When I think about complaining in the Bible, the very first place my mind goes is back to the Old Testament, to think about God's chosen people, the Israelites, who, when they were in captivity as slaves for hundreds of years complained, complained, complained, complained. Then when God did miracle after miracle after miracle ... He issued ten different miraculous 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 fact, it's almost comical to me how much their mindset looked like my family in the middle of London.
In 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." Sounds so much like so many of us. To add insult to injury, Moses said something that should probably stun you into a moment of silence. He said this about our complaining. He said, "You're not grumbling against us." Who were they complaining against? 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 I want to do today is I want to just help personalize this for you so that you'll hear the message through the lens of your own complaining. I want to ask you, "What is it that you complain about the most
I want to go ahead and just clarify this and hope that you'll understand that the problem is not the weather. The problem is not the traffic. The problem is not that Netflix hasn't come out with new original content that meets your approval rating. The problem is that we've taken our eyes off of the goodness of God and we've placed our eyes dead center on ourselves. That is the problem that leads to a constant curse of complaining.
What I want to do today is I want to look at a text that to me is blow away powerful. It's written by the apostle Paul, and if there's anyone who had the right to complain, if there's anybody who had the right to complain, it was certainly the apostle Paul. The top thing on his bucket list, it was more than a bucket list, it was what he felt called to do. The number one desire of his heart was to go to Rome as a preacher, to go to Rome to communicate the gospel. He knew if he could go to Rome and reach the leaders in Rome, that he could have a chance of impacting the whole world. At the top of his list of things that he wanted to accomplish in life was to go to Rome as a preacher. Instead, he was arrested and sent to Rome as a prisoner. The dream is a preacher. Instead he is a prisoner. Not just a prisoner, but he was locked up for about two years, locked 24 hours a day, chained to different Roman guards, awaiting his very possible execution.
I'll be honest. Put me in that place. I want to go there as a preacher. I'm there as a prisoner. I'm locked up. I've been serving God. I'm going to be so tempted to complain to God. This isn't fair. Why are you allowing this to happen? I've served you. I've been faithful. If I'm the apostle Paul, I've been shipwrecked, I've been beaten, I've been snake-bitten, I've been left for dead. All I've done is serve you, serve you, serve you. You know how strategic this city is. If you just give me a shot at this city, we could make a difference here. Instead, here I am as a prisoner. The floor is hard. The food is bad. This Roman soldier's body odor is so bad it makes me want to puke even on him right now. That's kind of what would be going through my mind.
Instead of complaining, instead of whining, instead of telling God why God got it wrong, this is what the apostle Paul penned in a letter to the Christians in Philippi. Here's what he said. . Paul said this. He said to the Philippian believers, he said, "Do everything without grumbling or arguing." Another version translates it, "Do everything without complaining." Do everything without grumbling or arguing, "so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation." That is a very high standard. Whatever you do, wherever you are, and whatever deed or word, do everything without grumbling or complaining. There's a lot of very spiritual reasons why we should live without complaining. There's also a lot of practical reasons. I want to talk about the spiritual reasons, but I want to spend just a moment and talk about some of the practical reasons.
There's a doctor named Dr. Travis Bradberry. He wrote a great book called "Emotional Intelligence 2.0". He's done a lot of research on the idea of complaining. What he says is that repeated complaining hard wires the brain to do, guess what? More complaining. In other words, the more negative you are, the more likely your brain is going to be triggered to continue to be negative. He and others talk about what it means just to have this kind of negative mindset that before long we enter into what they call a confirmation bias. In other words, you expect something to be bad, therefore you get what you expect.
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 this is incredibly dangerous. I don't know about you, but I don't want to go through life preconceived to find the bad, when there's already enough bad in the world. I want to train my 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. When you look at the apostle Paul, the way he lived and what he taught, would communicate these two big ideas. To me, this is the heart of the message, and then I want to unpack it in a way that hopefully will motivate and speak to you in a very powerful way.
Paul essentially with the way he lived, and what he would have taught, very likely would have said something like this. He would say, "If you can change your circumstances, if there's something negative and you can do something about it, then do something about it." If there are negative circumstances, something that is unpleasant, something that is not right, something that you wish you could change and you can do something about it, then do something about it. In other words, we're not going to go through life and pretend like everything's okay when it's not okay. It's not a sin to notice something that's not right. When it boils into sin might be when we complain and complain and complain about it and don't ever do anything about it.
It's a little bit like Nehemiah in the Old Testament. Nehemiah recognized that the walls of Jerusalem were down, and he was really upset about it. What did he not do? He didn't complain, complain, complain. "This is the worst thing ever. Oh my gosh, the people are vulnerable. Why didn't anybody else do something about it?" He was bothered by it, but he did something about it. If there's something that you dislike, something that gives you a righteous dissatisfaction, if there is a godly discomfort, if there's something you look and say, "This isn't right on behalf of God." Don't complain about it. Don't just put comments on social media about it. Get out with your life and do something about it. If there's a negative situation and you can change it, then bring your A game and change it.
Then, by his teaching, he would say this. He would say, "If you can't change your circumstances, then change your perspective." If you can do something about it, do something about it. If you can't change your circumstances, then change your perspective. Change what you say about it. Change how you think about it. Change what you see in those circumstances. This, to me, is so powerful, what he says in . If you remember, he's chained to a Roman soldier. He's awaiting his very possible execution. His dream was to preach the gospel and he's locked up in prison. This is what he says. He says, "But even if ... " I love that phrase. "But even if I'm being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me." Even if I'm being poured out like a drink offering, I am still glad.
You may hear that phrase and think, "What in the world does he mean by being poured like a drink offering?" There's one Greek word that's translated into that whole little phrase. It's the word spendo, like to spend it all. This word is a very powerful little word that his audience would have understood. What the priest would do is they would make a sacrifice to God, maybe with a lamb or some type of an animal, and put it on a burnt offering. Then they would take a drink offering, which would be the most expensive liquid that they had, usually wine, perhaps honey, because honey was difficult and expensive to come by. They would take their most expensive drink and they would pour it on top of the burning sacrifice. This would be their drink offering. You could imagine, you put liquid on something really hot, what happens? You've got the [pssh, 16:04] and the smoke comes up. This would be their offering to take their very expensive prized drink, pour it on the sacrifice, and the smoke would rise into heaven as an offering of incense unto God. He said, "Even if I'm being poured out like a drink offering, yet I will rejoice."
Now, a lot of people think that when he said, "I'm being poured out like a drink offering" he was talking about his ultimate martyrdom, when he would actually give his life. I'm going to tell you right now, I wholeheartedly believe he was not talking about his ultimate death as being a sacrifice. The verb is a passive present tense verb. It says "even if I am being poured out", not "even if one day I'm poured out", but "even as my life is oozing away, even right now." His ultimate death was not his sacrifice in his mind. It was his daily life that was a sacrifice. This is why Paul said elsewhere, he said, "You offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God and this is," he said, "your spiritual act of worship." Worship isn't just lifting up our hands to a holy God, which that is, but worship is every single day, offering your life wherever you are, even chained up in a Roman prison, as an offering to God. This is my act of worship to you.
How could Paul be in prison, chained up to a Roman soldier, and offer praise and worship to God? Let me tell you how he could do it. 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. This is why Paul said this, and don't miss the power of what he says. Here he is chained up 24 hours a day, a different Roman guard every eight hours. Here's a new one, over and over and over again. Here's what Paul says. This is so powerful. 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. What's happened to me has actually moved the message of Jesus forward. He says, "As a result, it's become clear through the whole palace guard." All these soldiers, they know it. Everyone else knows it. What do they know? "They know that I am in chains for Christ."
What was he saying? He was saying, "You think that I'm the prisoner here? Let me tell you who the real prisoner is. Every eight hours, I get fresh meat, virgin ears. I get someone new. One of the most powerful people in all of Rome chained up to my arm for an eight hour sermon that I write new for each and every one. You think I'm the prisoner here? You've got no idea how God is using what others would see as negative 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. I see my God doing something. I don't know who this is going to speak to, but if you're in a place you don't like, you recognize God still has a plan. God still has a purpose. God still has an assignment. It may not be what you'd choose. It may not be what you ever want. It may be the last thing that you would choose. It doesn't mean God can't use it to get the message of his goodness being pushed forward.
Think about it. Paul is chained to a Roman soldier 24 hours a day. I would ask you this. What are you chained to? What are you chained to? Don't say my husband, but maybe it is a very painful relationship. Maybe it's a job situation that you don't know what you're going to do. It could be you're chained to a financial problem. You're in the middle of a hole that you don't know how you're going to get out of. It could be a health issue. The list could go on and on. Let me just say this to you. If you can do something about it, do something about it. If you can bring your A game, bring your A game. If you can pray, pray. If you can work hard, work hard. If you can get counseling, get counseling. If you can seek help, seek some help. If you can get wisdom, get wisdom. If you can turn over a new leaf, turn over ... If you can do something about it, do something about it. If you can't change your circumstance though, change your perspective. Change the way you look at it. Change the way you think about it. Change the words that you speak about it. Rather than complaining about something you cannot change, choose to see God's presence and his power, even in the middle of something you would have never ever asked for.
I love the phrase Paul uses. "Even if". So powerful. "Even if." Even if at this moment I'm being poured out. Even if my life is oozing away. Even if everything that I've wanted to accomplish never comes to pass. Even if I've only got days left on this earth, he says, "Yet I will rejoice." Why? Because in the middle of this thing I never would have asked for, I can see a glimpse of the goodness of God. He's still using me. He's still in me. He's still working through me. He is still good, even though I would have never asked for this.
I don't know what it would be for you. For Mandy, it would be this. Even if I'm 21 years of age and I'm not able to work or go out in public for more than two hours at a time, I will still praise him. For you it might be even if I continue to suffer in my body, I will still praise my God. Even if my migraines never ever go away, I will continue to declare his goodness. Even if I'm still crying myself to sleep praying for that miracle, I will fall asleep praying because I believe in the goodness and the power of my God. Even if I continue to look for a job, even if it doesn't come, even if they do let me go. Whatever it is, even if, I still trust the goodness, the character, the nature of my God. Even if. If you can do something about your circumstances, do it. Get in the game. Make a difference. If you cannot change your circumstances, change the way you look at them.
How do you do it? Just recognize this. You are not the center of the story. When Jesus is the center of your story, it changes how you let your story be told. The only way Mandy can live this journey through this pain is to recognize that Jesus is the main character in the story of her life. When you change your perspective like this, you can endure, you can be light in the middle of your darkest day.
I like what David said in the Old Testament. To me this is so powerful. David had a lot and he did complain a lot about a lot of different things, but in a moment of glimpsing the goodness of God, this is what he said. He said, "Let all that I am praise the Lord. Let everything in me give praise to God. May I never forget the good things he does for me." Some of you, I hope you'll remember. See his goodness in your life right now. See his blessings through the immediate pain. What does God do? He forgives all my sins. He heals all of my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. What does my God do? He fills my life with good things. Let all that I am praise the Lord.
I don't know who this is speaking to, but life may be difficult right now. If you can change something, do it. If you cannot change it, change your perspective, and choose not just to look at what's wrong. Choose to look at what is right. Choose to look at the goodness of God. See his grace. See his power. See his goodness. Experience his forgiveness. Let his Holy Spirit carry you when you are weak. His strength is made perfect in you. Let everything that I am praise the Lord. Let everything that I have give glory to him. I will not for a minute give my [inaudible 00:28:54] the benefit of the doubt by complaining about what is not. Instead I look and I see what is, and I thank my God for it. That's how, in the middle of a Roman prison, when Paul's dream was to go as a preacher and he ended up a prisoner, he could say, "You too can do everything without grumbling or complaining." What happens, even though we may not like it, can be used to advance the gospel.
Even if. Even if my greatest prayer is never ever answered. Even if I never get out of this situation that I wish I was not in, I will still praise my God because he is good. He never leaves me. His presence is with me. His power is in me. Therefore I will praise him with everything that I have.
Father, I ask today that there would be a special grace, especially for those who are facing significant trials. When it's so easy to complain about the big stuff, or even the little stuff, God, I pray that if we can do something about it, we would. If we can't, give us the power to change our perspective. All of our churches, those of you who would say that you can often be characterized by complaining, and you want the power of God to help you to change, would you lift up your hands in all of our different churches? Lift up your hands right now. Father, I pray. I pray for a healing. God I thank you that this week in our life groups we're going to talk about this with great transparency. We're going to pray for one another. We're going to believe God that the moment that we're tempted to complain that you're going to give us a pause. Instead of focusing on what is not right about our lives, we're going to focus on what's right and good about you. God, help us to remember the great truth that we are not the center of the story. Your son, Jesus, is always the center of the story.
Here's what I hope you understand, is that God not only love you, but He loves you more than you can imagine. So much so that He sent His Son Jesus who was perfect in every way, without sin. Jesus became the perfect and the final sacrifice. He died and He rose again. Why? So that anyone, and this includes you, who calls on his name would be saved. There may be those of you right now that you feel like your life is really low. Maybe God has allowed you to get to a place this low so you could look up to him and you recognize you need him. Maybe you're trapped because of your sinfulness. When you call on the name of Jesus, he'll forgive every sin that you've ever committed. You will become completely brand new. Your sins are washed away. You are new, not because you're good. You're new because he's good.
At all of our churches, there are those of you, you recognize God brought you here not by accident, but by divine providence because you need a relationship with God and you need new life in Christ. All of our churches, those who say, "Yes, I need his grace. Yes, I need his forgiveness. Today I turn from my sin. I turn toward him. I surrender my life completely to him." That's your prayer. Would you lift your hands high right now? Just lift them and say, "Yes, Jesus. I surrender my life completely to you." All of our churches, those who say yes, right back over here on this side, God bless you. Others of you today who say, "Jesus, I surrender and give my life completely to you." Church Online, you click right below me.
Would you all pray with those around you? Just pray. Nobody prays alone. Pray, "Heavenly father, I give my life to you. Save me. Forgive me of all my sins. Make me new. Fill me with your spirit so I can know you and serve you and follow you for the rest of my life. My life is not my own. I give it to you. Thank you for new life. Now you have mine. In Jesus' name I pray."
Life.Church, would you worship today? Worship big. Worship loud.