less time complaint has opportunity to dominate our words.”[3] We will always tilt toward grumbling or gratitude, and we resist the former by choosing the latter. And if you want more gratitude in your life, get the gospel deep into your bones.



[1] For more on grumbling, see: Exodus 14:11–12; 15:24; 16:2, 7–8; 17:3; Numbers 11:4–6; 14:2, 27–29; 16:41; Deuteronomy 1:26–31; Psalm 106:24–26; Malachi 2:17; John 6:41, 61; 1 Corinthians 10:10; Philippians 2:14; James 5:9; 1 Peter 4:9; Jude 16.

[2] Erik Raymond, Chasing Contentment (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 117.  “…grumbling is directed at the One who is sovereign over such things. Grumbling and complaining, then, are a theological issue that casts God as incompetent, unfair, or irrelevant” (27).

[3] Paul David Tripp tweet. @paultripp 10/19/16

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