Thanksgiving is this week. So the calendar tells us it’s time to begin contemplating why we are thankful. Giving thanks for family, friends, or our jobs in a general sense is fairly easy. Giving thanks for specific things and even for the heartaches of life? Well, sometimes that takes more emotional effort than we care to exert. Why is it that heartfelt gratitude is so difficult at times? Why are we more likely to vent our complaints than voice our thanks?
Journalist James Glassman declares that “a culture of complaint” has infected American society. The grievances of Americans are many, but include a protest against the prevalence of outsourcing, as U.S. companies move jobs to countries like China and India. Some Americans file complaints against food companies, seeking to hold a corporation responsible for making them fat. Others seek litigation against banks for lending them money even though they were a credit risk. There are complaints about overcrowding in schools, low paying jobs, and cheap foreign labor. There are complaints when baseball or soccer games get rained out and have to be rescheduled for another day that’s already jam-packed. There are complaints when others don’t meet our wants or needs. There are complaints when others are better off than we are. There are complaints when others don’t meet our expectations or personal preferences. The truth is that most of our complaints are either unfounded or ignore offsetting blessings.
In Psalm 106:1, we’re challenged to “Give thanks to the LORD” because He has been so good to every one of us and His mercy endures forever—our continued survival is proof of that. If we received what we really deserve, we would be lost and separated from Him forever (Rom. 3:9-20).
In the second verse of Psalm 106, we fast-forward to our eternal home where no human tongue will ever be able to recount all the miraculous interventions of God on behalf of His people —“Who can declare the Lord’s mighty acts or proclaim all the praise due Him?” Eternity itself will not be long enough to thank Him adequately for all that He is and all that He has done. It’s here that we’re reminded that a significant part of our ability to give thanks is recognizing our need and what was done for us. When we thoughtfully consider who God is and what He’s done, we begin to turn our complaints into thanks!
Throughout the rest of Psalm 106 (vv. 6-46), the Israelites’ complaints against God remind us of our own. In 1 Corinthians 10:11 we are told: “Now these things happened to them (Israel) as examples, and they were written as a warning to us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. “
The Israelites complaints, and ours, are reflected in…
- Their ingratitude (Psalm 106:6-7) —they did not fully appreciate the wonders God performed in Egypt to purchase their freedom. If Israel should have been grateful for redemption by power from Egypt, how much more grateful should we be for redemption by the blood of Christ from sin and from Satan!
- Their forgetfulness (Psalm 106:7) —too quickly the memory of God’s innumerable mercies faded from their minds. In the same way, how easily we forget the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus. How guilty we are of “the curse of dry-eyed Christianity.”
- Their rebellion (Psalm 106:7)—when they came to the Red Sea, they complained that God had led them to die in the wilderness, and that it would have been better to have stayed in Egypt (Ex. 14:11, 12). It becomes a way of life to complain about the weather, about our living conditions, about minor inconveniences, and even about the poor reception of our cell phones or speed of our internet access.
But their sin did not throw cold water the Lord’s burning love. He found in their rebellion an opportunity to reveal Himself as their Servant and Savior. True to His name, He delivered them (vv. 8-11)! When they saw this marvelous converging of events, how could the Jews help believing Him and singing His praise (vs. 12)? They broke out in a spontaneous worship service. Today, they would have been posting His fulfilled promises on facebook or tweeting about it.
But it wasn’t long before another cycle of sin and complaints began…
- Their short memory (Psalm 106:13a)—they soon forgot His miracles for them. Life went on and new challenges came to life.
- Their self-will (Psalm 106:13b)—they would not wait for His guidance. God’s Spirit continues to warn us against putting our will above the will of God and our feelings above the truth of God’s Word.
- Their selfishness (Psalm 106:14-15)—they abandoned self-control in their craving for food (Num. 11:1–35). Their appetites and selfish desires came with a bill they weren’t able to pay (Rom. 6:23).
- Their provocation (Psalm 106:14-15)— the wilderness generation challenged God’s will and ability to provide for their hunger, they received a two-edged settlement of their complaints. In the same way, we question and doubt God’s plan to provide for us when it’s not on our terms or on our schedule.
- Their rejection of God’s leadership (Psalm 106:16-18)— Dathan and Abiram, the rebels, together with Korah and On, were leaders of a rebellion against Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:1–30). God’s Word warns us against being unmercifully critical of God’s leadership, whether governmental officials, leaders in the church, or employers in our workplace, or parents in the home.
- Their idolatry (Psalm 106:19–23). Instead of acknowledging God as their Savior from Egypt, they gave all the honor to the lifeless man-made calf. Today, we are tempted with the worship of money, home, cars, education, pleasure, or worldly success rather than believe that true life is in Christ alone.
- Their faithlessness to trust God’s faithfulness (Psalm 106:24-27) At Kadesh Barnea, the majority of the Israelites feared the eyewitness report of the 10 spies (Num. 14:2, 27, 28) rather than believe the scouting report of Caleb to conquer the Promised Land by faith. This sin caused Israel to wander in the wilderness for thirty-eight years and barred the guilty ones from entering the Promised Land. Our faithlessness causes us to wander away from the life and peace that comes with walking by God’s Spirit.
- Their sinful worship (Psalm 106:28–31) – The men of Israel not only committed sexual immorality with the daughters of Moab, they also joined in sacrificing to the dead and in other pagan ceremonies involved in the worship of the Baal of Peor (Num. 25:3–8). God was so infuriated that He sent a plague to slay the people by the thousands. When Aaron’s grandson, Phinehas, saw an Israelite taking a Moabite woman to his tent, he killed both of them with his spear. This stopped the plague, but only after twenty-four thousand had died. As NT believers who are not under the Law of Moses, our zealous acts are not to be violent, but God still recognizes righteousness by faith and rewards us with His peace.
- Their impatient frustration (Psalm 106:32-33)—At the waters of Meribah (strife), the people blatantly accused Moses – and by implication, God – of leading them into the wilderness to die of thirst. Instead of speaking to the rock, as God said, Moses struck it twice with his rod out of frustration. He also spoke rashly against the people for their rebellion (Num. 20:2–13). As a result God decreed that he would be denied the privilege of leading the people of Israel into the land of promise. When we are hurt and frustrated by the people around us, how often we, too, fly off the handle with our complaints.
Even after the Israelites finally entered the Land of Promise, the new environment of Canaan did not change the nature of the Israelites to continue their complaining ways, as seen by:
- Their failure to obey God completely (Psalm 106:34) — The debased Canaanites were a gangrenous limb of the human race. After bearing with them for hundreds of years, God decided that the only solution was amputation, and committed the surgery to Israel. But they failed to obey Him (Judg. 1:27–36).
- Their cultural captivity (Psalm 106:35) — By hanging out with and intermarrying with those who rejected God and His righteous standards, Israel corrupted their own relationship with God. The sex-driven culture of the Canaanites soon became the cultural norm of the Israelites. Instead of being instruments of God righteousness, they soon became objects of His wrath.
- Their repeated idolatry (Psalm 106:36) — Soon the Jews were worshiping idols, again, instead of the true and living God. On our own, in our selfish mind-set, we all have hurts, habits, and hang-ups that weigh us down and trip us up. We’re powerless to escape the hypnotic gaze of a critical eye, but what we can’t do on our own, God did…and still does (Romans – pretty much all of it).
- Their sacrifices of children (Psalm 106:37-39). Particularly revolting to the Lord was the sacrifice of their sons and daughters to appease the demons (2 Kgs. 3:27; 21:6; Ezek. 16:20, 21). Sons and daughters of God’s chosen people were sacrificed to the filthy idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with murder. In a similar way, too often our children are sacrificed at the alter of our desire for financial success or for the fleeting desire of happiness. Our children are raised with the ambition to make a name for themselves in sports or academics as a precursor to success in business or their professions. We, too, raise them for the world.
- Their rejection of God’s plan (Psalm 106:40-46) —In the book of Judges, we read the cyclical description of the Israelites’ rebellion to live life on their own terms in a time when “everyone did whatever he wanted.” Offended with His people the Lord turned them over to the Mesopotamians, the Midianites, the Philistines, the Moabites, and others. These ungodly nations lorded it over the Jews, oppressing them and persecuting them. In spite of this treatment, the people persisted in their sin and rebellion against the Lord. But whenever they turned to Him in repentance, He looked down on them in mercy. Mindful of His covenant, He turned from judgment to display His steadfast love. Even during the darkest hours of their captivity, the Lord caused them to be pitied by their captors—a touching example of mercy triumphing over judgment.
Life is just full of pain sometimes. And that’s what it takes to get our attention off of ourselves and back to God. In 2006, Bart Millard, lead singer for MercyMe (and huge Texas Rangers fan by the way) had a difficult year with his brother dying and his son being diagnosed with diabetes. As a follower of Christ, he continuously sought to give thanks to God—even when he had every reason to complain. It was after these troubled days that Millard wrote, “Jesus Bring the Rain.” It’s a challenge to not only say the words, but to be the kind of person that can sing…
Bring me joy – bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings Your glory
And I know there’ll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that’s what it takes to praise You
Jesus, bring the rain.
These history lessons from God’s Word and lessons from His chosen people are recorded so that we can choose to give thanks when it’s easier to post our complaints: “these things happened to them as examples, and they were written as a warning to us…”
Save us, GOD, our God! Gather us back out of exile so we can give thanks to Your Holy Name and join in the glory when You are praised! Blessed be GOD, Israel’s God! Bless now, bless always! Oh! Let everyone say Amen! Hallelujah!
Complaints turn to thanks when we remember God’s warnings and rest in His salvation (Psalm 106:47-48).
Before I’m asked to pass the potatoes or dressing on Thanksgiving Day, I want to take some time to count God’s specific blessings, remember His Word, and simply rest in Him as He continues to care for me, for my family, and for my friends.
Turn my complaints into thanks, Lord, as I trust in You and walk with You. Help me remember You, Your promises, Your character, and Your love. Oh! Let everyone say Amen! Hallelujah!