As a sequel to my recent post “Mr. Grumbly Gills”, I thought it’d be helpful to draw from the deep wells of Jeremiah Burroughs’ old work The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment to further demonstrate the sin of grumbling. It’s easy to ignore pervasive “normal” sins like grumbling and fixate on more occasional “shocking” sins like that sexual sin that held you years ago or that time you dropped the F-bomb on your parents, kids, or spouse. But don’t be deceived: a murmuring mouth is particularly grieving to God because it reveals discontent in God. Psalm 106 says that one of the reasons God made the people of Israel “fall in the wilderness” was because they “murmured in their tents” (v. 25, 26). Therefore having a case of Mr. Grumbly Gills has serious consequences. In the following, I summarize and add to Burroughs’ section on “The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit” and offer seven evils of a grumbling, murmuring, and complaining heart within the Christian:
1. It models Satan. The angel Lucifer was the first grumbler. The onset of his fall from heaven was a result of dissatisfaction in his position and the desire to be like God.
“The Devil is the most discontented creature in the world, he is the proudest creature that is, and the most discontented creature, and the most dejected creature. Now, therefore, so much discontent as you have, so much of the spirit of Satan you have.”
2. It is contrary to who you are. You are a son and daughter with a heavenly Father who loves you, the deeply beloved bride of Christ, and actual members of Jesus’ body. When you bellyache and complain about every little thing you mar your royal and treasured position.
“Are you the King’s son, the son, the daughter, of the King of Heaven, and yet so disquieted and troubled, and vexed at every little thing that happens? As if a King’s son were to cry out that he is undone for losing a toy; what an unworthy thing would this be! So do you: you cry out as if you were undone and yet are a King’s son, you who stand in such relation to God, as to a father, you dishonor your father in this; as if either he had not wisdom, or power, or mercy enough to provide for you.”
3. It is the opposite of prayer. In prayer we come to God with requests and with praise and thankfulness in order to commune with him, but when we grumble, complain and murmur we essentially reverse prayer and rehearse all that we aren’t getting or all that God is not doing that we think he should be doing.
“By murmuring you undo your prayers, for it is exceedingly contrary to the prayer that you make to God. When you come to pray to God, you acknowledge his sovereignty over you, you come there to profess yourselves to be at God’s disposal.”
4. It is simply a waste of time. It accomplishes absolutely nothing. It accelerates personal stress and is downright annoying and draining to listen to.
“How many times do men and women, when they are discontented, let their thoughts run, and are musing and contriving, through their present discontentedness and let their discontented thoughts work in them for some hours together, and they spend their time in vain!”
5. It swallows up the blessing of mercy before it arrives. If you covet a particular mercy of God (like say a big raise), when it finally comes you won’t be thankful for it but will waste it. Coveting a blessing can turn the blessing into an idolatrous curse.
“Discontent and murmuring eats out the good and sweetness of a mercy before it comes. If God should give a mercy for the want of which we are discontented, yet the blessing of the mercy is, as it were, eaten out before we come to have it….There are many things which you desire as your lives, and think that you would be happy if you had them, yet when they come you do not find such happiness in them, but they prove to be the greatest crosses and afflictions that you ever had, and on this ground, because your hearts were immoderately set upon them before you had them.”
6. It worsens sufferings and afflictions. A murmuring attitude in the midst of affliction increases the affliction. Having a bad attitude in the midst of pleasant or mediocre circumstances poisons your heart and the hearts of others, and how much will this increase if this overwhelmingly negative spirit continues and truly difficult circumstances arrive.
“It in no way removes our afflictions, indeed, while they continue, they are a great deal the worse and heavier, for a discontented heart is a proud heart, and a proud heart will not pull down his sails when there comes a tempest and storm. If a sailor, when a tempest and storm comes, is perverse and refuses to pull down his sails, but is discontented with the storm, is his condition any better because he is discontented and will not pull down his sails? Will this help him?”
7. It wears the hopeless costume of pessimism.
This doesn’t mean you have to go all Joel Osteen on the world. It simply means consistent pessimism is not in line with the sure hope and life-changing power of the gospel. There is an inherent optimism within the gospel that produces hope, love, joy, peace, etc. Positive commands like “rejoice in the Lord” and “in everything give thanks” and negative commands like “be anxious for nothing” and “do not grumble” all reveal that there is a gospel optimism about the Christian life that is to flavor the personality of a Christian.