This is a bit out of left field—but that’s where my brain has been spending a lot of time lately, so here goes.
Over the past few months, I’ve been making a short list of really bad habits—not like nail-biting or over-eating. These are more elusive bad habits—and a lot more dangerous. They are the things that tend to creep in—emphasis on CREEP—when life takes a turn we didn’t approve of. These are attitudes or behaviors we tend to default into when expectations go unmet, or dreams are left unfulfilled—when our hopes are smashed on the rocks of disappointment.
Life is filled with reminders that we really aren’t in control. And when those reminders come—like a bucket of cold water—they can startle us into a carnal cycle of thinking. They can lead us into a downward spiral of emotional and spiritual distress. They can bring out the most fleshly of thought patterns.
If you haven’t already had this experience in the new year, you will soon. It may be something as small as a bad hair day or as large as a major life crisis—but guaranteed, something in your life, very soon, will not go as you expected or planned. Here’s the question.
When that happens—how will you respond?
May I suggest the following course of action. This list has ten things, but here are the first five:
1. Stop complaining, start thanking—just take a look at the book of Exodus and examine the word “murmur” in its various forms. You will discover that God takes complaining very seriously. And in contrast, He commands us repeatedly in His Word to give thanks unto Him—in all things and for all things. So, when things go wrong, start right here. Don’t complain. Don’t murmur. It’s a waste of emotional energy. Murmuring is against God—it is a formal complaint against His sovereignty. Refuse to do it. Instead, take the high road and say “Thank you!” It may seem impossible. It may feel awkward. But it is obedient, and it’s the first step to having real joy, even when things aren’t going according to plan.
2. Stop moping, start hoping—murmuring leads to moping. Complaints, whether kept in the heart or uttered on the lips, are like weights draped over the soul. They are heavy and burdensome. They laden the heart with self-pity and false feelings of “I deserve better.” Self-pity is a pathetic trap—don’t go there. Moping robs the heart of the blessing of God’s presence and power in the midst of the trial. It quenches the Spirit. Choosing to mope is the same as choosing to prolong and even worsen the agony of disappointment. Decide that moping is out in the new year. No self-pity. Instead, determine to hope in God, no matter where the road of life may twist or turn.
3. Stop envying, start serving—first we murmur, then we mope, then we resent. We start to look at others and compare. We start to tabulate and calculate. And in our fleshly mind-set, we always come up short. Someone else has it better. Someone else has it easier. It’s a mind game we will never win. Comparison leads to envy and discontentment—a bad spirit festers and feeds on every perceived inequity or injustice. STOP!
Do you see the unraveling of life? Murmuring, moping, envying. Stop the cycle and start serving. Yes! From where you are—disappointment and all, burdens and all—get up, shake the dust off, bandage your wounds, and reach out a helping hand to someone else. Someone has it worse. Someone has more pain. Someone has greater disappointment. Someone has a harder time (times 100) right now! Find them and help them—from the midst of your hardship, do something to bless someone else.
4. Stop criticizing, start uplifting—if you fall into the first three bad habits, the fourth will follow quickly. Once you are well into murmuring, moping, and envying, the next step is criticizing. It won’t be long before you start talking about all the issues you see in everybody else. You will find another miserable heart, a listening ear that commiserates with your lot, and you will start to attack others, like a wounded animal. The things that are eating you will start coming out—out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. Out of your pain and self-pity, the only way you’ll feel a bit of relief is to pick others apart and magnify their failures. It’s a pathetic tactic, but a bit like a spiritual narcotic. It makes you feel better temporarily and it can be addicting.
Choose to quit criticizing and start uplifting. Grateful people in the grip of God’s amazing grace always see the best in others and point it out. In the spirit of 1 Corinthians 13, they understand that love bears all things, believes all things, and hopes all things.
5. Stop discouraging, start encouraging—A moping, murmuring, envious, backbiting person will ultimately be a discourager. Another word for what I mean is “harsh.” This is when your moping, murmuring spirit begins to spill over into your relationships with harsh tones and sharp words. This is when those you love are hurt by your edginess, stifled by your anger, or wounded by your contempt. Anyone can be a discourager—all it takes is a bit of flesh and an out of control tongue.
Instead, choose to encourage others. Trade harsh for gentle. Trade caustic for caring. Trade insulting for inspiring. Everybody needs encouragement!
I don’t know what’s gone wildly awry in your life, but I do know that these five things won’t help make it right. Think of this—regardless of what’s going on—you have today. You have this moment. You are surrounded by people—each one an opportunity to bless someone else.
Rather than descend into these five behaviors—take a different path. Choose your words like an artist chooses his brush and color. Choose your deeds like a designer chooses his elements. Take every moment and every relationship and turn it into a serving, building, growing, helping opportunity.
Christians really need to give up complaining, moping, envying, criticizing, and discouraging. We’ll take a look at five more things soon. Thanks for stopping by, and be sure to add your thoughts!