I shared recently at our home church on the topic of thanksgiving. What I learned from this topic served as a capstone moment for me in that it pulled together many things I had learned over the last two years of living in America but never synthesized. One of those things was that the cross is the cure for complaining, which is the topic of this post. Enjoy.
When we lived in Scotland, I worked in the Oil and Gas industry as a Quality Engineer, and Joyce was the homemaker. My career was on the way up, and I felt that God had called me to sow financially into the Kingdom. I had my five, ten, and twenty-year plan. Our children were happy, and we had the financial resources at our fingertips to send them to private schools, onto university, and boost them into whatever career they wanted. We were content in all things, lacked nothing, and loved our church and community. The future looked bright.
Then in January 2016, the Lord began speaking to us about coming to the USA. This came entirely out of the blue. We thought maybe we would come to Tulsa in about 30 years’ time to show our children and grandchildren where we first met, but to go back so soon was not within our region of thinking. Never mind to come and do a Doctor of Ministry degree. That was an absurd idea.
Despite my feelings, we prayed over it, got advice, and laid out fleeces. As 2016 progressed, and as the Lord opened up every door, it became apparent that this thing was real. We were going to America. So we sold the car, gave away some things, sold other things, and squeezed what we could into five suitcases and came to Tulsa in January 2017 with our two children. Joshua was 2½ and HR was 9 months. We came to America not knowing what the future held, and we still do not know for sure what it holds. All we know is that this was the next step of obedience for our family.
Our wilderness experience
I tend to view our experience over these last two years through the Israelite wilderness narrative. The way I look at it, Scotland was our Egypt. It was not that we were in bondage there. It was just that we were not where God wanted us to be. Therefore, he moved us on to take us to our Promised Land. But to get there, we first have to go through the wilderness, which is where we are at just now.
The reason why I see this phase as a wilderness phase is that our student immigration status and not knowing what the future holds leaves our lives unstable and unsure. All I know is that the Lord has sustained us miraculously with his manna during this phase. Moreover, I am sure he has a Promised Land prepared for us where we can settle, do his will, and our children can grow and flourish.
As I viewed our lives through the Israelite wilderness journey, I began to see that there were times I did not respond to the journey’s pressures in healthy ways. Instead, I fell into the same pitfalls the Israelites did. One area I had difficulty with was complaining.
The Apostle Paul speaks about the Israelites in the wilderness (1 Cor 10.1-11) and explains that their negative behavior ought to act as our examples to avoid (1Cor 10.6 &11). Paul lists complaining (some Bible translations say grumbling or murmuring) as one of those behaviors. He urges his readers by saying,
“Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” (1Cor 10.10, NASB).
I was guilty of complaining. Don’t get me wrong. At one level I was really thankful, but at another level, when the situation presented itself, I moaned terribly. Depending on the challenge we were faced with I made sweeping remarks like, “The solution to all our problems in the States is to go home. We should’ve just stayed in Scotland. Back there, we had a car that worked, a house, and I had a career. We were going places, but here we’re just languishing. Who in their right mind brings their family half-way around the world for this?”
I complained, but as I interpreted my experiences through the Israelites wilderness journey, I saw that I was falling into the same trap they did. Moreover, by complaining, I allowed the Destroyer entrance into my life, and he used my complaining to turn good things sour.
What I learned
Now that my eyes were opening, I looked back over the Israelites wilderness stories for help. Numbers 21.4-9 was one of those stories. It tells the story of Israelites who complained. God sent fiery serpents (probably poisonous snakes) amongst them because of their complaining and whoever they bit died. The people ran to Moses and asked him to intercede. Moses then went to God. God told him to make an image of a fiery serpent and elevate it on a pole so that those bitten who looked upon it would live.
1. God’s actions show his attitude towards our behavior
One thing I learned from this is that God’s Old Testament judgments show his attitude towards that behavior. In this case, God sent fiery serpents to bite people who complained. This means that when we grumble and complain, although God may never send poisonous snakes after us, he has shown through his Old Testament actions what his attitude is towards that type of behavior. Indeed, God does not have to send fiery serpents upon we who complain because, as Paul says, complaining lets in the Destroyer anyway.
2. The cross is the cure for complaining
So here I was viewing my current situation through the life of the Israelites, and I recognize that I am complaining. The question that sprung to my mind was, “How do I stop complaining?” I believe Numbers 21.4-9 gives the answer but look first at John 3.14-15.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3.14-15, NKJV)
In these verses, Jesus linked Moses lifting the fiery serpent on the pole to his crucifixion. Just as the complainers bitten by the snakes lived by looking at the image of the fiery serpent, we who look to Jesus on the cross receive eternal life. What I began to realize here, is that looking towards Jesus on the cross is the cure for complaining.
How the cross cures complaining
1. It puts our lives in perspective
One way that the cross cures complaining is that it puts our lives in perspective. This is a no-brainer. Looking to Jesus and the cross helps nullify our inclination to complain because we see that in light of everything Jesus went through on the cross for us, we have nothing to complain about.
2. It reveals that Thanksgiving is our response to God’s grace
Another way the cross cures complaining is because it displays God’s grace for all humanity to see. We often think of grace as unmerited favor. As a theological term, that is basically what it means. But when we look at the word itself, we see that it has a very rich meaning. In ancient Greece the word we translate as grace originally meant“to rejoice,” “attractiveness,” or “sweetness.”
I found it interesting how one of these meanings was “to rejoice.” In some Bible translations in passages where the Greek word for grace is used, the translators sometimes translate it “to rejoice,” “give thanks,” or “be thankful.” Look at Hebrews 12.28 in alternative translations for an example of this. This link between grace and thankfulness is logical when you think about it because some languages still use a derivative of it. For example, in Spanish they say gracias to say thank you. Even in English, we say ”grace” when giving thanks for a meal.
So at some level, there’s no getting away from it that there is a link between grace and thankfulness. The connection being, that thankfulness is our response to God’s grace. Psalm 116 demonstrates this connection well.
The Psalmist asks, “How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?” (v12, NIV)
Naturally, there is no way we can repay God for all his goodness to us because that is not how grace works. However, we can respond appropriately. The Psalmist lists several ways we can respond. One of those ways is by offering to God the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” (v17, ESV).
Thanksgiving is the opposite of complaining
What I learned from all of this was that giving thanks is the opposite of complaining. Had the Israelites recognized God’s grace in their situation and thanked God from the start, there would have been no room for complaining. Had I realized God’s grace and thanked him, there would have been no room for complaining. Likewise, when we look at the cross, we see God’s grace and realize that we have a lot for which we can thank God.