“Do everything without complaining and arguing …” Philippians 2:14 (NLT)
When my daughter Kaitlyn was just a toddler, she became annoyed with big sister Morgan. She waddled over to me with a frustrated look, raised her eyebrows, flailed her little hands in the air and began to profusely whine. With no words, mind you.
She hadn’t learned to talk yet, but because she had heard other people whine, she knew what it sounded like. Jumbled high- and low-pitched sounds spilled from her rosy lips. Her tone, facial expression, hand movements and the way she lingered on certain “words” were all signals of serious whining.
Whining and complaining come naturally when we’re disgruntled, no matter what age we are. But if we let negativity saturate our thoughts, it will eventually lead to chronic complaining and a total lack of joy.
Paul knew this all too well. In Philippians Chapter 1, Paul encouraged the Philippians to stand strong in their faith against external conflicts, such as the people who were trying to persecute them or silence their teaching of the gospel. He called them to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of God and not get caught up in grumbling amongst each other. Then, in Philippians 2, Paul taught them how to stand strong against internal conflicts — matters of the heart — one of which was the habit of complaining.
In today’s key verse, Philippians 2:14, Paul says, “Do everything without complaining and arguing.” He not only wanted them to be aware of their negative thoughts before they turned into negative words, but he also wanted them to understand that to complain about anything, whether it was a person or a circumstance, was essentially a complaint against their God.
Let’s face it: Throughout Scripture, Paul had plenty of reasons to complain at any given time. Although the external struggles Paul faced were different than yours or mine, the thoughts and feelings he struggled with were the same.
Paul was likely tired and frustrated with his problems, which seemed to never end. We see in the Bible that he was harassed everywhere he went, always had enemies hunting him down and was constantly battling fear and discouragement. He had no idea how or if things would work out the way he continually prayed for. It’s easy to assume that he was often disappointed.
But despite all Paul was enduring, we see him turning prime opportunities for whining into prime opportunities for praising his God. He became an example of how he wanted others to live out their lives as well.
Paul probably knew in his heart that complaining would only lead to more negativity about his circumstances. He also knew it could become an obstacle in seeing the praiseworthy things God was doing. We see in Philippians how he purposely strived to eliminate discontentment and grumbling, even though complaint was warranted, and turn his negativity into positive thoughts and praise instead.
It’s OK to feel like life has treated us unfairly and to feel desperate to see God fix a problem we’re facing. It’s OK to feel sad; to not love all the frustrating, disappointing or annoying things that happen to us; and to even feel disgruntled. In fact, it’s OK not to be in love with our life every moment. All of these are natural, human emotions. But it’s not OK to stay stuck in a negative mindset that feeds the habit of complaining. That only takes our focus off of who God is and the fact that He is deserving of praise no matter what.
God longs to transform our hearts and minds so we can live daily with an attitude of rejoicing and praising. When we control our thoughts, intentionally try to break the bad habit of whining and praise God even if we don’t feel like it, our hearts can be filled with joy, and our lips with praise, even in the hardest of seasons.
Dear Lord, You know I am sometimes guilty of complaining and habitual negativity. Please help me recognize negative thoughts that lead to whining and complaining, and give me awareness to look for reasons to praise You instead. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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If you’re struggling with negativity and complaining and long to transform those thought habits, check out Tracie Miles’ book Unsinkable Faith: God-Filled Strategies to Transform the Way You Think, Feel and Live.
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FOR DEEPER STUDY
Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (NIV)
Approximately one-third of the psalms in the Bible are psalms of lament, meant to teach us how to complain to God in a way that still glorifies, praises and trusts in Him. Take time to read through the following six psalms of lament in the next week: Psalm 6, 10, 38, 42, 43 and 130.
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