A Cure for Grumbling in the Wilderness

Events had led me to the conclusion that I was experiencing a proverbial “no good, terrible, very bad day.” I can specifically point to the major problem being a broken refrigerator, which had led, in turn, to a major change in expectations for my day off. If memory serves, the discovery that our hot water heater would likely need to be replaced was also still fresh on my mind, as was the frustration of a broken light switch in our garage. Add in what seemed like an epidemic of broken light bulbs (I think I actually changed a grand total of two) against the likely backdrop of standard chaos resulting from our two small kids and, suffice it to say, I was not thinking happy thoughts.

Somewhere along the line, a dim realization that these thoughts weren’t exactly justified was fanned into flame by a brief comment by my wife, who happened to be bothered but less exasperated by the day’s circumstances. It went something like this: “I feel like we’re grumbling in the wilderness.”

It was a nod to the biblical events of the Exodus. Specifically, it was a reference to the fact that God had poured out a massive amount of grace on his people, leading them out of literal oppression and slavery by means of the spectacularly miraculous (think plagues, parting of the Red Sea, pillar of cloud/fire, etc.), only to find them grumbling over their circumstances in the wilderness on the way to the promised land of Canaan.

One can easily read that story (see primarily the books of Exodus and Numbers) and think, “I can’t believe they had such a ridiculous attitude. They had been saved from slavery, for crying out loud! And here they were complaining about stuff like eating manna everyday. Not only that, but God had vividly and repeatedly demonstrated his powerful provision for his people. Why did they think he couldn’t or wouldn’t provide them with something as basic as water?”

Of course, such an attitude can miss the fact that I do much the same thing with alarming regularity. God has rescued me from a far more serious slavery (to sin) by means of the spectacularly miraculous (think his own Son becoming a man like me then dying and rising from the grave) only to find me complaining about something as silly as a broken refrigerator and water softener that needs to be replaced. If he’s so powerfully demonstrated his provision for me, why would I be concerned about him giving me anything else that I really need?

That my attitude is ridiculous is even more underscored by the fact that fact that God has also given me innumerable smaller blessings: a wonderful family, an abundance of good friends, a church community we love, a great place to live, etc., etc.

I’m convinced this is one of the reasons why regularly engaging in thanksgiving is so important. Taking stock of the gifts, both large and small, that God has lavished upon us is a great way to fight our grumbling and the heart condition from which it springs. When we pause to note just how God has blessed us—even in the midst of trials far more difficult than a broken appliance—we’re far more likely to see his goodness and grace as it has so often manifested itself in our lives. Our complaints give way to contentment, our restlessness to expectant trust.

In the words of the Psalms: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever” (see Pss. 106, 107, 118, 136).

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