We find ourselves today in the sixteenth chapter of Exodus. (Exodus 16:1-8) The Hebrews should have been happy. They got everything they wanted. They prayed to God because their lives were hard and God sent them a liberator, Moses. It was Moses who confronted the Pharaoh. It was Moses who directed the plagues. It was Moses who led the people out of Egypt and into the wilderness. It was Moses who raised his hands as God parted the Red Sea. It was Moses who gave the people hope for a bright future. The people should have been happy, but they were unhappy. Verse two says the community stood united. They were not united in their appreciation of Moses and all he had done. They were united against Moses, and Aaron, in their dissatisfaction. In a short time, the people had forgotten about their hard lives in Egypt, and they longed for the good old days in that foreign land. It is one of those things that links one generation to the next. Every generation has their complement of complainers. We have our share of complainers. If it were not so sad, it would be funny. I love this story.
A monk joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. After the first 10 years his superior called him in and asked, “Do you have anything to say?” The monk replied, “Food bad.” After another 10 years the monk again had opportunity to voice his thoughts. He said, “Bed hard.” Another 10 years went by and again he was called in before his superior. When asked if he had anything to say, he responded, “I quit.” His superior responded, “It doesn’t surprise me a bit. You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here.”
Complaining is what makes church work so exhausting. The hardest part of my job is not preaching or leading worship. I love to preach, and I love to worship in any form. The hardest part of my job is not pastoral care. It is a privilege to work with people during the most sacred times in their lives. I am qualified to make this next statement because I have worked within the life of the church for forty years. The most challenging part of church work is dealing with all the complainers. People complain about everything: the temperature in the sanctuary, the content on the Facebook page, the style of worship we offer weekly, the state of the parking lot, the font size in the bulletin, and performance of the church staff. I could go on, but I will not because you get the point.
Sometimes, our complaints reveal arrogance. Not caring about anyone’s feelings opinions, they proclaim, “I just do not like it! I will leave if you do not make me happy. I will not give if you do not make me happy.” (We will try to get by without you!) Sometimes we try to hide our complaints by hiding behind an unknown person.
“I will not tell you who, but others do not like it. Certainly not me. I just thought you needed to know.” (We know it is you!”) Sometimes our complaints take the form of concerns. “I am concerned you are doing it all wrong.” (I hear. Why don’t you do it my way?) When I was young, I thought the key word in the life of the church was Jesus. Now, I understand the key words in the life of the church are power and control. I do not what to shock you, but church work takes some skill, not just opinion. That is why we are required to have so much education and attend so many continuing education events. Listen to the next line clearly. The church is not a business, you can not apply business principles. What worked at your place of employment will not work here. If we ran this church like a business, it would be gone in five years.
Complainers are exhausting because church work is so personal. One of the great preachers of the twentieth century was Fred Craddock (1928-2015). He said we go into church work because we are willing to give our lives to God. We are willing to die for God in a blaze of glory. However, that never happens. We give our lives away one nickel at a time. Complainers make church work exhausting. This is equally true. Complainers frustrate the mission of the church and put a smile of Satan’s face. I must ask you these questions. Do the people in your life consider you a complainer? Do the people in your life consider you a whiner? I could have called this message Stop Whining.
The question is not if people complain. They complain! The question is why do people complain? Will Bowden (born 1971) is a pastor and motivational speaker in the northwest. He also authored a book called Complaint Free World. He says there are five reasons why people complain. Those five reasons spell out the word G.R.I.P.E. Here are the five:
Get attention – everyone wants to be acknowledged. When you complain, you get noticed.
Remove responsibility – people complain about a situation or task to remove themselves from taking responsibility to improve it.
Inspire envy – this type of complaining can be called bragging. You say, “The minister is dumb,” is another way of saying, “I am smarter than the minister.” (Chances are you are smarter than me.)
Power – you are trying to recruit others to your side of the argument. In other words, people are looking for support.
Excuse poor performance – people explain why they failed. For example, I would have caught the ball, but the sun was in my eyes.
I do not like that list because I found myself in it several times. Will Bowen said,“Complaining is like bad breath, you notice it when it comes out of somebody else’s mouth, but not your own.” I do not know why the Hebrews complained, but they complained. God had given them everything they wanted, yet they still complained. Perhaps, they were victims of human nature. It is true throughout time. It is true of our generation. We glorify the past and we only saw what we want, blind to what they have.
On November 4, 2010, Eunice Sanborn (1896-2010) became the world’s oldest living person. She celebrated her 114th birthday on July 20, 2010, at her church, the First Baptist, in Jacksonville, Texas. Eunice says that she not only loves everything about her life, but she also has “no complaints.” If she had wanted to complain, she would have had many things accumulate throughout her 114 years to complain of. Yet, this lady has demonstrated that complaining is a choice. Did you hear what I said? We choose to complain! It is not a requirement, and I cannot speak for you. I can only speak for myself. I am going to do my best to stop complaining. Here’s why…
I have just finished the most challenging year of my life. It all began about a year ago. In October, I thought I had a sinus infection. I was wrong! I had the coronavirus. I did not lose my sense of taste, but I had all the other symptoms. I spent five days in the hospital, and I missed five weeks of work. I should have stayed home another work because I was so fatigued. One of the saints in this church placed a stool behind the pulpit, but I was too weak to climb on it. In January, my wife, Kathryn, had heart surgery. I am thankful to say they did it robotically. She did great and only has three small incisions. In April, my daughter, Anna, got married. It was the week after Easter, so it was a busy time. It was an exciting time. Her wedding day was perfect. The weather was perfect. (How many 80-degree April days do you remember in Ohio?) The ceremony was perfect. The church reception was perfect. The evening reception was perfect. The gathering of family and friends was great. I would not change a single thing about that day. Two days later, Kathryn and I flew to Chicago to escape the post wedding blues. We had set an agenda to see the Windy City, but we did not see a thing on the list. Shortly after I arrived in Chicago, I was having emergency surgery for an intestinal blockage. It was during that surgery they nicked my bowel. I spent a week in the hospital in Chicago. I struggled when I got home, so I spent a few days in a local hospital. They sent me to the Cleveland Clinic, where I spent about ten days. I was home by my birthday on May 9th. I was released by my infectious disease doctor on my anniversary May 27th. I was released by my surgeon, who never operated on me, in Cleveland on July 27th. I preached on Easter, April 4, and did not preach again until July 11th. Most of that time I laid on my couch, where my wife cared for me. Without her, I would have ended up in a nursing home. I will always be grateful. People ask me how I am doing? I respond, I am not dead yet. Part of that is funny, part of that is true. I am happy to report I have not felt this good in a year.
I am telling you this again because my horrible year changed me. I learned three things during that horrible year. I knew them in the past so you could call them reminders. First, I learned life is short. Every day is a gift and not a single day should be wasted. I will be the first one to admit it. I have a good life. I do not know why I have such a good life. Second, I learned to never take your health for granted. It is true. If you have your health, then you have it all. Third, I learned to be less critical of others and more optimistic about life. I am going to do my best to stop being so negative and stop complaining about things that do not matter. What is going to matter to you in one hundred years? The only thing that is going to matter to you in one hundred years is Jesus! Complaining is a choice, so stop complaining.
In 1842, the great English writer Charles Dickens (1812-1870) came to America for the first time. He was treated like a celebrity and was impressed by our country. However, he found Americans to be curious. He felt that Americans took for granted the greatness of their country. He thought Americans had it backwards. He thought we had Thanksgiving Day all wrong. He thought Americans should take 364 days a year and thank God for all he given us, and one day a year to complain.
Do you remember the quote from Will Bowen? He said, “Complaining is like bad breath, you notice it when it comes out of somebody else’s mouth, but not your own.” Moses must have said it to the Hebrews, and I am going to tell you, stop complaining. God has been good to us!