Prayer Requests and Learning How to Pray

Can I Honor God with My Complaints?

  • Dawn Wilson Contributing Writer
  • Updated Aug 01, 2016
Can I Honor God with My Complaints?

“Quit your bellyachin’,” my dad said. “Just tell me what’s wrong so I can help.”

Daddy didn’t tolerate whining or complaining; but he was always ready to wipe my tears, hear my cries for help, and assist and encourage me, because he loved me. 

So like my Father God. 

On the surface, the Bible seems to contradict itself when it comes to prayer and complaining. 

We read, “Do all things without complaining…” (Philippians 2:14 NKJV). And “all things” includes prayer!

But then there’s, “I pour out my complaint before him…” (Psalm 142:2 ESV). What do I do with that?

There’s complaining and then there’s complaining

One kind is akin to grumbling and murmuring; the other is more like a humble lament. The first aims to get sympathy; the second acknowledges frustration and seeks a solution. The first is faithless and sinful; the second is faith-filled and powerful.

When we grumble and murmur, we grieve God. This is what the Israelites did in Numbers 11 when they complained about God’s provision, and in Numbers 13 when they complained about “giants” in the land and doubted God’s power. God asked Moses and Aaron, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me?” (Numbers 14:26-30).

Grumbling prayers will tend to focus on fear or sink into self-pity. They will ignore what God can do. Complaints of this sort accompany discontentment, wrong conclusions and bitter or rebellious attitudes. 

Some faithless, complaining prayers even blame God! But as R. C. Sproul wrote in The Prayer of the Lord, “… it is never proper to accuse God of wrongdoing.”

Jesus warned the disciples to stop grumbling against each other (John 6:43), and so did Paul and James (Philippians 2:14; James 5:9). How much more should we refrain from grumbling to the Lord! 

We simply can’t pray in a way that will honor God when we grumble in unbelief. As Joseph Stowell wrote in The Weight of Your Words, “Murmuring is always a godless pastime.” 

Murmuring prayers always show what we believe—that we do not believe God is good enough, faithful enough, loving enough or powerful enough. 

We see this attitude in the patriarch Job before the conclusion of his trials. At first he grumbled: “God you aren’t being righteous to let me suffer!” But when God responded, admonishing Job’s “words without knowledge” (Job 38:2-3), Job realized the error in his foolish complaining and he repented.

Habakkuk did much the same thing. He complained God wasn’t being just to allow wickedness. When God rebuked him, Habakkuk trembled (3:16a), knowing he was wrong to challenge God’s righteousness and cast blame.

But there is a different kind of complaint, and the Bible is full of examples of this righteous, faith-filled sort.

David, in the midst of deep trials, said, “I cry out loudly to GOD… I spill out all my complaints before him, and spell out my troubles in detail” (Psalm 142:1-2, Msg).

David knew where to take his legitimate complaints: to the One who could make a difference. He felt things deeply at one point saying “no one cares for my soul” (Psalm 142:4). Like many of us in the depths of struggle, he forgot about the God who always cares for His own. 

God’s people in scripture often acknowledged the pain and anguish in their hearts. We see examples of humble laments throughout the Psalms (such as in chapters 22, 51, 69, 74, 85, 88, 102, 137 and 140). The psalmists expressed deep emotions in prayers and songs while feeling overcome by the wickedness in their world—and in their own hearts.

But don’t miss the point in the psalmists’ faith-filled groanings. In their righteous “complaints” before the Lord, they modeled how we can offer our complaints to the Lord in a holy, God- honoring way. 

They never lost confidence in God’s love, faithfulness and power. They cried out to God because they knew He is the surest source of help. Often, side-by-side with their laments were powerful statements of gratitude and praise.

A revivalist taught me—regarding gossip—this truth: I should never share information with someone who isn’t involved in the situation or who isn’t part of the solution.

The same might be said for complaining. Our complaints must be shared with someone who is intimately involved in our lives and is one who has the answers, the solutions, to help. Sometimes, a person in authority can help; but more often than not, we need to take our complaints to the Lord. It’s actually a blessing, a gift, to take our most frustrating concerns to Him honestly, humbly and expectantly. 

1 Peter 5:7 encourages us: “Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully.”

So we can bring our laments, but we must leave them in the Lord’s hands, believing He will do what is best. We must embrace His promises! (2 Peter 1:4).

We cannot enter our prayer time grumbling or accusing God, and we must not leave our prayer time in a continuing state of lament. Our prayer time should change us, even if our circumstances remain unchanged. It grieves God when we doubt His presence, power, provision or peace. It pleases Him when we recognize His faithfulness, character and tenderhearted care.

So we must “take heart” (John 16:33), commit our problems to our Father’s care, wait patiently for His solution, and through it all, praise Him!

In short, when it comes to prayer, we must turn our complaints into confidence, our grumbling into gratitude, and our whining into worship.

Dawn Wilson and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, and also publishes LOL with God and Upgrade with Dawn. Dawn also travels with her husband in ministry with the International School Project.

Publication date: August 1, 2016