The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit - Part 3

The following is the next installment in Tim Challies' series Reading the Classics Together - The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I'll try to make each post readable on its own, however I highly encourage your own study of this Puritan classic by Jeremiah Burroughs.

(Chapter 9, part one)

“The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit - concluded"

In this chapter we conclude our study of the many good reasons why we should absolutely hate the sins of murmuring and discontent. I believe that any person who can read this chapter in its entirety and not feel convicted at some point is either not paying attention, or not a new creature in Christ.

VI. “By murmuring you undo your prayers, for it is exceedingly contrary to the prayers that you make to God.”
"When you come to pray to God, you acknowledge his sovereignty over you, you come there to profess yourselves to be at God's disposal. What do you pray for unless you acknowledge that you are at his disposal? Unless you will stand as it were at his disposal, never come to petition him. If you will come to petition him and yet will be your own carver you go contrary to your prayers....when you have murmuring and discontented hearts, you forget your prayers, you forget what you have prayed for."
According to Burroughs the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:25-34) teaches us that we should really be praying only for each day’s provision, and to be content with that when we have it. It also teaches that we should be praying to see Him hallowed and His will accomplished in our hearts and lives, and to be content with that as well. These things are what we need for our physical and spiritual well being.
"Where did Christ teach us to pray, Lord, give us provision for so long a time? No, but if we have bread for this day, Christ would have us content."
I don't know about you, but I am prone to worry when I receive a bill in the mail and don’t see the money in the bank to pay it right away, even though it's due date is yet a ways off. I’m happiest when I see a surplus in my account. Only then do I feel that I can rest. This feeling betrays the fact that I wasn't really at rest when it wasn’t there. I like to have a surplus, because then I can put my trust in what I can see and so not have to trust God, who I can't see. This tells me I don’t always trust God as much as I trust money in the bank.

VII. Murmuring causes at least five evil effects upon the discontented heart.

"By murmuring and discontent … you come to lose a great deal of time.”
When you are alone you should spend your time in holy meditation, but you are spending your time in discontented thoughts.”

Time spent murmuring is time wasted that was meant to be spent glorifying God!
"For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete." 2 Corinthians 10:3-6

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let you reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Philippians 4: 4-8
And so, when I find myself grumbling about...let's say, for instance, my aging appearance, I will instead determine to be thankful to the Lord for letting me live to know Him and to be on this earth long enough to have aged thus far. I will remind myself that it is God who formed and shaped me and it’s wrong to grumble about His work. I will remind myself that He made me for His glory, not my own. He is the one to be admired for eternity and by all creation, not me. I will remind myself of what He finds beautiful, ie: “the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.” 1 Peter 3: 4-6

Discontent "unfits you for duty."
"When you should be enjoying communion with God, you are distracted in your thoughts about the trial that has befallen you, whereas had you but a quiet spirit, though great trials befell you, yet they would never hinder you in the performance of any duty.”
This is a very high ideal, impossible it would seem. Yet if we long for Christlikeness, this is something we must continue to strive for even though we often fail. For Christ faced unthinkable trials and yet fulfilled everything required of Him. And there are others who've achieved great success in this regard. I see them in Scripture, and in church history, and even in some people I’ve known. It is God’s plan for His people that they become more effective as a result of hardships, not less. Consider James 1: 2-3, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” Certainly you can remember a time when, as a believer, when you have experienced great peace and been able to function in the service of the Lord in spite of terrible circumstances. If you were able to do it once, by God's grace you will be able to do it again.

"Murmuring leads to many wicked risings and resolutions of the heart."
"If the Lord had suffered you to have done what you had sometimes thought to do, in a discontented fit, what wretched misery you would have brought upon yourselves! Oh, it was a mercy of God that stopped you; had not God stopped you, but let you go on when you thought to help yourselves this way and the other way, oh, it would have been ill with you."
This is a call to take an honest look at ourselves and our own capacities for evil, and to be humbled. It is also an occasion to give thanks to God for preventing us from carrying out all the wicked schemes we’ve concocted when in the throws of "a discontented fit" (what an appropriate description!) Remember what you’re capable of lest you think too highly of yourself!

Discontent leads to unthankfulness.
"Unthankfulness is an evil and a wicked effect, which comes from discontent. The Scripture ranks unthankfulness among very great sins. Men and women, who are discontented, though they enjoy many mercies from God, yet they are thankful for none of them, for this is the vile nature of discontent, to lessen every mercy of God. It makes those mercies they have from God as nothing to them, because they cannot have what they want."
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be know about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools..." Romans 1:18-22 (Based upon Romans 1:28-29, we could also rightly say that unthankfulness also leads to murmuring/complaining. And so it becomes a vicious cycle.)

Burroughs quotes Luther as saying,
"This is the rhetoric of the Spirit of God, to extenuate evil things, and to amplify good things: if a cross comes to make the cross but little, but if there is a mercy to make the mercy great." But the Devil goes quite contrary, says Luther, his retoric is quite otherwise, he lessens God's mercies, and amplifies evil things....Thus the rhetoric of Satan lessens God's mercies, and increases afflictions.
It is this kind of thinking which is a main cause of depression, discouragement, and other dissatisfied ways of thinking. Like with Eve, the devil's goal is to get us to focus on the thing we do not, can not, or should not have to the exclusion of caring any more or being thankful for the many blessings which we already do have.

Murmuring "causes shiftings of spirit".
Those who murmur and are discontented are liable to temptations to shift for themselves in sinful and ungodly ways; discontent is the ground of shifting courses and unlawful ways.”
Many ancient and modern sinful deeds have been brought about by discontent. For some biblical examples, consider Gen. 3: 1-6, where Eve ate the forbidden fruit, as did Adam, and plunged humanity into sin and death; or Gen. 4: 1-8, where Cain envied his brother and committed history’s first murder; or Gen. 25: 29-34 where Esau despised his birthright and sold it to his brother for a bowl of stew. Or, consider something closer to home, our own sinful acts committed by us in our own lives as a result of our own discontent. How many evil "shiftings" we might have avoided if we'd only learned to be content!

VIII. Murmuring “is a foolish sin”.
“There is a great deal of folly, extreme folly, in a discontented heart... It takes away the present comfort of what you have, because you have not something that you would have.”
You cannot enjoy what God has blessed you with because you’re so focused on what you don’t have. You might as well not have any of the other blessings because you refuse to enjoy them.
“By all your discontent you cannot help yourselves, you cannot get anything by it.”
Consider Matthew 6: 25-34 for a moment. We don’t often think of it this way, but worry is an opposite of contentment. As I mentioned earlier, I am inclined to worry about getting the bills paid. I’m often not content to wait for God’s provision, which has always come in due time, because I want it now. I don’t want to have to trust God to bring it in time. I want security I can see right now. Take a moment to meditate on this concept of discontent as the source of anxiety. Select one of the things about which you're prone to worry and see if you can’t make the connection between that and the related area of discontent in your heart.

“There are commonly many foolish attitudes that a discontented heart is guilty of. They carry themselves foolishly towards God and towards men.”
In other words, discontented people are prone to foolish behavior.
“Discontent and murmuring eats out the good and sweetness of a mercy before it comes...If God gives the man or woman who is discontented for want of some good thing, that good thing before they are humbled for their discontent, such a man or woman can have no comfort from the mercy, but it will be rather an evil than a good to them.”
Here Burroughs’ give an example of how he preferred to pray for someone who desires something to the point of discontent: "Lord, keep this thing from them, till you shall be pleased to humble their hearts for their discontent; let not them have the mercy till they come to be humbled for their discontent over the want of it, for if they have it before that time they will have it without any blessing." I can't help think how humbling it would have been to go to brother Burroughs with a prayer request stemming from discontent!
Murmuring and discontent “makes our affliction a great deal worse than otherwise it would be”.
“It in no way removes our afflictions…a discontented heart is a proud heart…”
This statement cuts right to the heart of the matter. Discontent is an attitude problem. It comes from a proud heart. If we are discontent it is because we have put ourselves and our desires over and above God and His purposes.


Lisa notes... said…
I agree—if you can read this chapter without being convicted, you need a heart check.

Your point on VI (praying for each day’s provision) hit home with me just today. I feel too much false security when there is money in the bank, and false insecurity when there isn’t. I don’t my security to depend on anything outside of Christ and his sufficiency, which is always enough. I'm still trying to get that truth connected from my head to my heart.

And I’d hate to add up all the hours I’ve wasted in fretting and murmuring. This point alone should be enough to humble me severely.

You use so many wonderful examples, Laurie. I appreciate all the work you put into searching out scriptures and adding your own thoughts. Time well spent that we all benefit from.
Laurie M. said…
Thanks Lisa. I may have mentioned this before, but much of what I've shared here is the fruit of a study I did a year ago with a handful of ladies in my church. I had all these notes, and thought this a great opportunity to put the information out to the public. The importance of contentment can hardly be overstated.
Anyway, adapting my lecture notes and discussion points for the blog posts has been a very useful exercise for me as well. It's required me to go over it all again - like a refresher course - and boy was I about due! I've got to tell you, contentment must be nurtured. It is constantly under attack. Satan knows discontent is the fertile soil of all sorts of sin.
Lisa notes... said…
I'm sure that was a wonderful study. How nice that one year later a new group, including me, is getting to enjoy the fruit! Orchestrated by God.

Yes, contentment definitely has to be nurtured. I've been so much more aware of my lack of it during this study. I'll definitely cycle through this book again--maybe with a group at church, who knows?

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