More about Being Thankful vs. Complaining

A year ago, I wrote a post about being thankful vs. complaining. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, as well as preparing for my first sermon ever that weekend, I’ve been thinking about this contrast again. This year, I’d like to look at some examples from Old Testament Israel, especially focusing on the results of being thankful vs. grumbling.

Let’s begin with Exodus 16:2-3, where we read: “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’”  What makes this grumbling especially egregious is that this was almost immediately after the Lord had delivered the Israelites from being slaves in Egypt!

One chapter later, we read another example: “The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’  Moses replied, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?’  But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?’”  Exodus 17:1-3 

In both of these cases in Exodus, the Lord was very gracious to the Israelites in spite of their grumbling.  In Exodus 16, He gave the people manna and quail; in Chapter 17, He gave them water.  Now, let’s look at Numbers 11:1-6: “Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.   When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the LORD had burned among them. The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!‘”  This time when the Israelites complained, the Lord sent fire, which killed some of them.  However, they soon resumed complaining, asking for meat.  If you read the end of the chapter, you will find that the Lord gave them quail to eat, but He also sent a severe plague which killed some of them.  Verse 33 says they died “while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed.”  They didn’t even get to enjoy the meat which they had craved!  Sometimes in the Old Testament, the price of grumbling against the Lord was death.

What happened when the Israelites praised the Lord instead of grumbling?  Look at 2 Chronicles 20, where three nations gathered to fight against the Kingdom of Judah.  In verses 21-23, we read this: “After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:  ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.’”  As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.  The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.”  In this battle, notice that God’s people did not even have to fight their enemies!  The Lord caused their enemies to destroy one another.  What had God’s people done?  They had sung and praised the Lord, and as a result, He brought about a great victory!

How do we apply this to our daily lives? First of all, when we pray, do we bring to the Lord only a list of requests, or do we also thank Him? Second, how do we react to problems? Here’s an example: A couple of months ago, my wife was on her way to a conference when she was broadsided on the freeway by a guy who had also just broadsided another vehicle. You would think that traveling at 65 mph, serious injury would result. However, no one in any of the three vehicles was hurt. In addition, my wife’s vehicle was still drivable, so she was able to continue on her way to the conference. Were my wife and I thankful? You bet!

There are other examples I could cite as well; you can read a more-extended example in this post: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2021/11/17/being-thankful-vs-complaining/ One thing I have continually been thankful for over the years is the timing of problems; in other words, I expect to have them, but the Lord has been gracious in allowing them when I have the time to deal with them. Another thing I have been thankful for again and again is that the problems have not been more serious.

A special word about grief:  Over a period of ten months not too long ago, three of my siblings died.  Then this year, my father-in-law died as well.  Is it possible to be thankful in this circumstance?  My answer is yes, because all three of my siblings and my father-in-law were believers, which means they are now with the Lord.  Do I miss them?  For sure.  However, when I think of them in heaven, it’s impossible for me to be sad—for them.  One of my sisters, for example, was mentally handicapped from birth, but now she is free from that handicap, in the presence of the Lord.  My other two siblings suffered from dementia in their last few years, but now they are free from it, also in His presence.  As I said, I miss them, but I look forward to being reunited with them when the Lord takes me home! On the other hand, I recently talked with a relative whose husband had died.  Even though he was a believer, his widow reminded me that losing a spouse is different from losing a sibling.  Yes, it’s harder, and I acknowledge that.  In fact, it’s hard for me to imagine losing my wife; that would be very difficult.  However, we are both believers, and I know that even when we are parted here on this earth, we will see each other again in heaven.

In the immediacy of a problem, it can be difficult to be thankful; however, when we reflect on it, it’s usually not difficult to find things to thank the Lord for.  Are you a thankful person?  Am I?  Let’s be characterized by thankfulness to the Lord, not complaining.

Have a most blessed Thanksgiving!

4 thoughts on “More about Being Thankful vs. Complaining

    1. Amen, sister! Before I became a Christian–and even for some time afterward–I took some perverse “pleasure” in self-pity; thinking about what I was like back then in that regard–and some others!–makes me shake my head at myself. When I feel it coming on now, yes, giving thanks is the answer. Thankfully, our Lord is gracious in changing us!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Hi Keith, I have a lot to be thankful to The Lord this year, Suying and I have been able to attend church in person for the first time since the pandemic. I had a mild case of Covid-19 in May but I recovered after about one week. We were able to attend our church’s summer retreat in July for the first time since 2019 (our church did not have retreats in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic) . Best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving to you, Yolande, Justin and Julie and give Thomas our best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anthony, it’s very good to hear about all of those church- and COVID-related things that you and Suying are thankful for. I will pass along your Thanksgiving greetings to all of the people you mentioned; please do the same for us to Suying.

      Liked by 1 person

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