The Complaining Christian

The Biggest Show in the Country

Stephen Nolan often boasts about being the biggest show in the country. The figures I came across sp029y60muggested he has almost 140,000 listeners a week. He has over 110,000 followers on twitter. Both he and his show are hugely popular. Why? I would argue because he loves complaining, and better still offers a platform for others to complain too.

Complaining is something we all love doing. It somehow brings a little satisfaction to ‘blow off some steam.’ However, as Christians it is something that we (on the whole) tend to try to avoid. Well, in public at least. We heed the warnings in Scripture about complaining and grumbling, such as 1 Corinthians 10:10. Therefore we come to see complaining as a mark of Christian immaturity, and hence unbecoming. But as James writes, on another (but related) topic, this should not be brothers and sisters (3:10).

In the man known as Habakkuk the prophet we find a complaining believer. The brief book bearing his name is primarily understood as a lament, or in modern everyday language a complaint. There are three elements to this complaint which mark it as different from phoning the Nolan show for a good ol’ gripe!

Confession of Faith

At a number of junctures in his dialogue with Yahweh Habakkuk reaffirms his faith, trust and hope in him. There is a confession of faith peppered throughout this complaint. For example, Habakkuk raises the questions ‘Why are you watching your people reject your law and justice? Why are you doing nothing?’ (1:2-4). Yahweh offers the answer ‘I’m not; the nasty Babylonians are coming to inflict punishment on the disobedient’ (1:5-11). To this shocking answer Habakkuk confesses ‘Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die.’ (1:12).

If we are to be complaining Christians in the truly biblical sense, we must pepper our complaints with confessions of faith in our God. In reading Habakkuk it is noticeable that Yahweh does not rebuke Habakkuk for questioning, he simply answers those questions (although not exactly to Habakkuk’s liking). Why wasn’t he rebuked? Surely it is because he complained in a God honouring way. How so? By confessing his continuing faith in Yahweh despite his questions.

Honesty through Questions

As alluded to above, Habakkuk was justified in raising his questions – indeed encouraged by the fact that Yahweh gave an answer. To be a complaint we must complain. The world that we live in is broken, sinful, dark and continually celebrating that fact. Habakkuk brutally asks Yahweh, ‘Why do you idly look at wrong? Why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?’ (1:3, 13).

One commentator writes, Habakkuk ‘screamed out at God’s silence and shouted accusations at God, seeking to understand what appeared to be absolute injustice in a universe faith said stood under the rule of a sovereign, just God.’ (Bailey, NAC: Habakkuk, 1998, pg. 277).

To complain as a Christian we must be openly honest in questioning our God. He is big enough to hear our questions, but he also knows them before we ask them and so we should not hold them back from him, pretending our thoughts are unseen. God seeks dialogue with his children, let us be honest in that dialogue.

Concluding in Praise

This is the primary difference between complaining as a Christian and simply complaining or grumbling in a sinful manner. The complaining Christian must see his complain conclude in praise. After being told by Yahweh that his very own people will be devastated and exiled by an evil and wicked nation, Habakkuk concludes:

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the LORD, is my strength;

He makes my feet like the deer’s;

He makes me tread on my high places. (3:18-19)

Our complaints need to end in praise to God; otherwise we have not employed the genre of complaint (lament) in a holy way. Complaint is a gift of God to allow us an avenue to consider deeply, and then express, our confusion at the state of a world under the control of a sovereign God. However, it only works to edify us if it concludes in praise!

The Complaining Christ

We may even observe this manner of dialogue with God as we read of Jesus on the cross. In Matthew 27:46 Jesus raises the complaint ‘My God, My god, why have you forsaken me?’ Many commentators argue that this brief quotation from Psalm 22 would have brought to mind the whole of Psalm 22. Throughout this Psalm, which opens with those words, we read ‘Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel…O you my help…kingship belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations’ (Ps. 22:3, 19, 28). There was faith, hope and trust in those words uttered by Jesus. Faith, hope and trust that God would vindicate him. As Psalm 22 says, ‘The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever!’ (v. 26). This was realised through the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

If we are to be complaining Christians we must follow the example of our Saviour, find strength to offer praise to God in difficulties and confess our faith, hope and trust that God will one day vindicate us too.

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Six Characteristics of a Leader

True leadership is achieved through character. Therefore it is important to understand that leadership is not achieved through a title, position, or qualification. This is exemplified whenever the Bible comes to speak of leaders in the Christian community it is not concerned with their title, position, or qualification granted by society (or others). Rather, the Bible is concerned about character.

The most pertinent passages concerned with leaders in the Christian community were written by a man called Paul, to two young men (Timothy and Titus) who were charged with putting leaders in place in new congregations of Christians. Paul tells them to look for men who have particular characteristics: faithfulness, self-control, respected, able to teach, gentleness, dignity, hospitable, humble, generosity, discipline and above accusation. These lists can be found in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. However, throughout the Bible Christian men are called to be leaders in a variety of circumstances, and so there are many more characteristics which are required of leaders.

We will consider just six broad characteristics of a true leader.

1) Courage

A leader is someone who must make difficult decisions, must bear responsibility for those decisions and in the end face the consequences of those decisions. Therefore, if a man seeks to be a true leader he must be courageous. This is a characteristic exemplified in the Bible – Moses courageously pleaded with God to spare Israel when they sinned against him (Ex. 32:11-14) and David courageously tackled Goliath for blaspheming Israel’s God (1 Samuel 17).

It must be noted, however, that courage is not carelessness. Courage is a calculated confidence to tackle an otherwise painful, difficult or intimidating circumstance. It is the strength to make difficult decisions and both bear the responsibility and consequences of those decisions. Sometimes this will require leaders to say, ‘No’. Other times it will require leaders to face the circumstances they find themselves in instead of running away. But, it also gives the opportunity to dream for the future, plan for change and embrace the twists and turns of life.

2) Diligence

Since true leadership is found in character and not ability, it is something which can be worked at and bettered. This work is not easy, and so to be a true leader one must be diligent. Character is not developed overnight, nor is it inherited from parents or grandparents. Family, friends and culture certainly have a role to play regarding the values we are taught – but character can be gained or lost despite the values we have been taught.

Gaining and developing this character is difficult though and therefore requires a diligence, a persistent grafting towards particular characteristics. Two Bible characters who stand out for their diligence are Joseph and Daniel. Both men found themselves living in foreign countries, surrounded by difficult circumstances, harsh threats and many temptations. But, they were diligent, persistently working hard to remain pure, godly and leaders of those around them. In fact, in the countries they found themselves in they soon found themselves at the top of the government because of their diligence.

No matter where we find ourselves, we will not be leaders unless we are diligent.

3) Delegation

Bad leaders want to do everything themselves – they must be the centre of attention, in the middle of all that is happening, the one to give final decisions on each and every detail and really someone who is doing too many things.

On the other hand good leaders have numerous people working toward the goal that they have communicated to and implanted in them. They have people responsible for different areas of the work, people capable of making smaller decisions, and people doing things they can’t do themselves. True leaders are able to delegate aspects of their responsibilities to other capable people.

The Bible tells us that the church is made up of many individuals all with different skills (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-31). None of us are capable of doing everything; true leaders recognise this and are able and willing to bring others along with them, giving them responsibility, to help to achieve the goal.

4) Humility

There is little that is as destructive as pride, arrogance and a refusal to admit to being wrong. People who are willing to acknowledge their error are people who will learn, develop and change. Leaders are people who must be capable of learning, developing and changing over time. Good leaders are not content to rest on their laurels, they desire to grow and mature in their leadership.

The Bible teaches us ‘Let the wise hear and increase in their learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance’ (Proverbs 1:5). Don’t be afraid of looking weak or silly by asking someone to help you or give advice. Further, leaders are not perfect and so won’t always get it right. Therefore, don’t be afraid to admit your wrongdoing, or to ask for forgiveness when you get it wrong. To be a true leader we must be humble.

5) Patience

A famous saying reads, ‘patience is a virtue, possess it if you can, seldom in a woman, never in a man.’

Men can be quick-tempered and impatient. They want things done their way, in their timing and to their liking. Bad leaders think like this – it is their way or no way, their timing or no timing, to their liking or not at all. However, the good leader (showing humility and a willingness to delegate) understands that everything does not need to be done their way.

In addition, it can take people time to come to terms with your ideas, plans and leadership.

It is so very important that leaders show patience toward those who follow them and those they are responsible for. Leaders are not given to rule and reign in a domineering way (not in the Christian community anyway). Rather they are given to care for, protect and cultivate those in their keeping (1 Peter 5:3). The more patience you can show those who follow you, or who are responsible for you, the better you become as a leader. The reason for this is that they will come to trust you more, and be eager to desire to join your vision, ideas and goals.

6) Submit to God and His Word

As Christians we can never hope to be true leaders without first submitting ourselves to God and His Word.

The Bible is inspired, true, and without error. It contains all that is necessary to live a life of godliness, and that includes godly leadership. If we hope to become true leaders we must possess the characteristic of submission to God’s Word. One of the most important leaders in the Old Testament, the king, was required to submit to God’s Word (Dt. 17:18-20). The king was to make himself familiar with Scripture, then obey what he knew and to do this to keep himself humble by learning and living God’s way.

Knowing our Bible is not just for preachers, pastors and old Christians – it is for all Christians. Whether you are a leader in a bank, at home, in government, in a sports team, in a charity – living a biblical life will equip you to be a true leader.

God reveals himself through the Bible and so submitting to the Bible naturally brings one into submission to God. There is a subtle distinction though. Rather than just following rules and regulations that Scripture teaches, there must be genuineness to how we live our lives. We must understand that even though the internet did not exist when Scripture was written, that God still cares about how we use it. Each and every area of our lives is lived in front of God – he sees all, nothing misses his attention. We must know that as we attempt to lead, that only true leaders recognise they lead with God watching on. He cares about how you lead, why you lead and who you lead. He is interested in what you are doing, and he will also hold you accountable for your leadership. Our leading, if it is to be truly great, must be done with God continuously in mind.

walking-away-1418812-mOur journey through these six characteristics of a true leader has hopefully helped you to see that a true leader is actually a very good follower – a very good follower of God.

The complete example of leadership is Jesus Christ. Being perfect, without sin, he cannot be anything other than a perfect leader. Consider how he took only twelve disciples and entrusted them with the gospel of the kingdom; look now how many disciples there are across the world. Jesus was a true leader. We can only hope to be true leaders by first being good followers of Jesus Christ.

Jesus death (a courageous act, yet a humble act, which was in submission to both God’s Word and God) won forgiveness from sin for us. This forgiveness then changes us as sin is removed, and the Holy Spirit then given to us. As God the Holy Spirit works in us he makes us more courageous, humble, diligent and submissive – he makes us more like Jesus. However, he does not do it alone, we must work with all our might also.

The Bible is clear, true leaders are not people with titles, positions, ability and qualifications. True leadership is not achieved. Rather, true leaders are people of character; people who show courage, diligence, delegation, humility, patience, and submission to both God and His Word.

Top Five Books on Suffering

Suffering is a topic which poses many perplexing questions for Christians. Earlier this year Stephen Fry attacked the idea of a loving God/god who permits young children to be ravaged by cancer. He proceeded to share some of the things he would say to this God/god if he stands before him at the end of time. Sadly, although Stephen Fry a very intelligent and often perceptive man, most of what he proposed to tell this God/god was borne out of ignorance.

Nevertheless, his objection is a common one. Therefore, it is one which we as Christians, in defence of the Christian God, must have some way of explaining. Below are five books which have aided my thinking through this difficult issue:

  1. D. A. Carson – How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil (2006)

Unsurprisingly, Carson has offered yet another priceless contribution to a 9781844741328pertinent subject for Christians. Carson’s book is biblically based, pastorally profitable and a truly thorough treatment of the topic. All of his work is stamped with clarity, and this is no different.

The book is beneficially divided into three sections. In the first section he makes some preliminary, but nonetheless important, comments on thinking through the issue of suffering. It is of a great help to have these things clear in our minds before proceeding. The second section moves through biblical themes and suffering, including sin, natural disasters, holy wars, death, Job and the suffering God. A final section then deals with the big picture idea, with some pastoral reflections. This book is beneficial because it is a comprehensive yet readable treatment of the issue. In my opinion this is the go to book on suffering!

  1. Greg Harris – The Cup and the Glory: Lessons on Suffering and the Glory of God (2006)

This book’s unique contribution to this subject is found in the angle that Harris takes on suffering. Rather than looking at the typical biblical examples such as Job, Joseph or Paul, Harris ties his discussion of the topic to Jesus’ teaching and his transfiguration. I have never come across a discussion on suffering that approached the subject from this angle.

Additionally, Harris reveals through the book that he and his family have suffered much also. This means that even though he pushes his readers toward understanding God’s greater purposes in suffering, and his ultimate glory through his people’s suffering, he does so having walked that road himself. In my opinion, even though it is not as full a treatment of suffering as Carson’s book, it is a must read on this subject because of its unique approach.

  1. Mark R. Talbot – When All Hope Has Died: Meditations on Profound Christian Suffering in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essay’s in Honour of John Piper (2010) and John Piper – Suffering: The Sacrifice of Christian Hedonism in Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (2003)

John Piper has given the church a great gift with his persistent teaching that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him. Christians can not only be happy, but should be happy; stronger than that: must be happy. In fact, happiness is not the most apt term; rather it is joy that we must pursue. The reason being, true, lasting and full joy is found only in God.

In Talbot’s essay he offers a magnificently detailed treatise expounding Piper’s theology of suffering. This theology is set out by Piper himself, albeit slightly briefly, in the chapter mentioned above from Piper’s book Desiring God. Finding joy in suffering is difficult, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be pursued. These articles encourage that.

Although these are not books they are invaluable treatments of this topic which should be consulted.

  1. Thomas Watson – All Things For Good (1986; Originally published as ‘A Divine Cordial’ in 1663)

It is always beneficial to be aware of how different generations of Christians have thought about issues. This reprinting, by Banner of Truth, of the Puritan Thomas Watson’s treatment of Romans 8:28 is a helpful and insightful addition to the discussion. The real benefit of this brief book is the close attention paid to the meaning of Romans 8:28. Watson is a lucid writer, very memorable and full of wisdom. Even though this was originally published in 1663, it is easily accessible by the reader. It is well worth a read, even if just to set Romans 8:28 in its proper context.

  1. Os Guinness – Unspeakable: Facing up to the Challenge of Evil (2005)

This is an interesting book on the topic of suffering. Guinness would certainly not be called orthodox, conservative or conventional by most Christians. Indeed, many of his answers and conclusions would not always be considered biblical and on many occasions they are far from satisfying. However, this book is a good read on this issue because it poses many questions and forces us to think through them honestly. This approach to the topic may make many Christians feel uncomfortable, but it is important that we read slightly alternative takes on the issue. Guinness does not offer trite answers and so we are provoked consider this issue deeply – which can only be good.

The Long Wait

Yesterday was Easter Sunday. Hundreds of thousands of Christians met all across the globe to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ over 2000 years ago through song, prayer, Scripture readings, sacraments and preaching. Easter Sunday is a day of triumph for the Christian – the seeming destruction of their religion and their king was turned around as God in his great power raised Jesus from the dead. Moreover, just a few weeks after he was raised from the dead he ascended to heaven giving us the hope of following suit.

But, as we look around at the creation creaking under the weight of sin; as we hourglass-58600-mwatch the evil and wickedness perpetrated by humans against humans; as we feel the sinful nature and flesh waging war within us, we can sometimes wonder where the victory, joy and triumph have gone.

Recently it has been impressed upon me through some study that waiting in difficult circumstances for this victory, joy and triumph has been a feature of God’s people throughout redemptive history.

Habakkuk

Prior to the exile that Israel suffered, righteous people were awaiting God’s intervention. Habakkuk lamented the fact that God’s chosen people were neglecting law and justice (1:2-4). God’s response was as shocking as it was delayed (in the eyes of Habakkuk anyway). God was going to deal with his chosen people, but through the wicked Chaldeans (1:5-6). This was a problem for Habakkuk; how could a less righteous people execute God’s punishment of a more righteous, albeit still wicked, people (1:13).

God’s response in chapter 2 makes it clear that neither the wicked Israelites, nor the brutal Babylonians will escape his judgement. Indeed, they will all know the glory of the LORD (2:14) and it will be evident that the LORD is in his holy temple (2:20). However, it will not all take place immediately – there will be a period of waiting, perhaps even a long wait. Therefore, Habakkuk confesses ‘Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us’ (3:16).

Haggai

Sadly, things did not improve much after the exile.

The Jews have looked on somewhat helplessly, and somewhat to blame, as their nation was divided into two kingdoms; then as those kingdoms were invaded; after invasion came the deposing of the kings and finally the exile of the peoples to foreign nations. In amongst all of this the beloved city Jerusalem, and the revered Temple were demolished.

In the book of Haggai the Jews have returned to Jerusalem, and have already begun rebuilding the walls and the temple. But the temple is not quite as spectacular as when it was first built (2:3). Life as a Jew is not what is should have been – all God’s promises seem to be failing. This will not continue though, as Haggai makes clear to Zerubbabel, a descendant of King David. Haggai tells Zerubbabel that the LORD has said ‘I will take you my servant and I will make you like my signet ring’ (2:23, paraphrased). In other words, there will be a king in Jerusalem again.

Zerubbabel fades from the face of history though, and no king is reinstated in Jerusalem. The people are in for a long wait yet again. But this wait is worth it, because in little over 500 years from Haggai uttering those words the Messiah, King Jesus, is born. And in the genealogies recorded for us in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 this man Zerubbabel is named.

James

God’s people in the New Testament still find themselves waiting even though they stand on this side of the Messiah’s birth.

This is evident in the book of James. James writes to Christians facing differing trials (1:2). In these trials he has much practical wisdom to share with them: from how they live their religion (1:27; 2:24), to the way that they use their tongues and speech (1:19; 3:1-12; 4:11). The book then comes to a close with the exhortation to wait patiently (5:7ff.)

James is addressing those who are living in difficult circumstances, most likely farmers being exploited by the rich landlords (5:1-6). In the context of coming judgement James then has this exhortation, ‘Be patient’ (vv. 7, 8a). Patiently endure, just like the prophets and Job (vv. 10-11). If you do so the Lord will be seen to be compassionate and merciful (v. 11).

Those suffering trials are told blatantly by James, wait!

The Long Wait

And so we reach the twenty first century, with we who find ourselves on Easter Monday 2015 awaiting the full victory and triumph that Jesus’ resurrection initiated. The message is no different – we as God’s people must continue to wait.

This is not a sitting back and twiddling our thumbs kind of waiting though. It is an active, militant and tenacious waiting. We strive, and work, and labour for the spread of the gospel, the building of the kingdom and the revelation of God’s glory in all its fullness here and now. But we do so with the knowledge that we wait, we wait for the full victory and triumph that Jesus’ resurrection is a foreshadowing of.

Therefore, as we look around at the creation creaking under the weight of sin; as we watch the evil and wickedness perpetrated by humans against humans; as we feel the sinful nature and flesh waging war within us, we know that the victory, joy and triumph will one day come – all we must do is wait patiently.