Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Be Careful when You Complain to God (Numbers 11:1-3)

And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died down. So, the name of the place was called Taberah because the fire of the LORD burned among them.

Numbers 11:1-3

When I teach my parishioners about lamenting in the Psalms, I describe the lament as bringing your dire complaints to God. Lament is a different kind of complaint. We can call it a holy complaint. A lament not only brings a complaint to God, but the one in such despair also relies on and trusts in Him for deliverance. A complaint like this in Numbers, however, as well as in other places we’ve seen, is tantamount to a child whining to their parents because they prefer to have things their way.

Thus, when you complain to God, be careful. Is it a lament? That is, are you lifting your complaints to God in prayer, trusting in His mercy to deliver you? If so, you are in good company with the Prophets and psalmists before you. Or is your complaint a result of your bitterness toward God? If this is the case, you are in bad company with the cry-baby Israelites. Be sure that when you complain, you do so as a lament. Following the example of the psalmists, you (1) state your complaint, (2) state the reason(s) for your complaint, and (3) trust in God’s deliverance (see, for example, Psalms 3-7, 10-14, 16-17, etc.).

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