This article title jumped off the page at me: “How Complaining Physically Rewires Your Brain to be Anxious and Depressed”. Immediately this Bible verse came to mind:
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life. (Philippians 2:14-16a, NIV)
I had always thought this verse said when my mouth does not complain, others see God shining out of me. But God wants to change more than my speech:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV)
Joyfulness, prayer, and thankfulness involve our hearts, not just our actions. And notice God wants them to be constant. Why is this His will for us? Hearts that are joyful, thankful, and connected to God are living far more life. They are transformed by the Holy Spirit and change our thoughts and actions. Not only does that allow us to be a better image of Christ to those around us, it also — according to the premise of that article — protects our brain wiring from serious consequences.
Why do we complain instead of being joyful and thankful? If I am honest, I want to be in control. I want smooth sailing — as I define smooth. When that doesn’t happen, I view the situation as troubling and am tempted to complain. But smooth sailing is an unreasonable expectation. Jesus clearly stated:
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b, NIV)
As long as we walk this earth we should expect trouble, not be surprised by it! Far more life trusts God’s ultimate control and follows Him through the troubles and good circumstances. The Bible makes it clear God has a bigger plan for us and challenges us to have this perspective:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds. (James 1:2, NIV)
The verses that follow tell how trials mature our character until we “lack nothing”. Far more life understands trouble is a God-approved spiritual growth plan. My pastor says, “I love trials!” because he understands their purpose. We, too, can walk through troubles with joy when we believe God has a purpose for them.
Jesus faced a more difficult trial than we will ever encounter: the cross. How did He overcome temptation to resist God’s plan?
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…who for the joy set before him endured the cross. (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)
Jesus remembered the purpose for His suffering. He looked to the future rather than His current circumstances. And He did it with a focus on joy. The Bible does not record this, but I think Jesus was grateful for the opportunity to reconcile us to God. And that perspective allowed him to do the hardest thing ever without complaints even entering His mind. We, too, can do hard things without complaining when we remember that God is using them to mature us so we lack nothing.
God never commands us to be thankful FOR everything, simply to be thankful IN everything. He doesn’t expect us to be thankful for divorce or cancer, for example. But He does want us to remain thankful as we navigate those challenges, whether we are thankful for support from others, hope for a better future, lessons we learn along the way, or anything good we know about Him or receive from Him. We also know that our character and understanding of God can grow most during our most difficult experiences; we choose whether to grow better or bitter through our troubles. Like me, you may have life experiences that you wouldn’t want to repeat but are thankful for the closeness to God that developed through them.
I was recently challenged to not complain for 3 days. And to go beyond swallowing my complaints to replacing those thoughts with gratitude. I gave my family permission to lovingly point out my complaining, which one of my teens eagerly embraced. I was surprised by the lightness in my heart as I chose to embrace a new perspective. “I am so tired,” led to thankfulness for a comfortable bed and hope for better sleep that night. “There are so many dirty dishes,” was replaced with thankfulness for my family and ample food. When chronic pain flared I was able to be thankful for the things I could do — even if I had to move slowly and carefully. During those 3 days I realized complaining makes my mind feel gray and overcast but gratefulness makes it sunny and bright. I have committed to choosing gratitude so I can continue to enjoy far more life. (And my family continues to point out my complaints!)
Will you take that 3-day challenge grow in far more life? It will be a battle! You will need to examine your thoughts and determine whether they come from a grateful or complaining heart. When you aren’t sure, ask if they fit this criteria:
“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8, NIV)
These are the thoughts that help us constantly be joyful, thankful, and prayerful. They remind us that troubles lead to growth. They protect us from spiritual anxiety and spiritual depression. They are the far more life we crave.
Are you more likely to argue and complain or be joyful and thankful?
How do you respond to trouble and not getting what you want? What helps you respond with joy?
What promise can you look forward to that brings you hope and joy?
Will you take the 3-day challenge to practice thankfulness rather than complaining?
Enjoy far more joyful and thankful life this week!