March 17, 2017 • Life for Leaders
Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy.
Every now and then I have had colleagues who complain . . . a lot. I’m not referring to those who occasionally point to a problem that needs fixing. Rather, I’m thinking of people who make it a habit to bring up all the things that are bothering them, things at work, things at home, things in society, and so forth. I remember, for example, a colleague whom I could count on to tell me what bothered him about the organization for which we worked. Each day when I showed up in the office, I girded myself for his whining. Oh, I suppose that he often had a point. But his consistent negativity was exhausting. I don’t mind a critical insight every now and then, but complaining is something I’d rather avoid.
Thus, when I read Psalm 64, I cringe at the very first line: “O God, listen to my complaint.” I picture God flinching, getting ready to hear something he’d rather not hear. I wonder if God ever gets tired of hearing people’s complaints.
We’re often taught that we should begin our prayers with praise or thanksgiving. Indeed, that’s a good rule of thumb, one that is modeled in many psalms, as well as the prayer of Jesus we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” Yet, there are times when we approach God in such a raw and desperate state that praise and thanks just wouldn’t be honest. What we want to do is complain, to let the Lord know how unhappy we are. The fact that Psalm 64 is in the canon of Scripture suggests that such blunt, bold prayers of grievance are acceptable to the Lord. He wants genuine relationship with us, not some pious show of religiosity. This means that there are times when God graciously works in the divine complaint department.
Several years ago, I experienced a deep disappointment in my work life. I won’t go into the details because it involves other people. But, suffice it to say that I found myself profoundly unhappy, not only with them, but also and especially with the Lord. I felt as if he had let me down in a way that seemed unfair and unkind. Yet, as I prayed about this situation, my understanding of God’s love and grace actually kept me from being fully honest in prayer. I knew God is not really unfair and unkind, so how could I tell him how I really felt? Could I complain to God about my situation, or even about God’s apparent lack of help?
One night, I woke up in the early morning hours feeling intensely upset. I knew there was no way I could sleep. So I got up and went to a place in my house where I could speak plainly to the Lord. Then, I let God have it: all of my disappointment, my sadness, my sense of injustice, and my anger. It felt odd to talk to my Lord that way. But I clung to the biblical invitation to pour out my heart to him and to come before his throne of grace with boldness (Psalm 62:8; Hebrews 4:16).
When I was finally too exhausted to pray any more, I did not experience any instant infusion of peace or hope. But I did sense that there was nothing standing between God and me. In his matchless grace, he had taken my best shot, offering a listening ear and his quiet presence. In the following days, I began to find myself trusting God more with the situation that had caused me such grief, not just as a matter of theological conviction, but also as an expression of my heart.
How thankful I am that Scripture models and encourages such openness in prayer that we are free even to share our complaints with the Lord. And how thankful I am that our God is willing to hear us and to embrace us with his mercy.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have you ever complained to God?
Do you think there are times when we should not complain to God? When? Why?
Do you need to experience in new ways the freedom God gives you to share everything with him?
Gracious God, how thankful I am for the freedom you give me to share myself with you genuinely and openly. Thank you for being willing to hear my complaints. Thank you for inviting me to approach you even with boldness. What an incredible gift and privilege!
Help me, dear Lord, to be fully honest with you. May I learn to be more expressive of praise and thanks, even as I also learn to be more communicative about what’s heavy on my heart. Teach me what it means to pray without ceasing, living each moment in intimate relationship with you. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: Ruined by Their Own Tongues
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.