Tag Archives: Murmuring

The Cure for Discontentment

 

As I continue to be laid open and bare by conviction of the Spirit through the pastoral pen of Jeremiah Burroughs, I was reminded of the grace-filled medicine for the believer against the malady of murmuring and discontentment, namely thankfulness.

If discontentment is expressing dissatisfaction with the providential lot that the Lord has ordained through various circumstances, be they financial, marital, physical, and vocational, etc., then thankfulness would be the opposite expression, i.e. satisfaction and acceptance through the embrace of the providential lot that the Lord has laid upon us.

The Word of God expresses this most clearly in the primary thesis passage of Burroughs’s work, Philippians 4:11. Expanding our view of this passage to include the surrounding verses of the chapter, we find the following commendation from the Apostle Paul,

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It would appear that these verses provide the backdrop for Paul’s statement in verse 11 concerning his own expression of contentment in every situation. Working briefly through the passage, we note first that joy, a believer’s joy in Christ, is the first exhortation. In whatever situation or lot that may come our way, we are to be joyful. We simply cannot let our external situations determine our joy. How often are we guilty of allowing our moods or attitudes to be so swiftly turned like the tide of the sea when a particular circumstance comes our way? Here the frame of contentment is marked by the joyful fruit of the Spirit. Summarily, rejoicing in the Lord is to be a continual, external expression brought about by the internal reality of joy in Christ.

Next, we read in verse 5 of letting our “reasonableness be known to everyone.” This actually seems to be a poor translation choice by the ESV. The NASB translates this phrase, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” Here, the Apostle is calling us to a public display of the joyful condition of our hearts. This comes from the overflow of a joyful heart. Gentleness is a mark of a settled spirit that has its focus set on things above such that it is not easily rattled nor shaken by the things of this world.

In verse 6 we read of the third exhortation, though from the negative side, one against a believer’s anxiety. As the flow of this argument develops, it would appear that anxiety occurs from a failure to maintain a joyful disposition and to rejoice in the Lord. Because anxiety most often presents itself as an outward display of internal turbulence (the opposite of rejoicing), it follows that the gentleness of spirit the Apostle discussed in the previous verse is also not visible for all to see. At its root, anxiety is discontentedness.

Progressing out of the negative side of this exhortation, we enter once again into the positive side with the charge “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”. It’s evident that this imperative is meant to be the elixir for anxiety, “prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving” and it seems reasonable that it likewise forms the backbone for the Apostle’s contentment in every situation. Bitter and sweet water cannot flow from the same stream; thankfulness and anxiety, or discontentedness, cannot simultaneously exist. A prayerful heart is a thankful heart and a thankful heart prevents any notion of discontentment and its rotten fruits, anxiety, joylessness, murmuring, covetousness, etc. This brings us to our focus from the passage, namely that thankfulness to God undermines anxiety and is the bedrock out of which contentment flows, the direction toward which the Apostles turns his attention in verse 11.

For the Apostle Paul, thankfulness is a great theme in his writing. It is not limited to the Church at Philippi, but is expressed in his letters to Ephesus (5:20), Corinth (1 Co. 10:30), Colossae (3:15-16), and most notably Rome (1:8; 1:21; 14:6). In fact, he mentions thankfulness or its derivatives some 57 times in his epistles and in all except Galatians and Titus. Is it then any wonder how he can state the possession of contentment in every situation? He is governed by a thank-filled heart. What ought we to be thankful for? Believer in Christ, there are endless mercies of God for which to be thankful. Turning to Burroughs again we read “There is not one of you in the lowest condition but you have an abundance of mercies to bless God for, but discontentedness makes them nothing.”[1]

In the face of our discontentment, which lurks around every corner with a net to ensnare us, let us remember to be thankful and give ourselves unto prayer with thanksgiving in an expression of our gratitude to the Almighty God.

 

 

 

[1] Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Banner of Truth, 2013. P. 155.

Forgetting The Paternoster

 

In his classic Puritan work, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs devotes several chapters to the evils of a murmuring spirit. In speaking of this, he references the Apostle Peter’s denial of Christ and states that he had forgotten the Paternoster. The Paternoster is the Latin name given to the Lord’s Prayer (it begins “Our Father”), in citing Peter’s forgetfulness in this matter, namely the portion of the prayer “Hallowed be your name….Your Kingdom come”, Burroughs relates this to our own forgetfulness of the Paternoster when we murmur. He writes,

“When you have a murmuring and discontented hearts, you forget your prayers, you forget what you have prayed for. What do you pray, but, Give us this day our daily bread?” Now God does not teach any of you to pray, Lord, give me so much a year, or let me have this kind of cloth, and so many dishes at my table. Christ does not teach you to pray so, but he teaches us to pray, ‘Lord, give us our bread,’ showing that you should be content with a little.”[1]

In reading through Burroughs’s example and application to our own condition, the thought occurred to me, how often are we likened to Peter and forget The Paternoster? It would seem this most often occurs as a failure to recognize the attributes of God’s character that are revealed in our model prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. Though many more could be added, below are some practical examples of forgetting The Paternoster:

  • When we forget Fatherhood of God
  • When we forget the holiness of God
  • When we forget the providence of God
  • When we forget the sovereignty of God
  • When we forget the mercy of God
  • When we forget the grace of God
  • When we forget the justice of God
  • When we forget the authority of God

Each of these have a practical outworking in our daily lives and are most reflected in our attitudes such as

  • When we murmur and complain
  • When we are anxious
  • When we are discontent
  • When we are jealous or covetous
  • When we think too highly of ourselves
  • When we think too lowly of ourselves
  • When we are quicker to condemn than to forgive
  • When we are self-reliant, self-sufficient, self-exalting
  • When we succumb to our temptations

The Lord’s Prayer, as it is so called, was Christ’s response to the disciples petition to teach them to pray. In His instructive model, He has taught us, among other things, a remedy against murmuring, namely that from Him and to Him and through Him are all things; said succinctly that God is a sovereign God. However, we far too easily forget the one to Whom we’ve prayed, because our hearts become so quickly disoriented by our selfish desires. As Burroughs adds,

“Where did Christ teach us provision for so long a time? No, but if we have bread for this day, Christ would have us content. Therefore when we murmur because we have no so much variety as others have, we do, as it were, forget our Paternoster. It is against our prayers; we do not in our lives hold forth the acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God over us as we seem to acknowledge in our prayers. Therefore when at any time you find your hearts murmuring, then do but reflect upon yourselves and think thus: Is this according to my prayers, in which I held forth the sovereign power and authority that God has over me?”[2]

Christian, let us be vigilant to set our minds on the sovereign, providential God Who deserves our gratitude and praise, not our murmuring and discontentment, lest we find ourselves alongside Peter in forgetting the Paternoster.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive our trespasses. As we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, the glory forever.

[1] Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentenment. Banner of Truth, pp. 152-153.

[2] Pg. 153

Silence is Golden

As the father of a 4-year old and soon of a newborn, there are certain non-negotiables regarding attitude and subsequent discipline that have been set down in stone, not the least of which is whining. There is something intensely irritating and disruptive about whining that flows out of the abundance of a dissatisfied heart. Yet for all the displeasure that whining brings a parent from their child, how often do we as Christians murmur and whine about our respective circumstances without so much as a thought toward how displeasing it must be to God.

In the Book of Numbers, Moses records for us several instances of Israel’s murmuring before the LORD. In Numbers 11:1, the chapter begins with the following, “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.” From the time they left their enslavement in Egypt to the wilderness of Sinai recorded in this passage, Israel was a murmuring people. God’s chilling response to their murmuring is captured in this verse as His “anger was kindled” against them. I suppose in all the Bible there is not a more fearful description of the displeasure of God as directed toward man than the kindling of His anger. Note how God’s anger is not aroused because of an “obvious sin” such as murder, adultery, or even homosexuality. Instead, it is directed toward the grumbling and discontentment expressed by His covenant people. This should serve as a stark warning to us when we begin to classify particular sins as bottom-of-the-barrel, perhaps more obvious in their manifestation, while other sins that largely go unnoticed are overlooked, coddled, and accepted as normal personality traits. God is clear in this verse; His anger is kindled against grumbling and complaining.

In what appears to be a play on words, the kindling of God’s anger results in the “fire of the LORD” burning among the people and consuming “some outlying parts of the camp.” Think God doesn’t take the words we speak seriously? (As a reminder, Matthew 12:36 informs us that we will be accountable for every word we speak.) Interestingly, God doesn’t consume the entire camp, but strikes the outlying parts of the camp as a display not only of His sovereign rule in judgment, but speaks volumes of His mercy. God’s kindness here was meant to bring the people to repentance for their murmuring.
Continuing on in the passage from Numbers 11

“2 Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died down. 3 So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned among them.
4 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” Num. 11:2-6

Upon witnessing the sampling of God’s displeasure toward murmuring, the people turn their attention towards Moses and plead for His intercession with God on their behalf. This passage indicates nothing of the contriteness of the people’s heart, yet God complies with Moses’ request and relents of His anger. This should have been a sufficient warning, but the sinfulness of sin and the hardness of man’s heart is not easily swayed apart from the sovereign, irresistible grace of God to remove the heart of stone. As in the case of the men who were struck blind in Sodom and Gomorrah yet they still groped for the doorway of Lot to fulfill their lusts, the rabble in the wilderness continued in their cravings and murmured once again against the LORD.

The Hebrew phrase, translated by the ESV as rabble, is generally understood to be a reference to the nature of the people who had assembled as a mixed multitude, i.e. of Jews and Gentiles, perhaps a reference to those whom had come out of Egypt alongside the Israelites. Regardless, it becomes evident in verse 4 that the fire sent from God did not serve as a lasting reminder to warn the people of their murmuring. Surely even those upon final judgment who are in the place of everlasting torment will continue to gnash their teeth in rebellion towards the all-holy God.

Through the murmuring of the people, this time over the kind of food (manna) that God in His graciousness and provision had given the people, Moses turns again to the Lord. His impatience and irritation with the people’s murmuring reaches its apex as he simply asks the Lord to kill him (Num. 11:14-15). Christian, we are not witnessing here the outpouring of gross immorality among the people. There is no indication of sexual depravity, murderous rampage, or illicit behaviors of the kind that so fixes our attention on a regular basis through the nightly news or the kind of sin that draws gasps from our mouths that so and so in the church has committed. It is complaining; murmuring against the providence of God from a discontent heart; dissatisfied with circumstances with which one is faced and it has sparked the anger of God, a warning of judgment, and a burden so great on their only intercessor with God that he has asked to be killed. Can you begin to feel the weight of how our grumbling and complaining must be a stench in the nostrils of God?

What happens next in the Numbers 11 account is simply stunning.

16 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. 17 And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone. 18 And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the LORD, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. 19 You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, 20 but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’” 21 But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ 22 Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” 23 And the LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”

What condescension on God’s part to His servant Moses in providing him with additional help to ease his burden in hearing the complaints of the people. On the one hand, God’s graciousness is on display. However, on the other hand, we are about to witness the hatred of God towards sin in upholding His own holiness. In case you glossed over it above, return your eyes again to verses 19-20. God is not merely going to provide meat for the malcontents who are dissatisfied with manna, He is going to gorge them with it. God would provide them so much meat it would overflow out of their nostrils and “becomes loathsome to you.” This is not a “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” passage. This is the discipline and judgment of God in handing the people over to their sinful cravings. Similar in principle to Romans 1, God often gives people up to the desires of their flesh and it is the judgment that perfectly fits the crime.

It even becomes evident that the peoples murmuring has begun to infect the faith of Moses as he begins to vocalize his unbelief in the power of the Lord, thinking somehow that God has levied against him an even greater burden of providing meat for 600,000 people for an entire month. He was blind to the stunning statement by God that it was He who would provide the meat and it would be in a direct act of judgment against the people.

Concluding this account we read of the fulfillment of God’s promise

31 Then a wind from the LORD sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground. 32 And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33 While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague. 34 Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving. 35 From Kibroth-hattaavah the people journeyed to Hazeroth, and they remained at Hazeroth.

Just as He had indicated to Moses, God provided the meat for the people, though if ever there was a fitting time to say “be careful what you wish for” it was now. In similar fashion to the fire that burned outside the camp, judgment again rains outside the camp in the form of quail. Certainly at this point the people must be satisfied that their murmuring has been heard and has bent the will of the Almighty to meet their demands. Until we read of the startling account from verse 33, “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague.”

Psalm 78 offers commentary on this event in the following verses

In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all the night with a fiery light.
15 He split rocks in the wilderness
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
16 He made streams come out of the rock
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
17 Yet they sinned still more against him,
rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
18 They tested God in their heart
by demanding the food they craved.
19 They spoke against God, saying,
“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
20 He struck the rock so that water gushed out
and streams overflowed.
Can he also give bread
or provide meat for his people?”
21 Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of wrath;
a fire was kindled against Jacob;
his anger rose against Israel,
22 because they did not believe in God
and did not trust his saving power.
23 Yet he commanded the skies above
and opened the doors of heaven,
24 and he rained down on them manna to eat
and gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Man ate of the bread of the angels;
he sent them food in abundance.
26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
and by his power he led out the south wind;
27 he rained meat on them like dust,
winged birds like the sand of the seas;
28 he let them fall in the midst of their camp,
all around their dwellings.
29 And they ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they craved.
30 But before they had satisfied their craving,
while the food was still in their mouths,
31 the anger of God rose against them,
and he killed the strongest of them
and laid low the young men of Israel.
32 In spite of all this, they still sinned;
despite his wonders, they did not believe. (Ps. 78:14-32)

After reading through and meditating on this account, is it any wonder why Puritan Thomas Brooks calls murmuring the “mother of all sins”? If you’re yet unimpressed, think about how murmuring and complaining calls into question the goodness and kindness of God; about how it rejects the supply of God in His providence. Murmuring therefore is the external product of internal unbelief. It is a dissatisfaction with Who God is and What He has done or will do. It represents the height of idolatry that man in his finiteness could do more with less. Oh, how often we find ourselves murmuring Christian. How often we grow dissatisfied with circumstances that surround us. Whether this be God’s provision in our housing, food or clothing, jobs, health, the lack of a spouse or even something so trivial as “It’s too hot” or “Why did it have to rain today.” Oh that we would not kindle the anger of God with our murmuring. Let us instead, like Job, put our hands to our mouths and be content with almighty provision of God thanking Him for the slightest of crumbs that may fall from the Master’s table.