Read an ExcerptLORD, CHANGE MY ATTITUDE
BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE
By James MacDonald Moody Publishers
Copyright © 2008 James MacDonald
All right reserved.
REPLACE A COMPLAINING ATTITUDE ...
SAY IT IN A SENTENCE:
Complaining is an attitude choice that if left unchecked will wither my capacity to experience joy and geniune thankfulness.
I hope you aren't one of those people who starts reading the first chapter of a book without reading the introduction, because if you are, things are going to get messed up really bad. In my writing, the introduction is far more than a "Hi, how are ya?"; it's the foundation for all the life-transforming truth to follow. If the foundation is strong, we can build some pretty phenomenal life-changing truth together. If it isn't ... well, I think you get the picture. So circle back to the introduction if you need to, and I'll wait right here for you ...
Welcome back. Now that everyone has read the introduction, we know where we are going and how we intend to get there.
Are you upset that I asked you to circle back and read the introduction? Did you complain about that invasion of your freedom, thinking, "I should be able to read as I please?" If not, you are in the minority, because we all complain far more than we like to admit. Wilderness attitude number one is complaining. When we express resentment over circumstances that are beyond our control and about which we are doing nothing, we are complaining. God hears it, hates it, and pushes everyone who persists in it toward the wilderness. Remember that those who choose complaining as their lifestyle will spend their lifetime in the wilderness.
Have you ever wondered why complaining is such a battle when we all agree that complaining changes nothing? The reason is that complaining satisfies our sinful natures. Complaining releases negative emotional energy in a way that provides momentary relief from a situation or circumstance that may be frustrating to us. That is why we find it so hard to resist.
Let me be the first to say that in certain situations I really like complaining. In fact, I like it so much that I would never consider eliminating my complaining were it not for what I have learned about how destructive it really is. What we desperately need to learn is how God judges our complaining with emotional fallout that makes our lives like "a dry and weary land where there is no water" (Psalm 63:1). Remember the theme of this book:
"Those who choose murmuring as their lifestyle will spend their lifetimes in the wilderness."
That is certainly true in the area of complaining. If you find it hard to believe that God would "make such a big deal" about your complaining, take a moment and come with me to an often-neglected passage in God's Word, Numbers 11:1-3. Note carefully Moses' "journal entry" from one day in the wilderness with his people: "Now the people became like those who complain ... and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them, and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp" (Numbers 11:1).
So here's this group of people standing somewhere on the edge of their makeshift city, and they are whining and grumbling about something. Maybe it was Moses' leadership style, or maybe it was the food, or the weather, or a very draining, difficult person. Whatever the subject matter, it was the final straw for God, and He sent fire among the whole group. If that doesn't tell you how God feels about complaining, nothing will. Now before you try to dismiss that as "Old Testament," review 1 Corinthians 10:11, which we covered in the introduction. (You did read that, didn't you?) Remember that what happened to the Israelites was intended by an almighty, unchanging God as an example for us; so let's make sure we don't miss it!
Looking a little closer at Numbers 11:1, it's hard to miss the fact that we choose our attitudes. That's a short sentence and you might be speed-reading, so let me say it again:
We choose our attitudes!
Oh, yes, we do! They don't choose us; we choose them. You should see the looks I get when I teach this truth publicly. People get all uptight and angry looking, like they're going to storm the platform, and I understand why. Nobody wants to be told "Your attitude problem is in the mirror"-but it is. Until we embrace as fact the idea that we choose our attitudes, we will never be able to choose differently, and life will always be a like a wilderness.
Notice what Numbers 11:1 says: the people! They couldn't point the finger anywhere but at themselves. Wouldn't that be great if we could say, "Well, it's my mom's attitude I've got," or "It's my dad's fault I'm this way." "It's my boss." "It's my neighbor." "It's my circumstances." Sound familiar? Back to God's Word: "The people become like those who complain." Why did they become like that? Because they had to? Because someone forced them, because of the way they were brought up? No; they chose. They had good reasons not to complain; they had more than enough reasons to be thankful. Instead, they chose the attitude of complaining.
God's final judgment on their attitudes clearly held them accountable for their choosing. Later twelve spies went into the land; twelve spies came back. Two spies chose God and faith and a good attitude-and they got the Promised Land. Ten spies chose self and doubt and a bad attitude-they got the wilderness. The people listened to the majority report and the minority report, and then they chose. They voted with their attitude-and they got the wilderness. We choose our attitudes.
I recently received a letter from a man who wrote multiple pages of eloquent persuasion trying to convince me that we don't choose our attitudes, and therefore we're not responsible for them. He wanted to blame circumstances and other people and a host of secondary influences, all of which may play a part, but do not control us. We are the ones in control, and we do choose our attitudes.
At this point, you may be asking, "What exactly do you mean by attitude?" Let's get a definition stated right now, because if we're going to be talking about attitudes for ten chapters, we should all be on the same page.
Attitudes are patterns of thinking.
That's the first thing. Attitudes are patterns of thinking. You develop a way of thinking about things-a way of approaching life. Every single person, including you, has patterns of thinking; a way that you think about life. It goes back to the time when you were very young.
Imagine for a moment that you and I are observing a toddler who is holding a large, red, rubber ball. Before we can ask any questions, the child speaks.
"What are you looking at? It's my ball. It's not your ball." Wow, what an attitude!
Now that attitude may be influenced by his parents, or the fact that he needs a rest, or a cookie, or whatever, but still he is choosing.
We continue watching that two-year-old and his red ball as he tosses it up in the air and catches it. All of sudden, right in the middle of his nice playtime, he drops the ball, and everyone freezes to see what will happen next. Will he be upset about the fact that he dropped the ball? Will he get angry because he liked it a lot better in his hands than on the ground? We hold our breath and wait to see what attitude he will choose. Over the next few years, he will "drop many balls," and each time he will choose his attitude. Over time, his whole view of life will be shaped by a pattern of thinking-the attitude-he establishes. He has many attitudes to choose from.
1. He could choose to say: "Dumb ball! Who made this cheap, lousy, dime-store ball anyway? It's so slippery!"
2. He could choose to say: "Where's my parents? I can't believe they're not here when I dropped this ball! What kind of parents are they? If they really loved me, they would be here to help me pick up this ball!"
3. He could choose to say: "I'm such a loser. I always drop balls. I've played with other kids. They don't drop balls all the time. I'm the only one who drops balls! What's wrong with me? I'm such a loser!"
4. Or he could choose to say: "It's my fault. I dropped the ball. People drop balls all the time. I'm going to have a positive attitude. I'm going to pick it up and I'm going to go on. Maybe I can grow through this somehow, and stop dropping balls as often as I do now."
These little speeches sound familiar, don't they? But rather than from the mouths of toddlers, too often they come from our mouths, and betray a negative pattern of thinking-an attitude. In fact, they may reflect the way you think most of the time, because we all drop balls, don't we? The key to happiness is in the attitude we choose when we do "drop a ball." Attitudes are patterns of thinking. But here's the second part of the definition:
Attitudes are patterns of thinking formed over a long period of time.
Our attitudes are patterns of thinking-get this now-formed over a long period of time. Trace the career of the children of Israel, and you will know they didn't suddenly become complainers in Numbers 11. Go back to the days when they were making bricks in Egypt. They were constantly whining and sniveling about everything. You say, "Well, their lives were hard." Yes, their lives were hard, but some of them chose complaining and resentment toward God, and others in the exact same circumstances chose thankfulness instead. My point is this: Attitudes are patterns of thinking formed over a long period of time. Wrong attitudes are hard to change because they are habitual, harmful ways of thinking about life and circumstances.
Patterns of thinking are so deeply ingrained in our hearts that we hardly even notice them. We get so used to reacting a certain way that our choices become automatic, and in time we cease to see them as actual choices. We feel like we are trapped, but we are not. Tragically, the consequences are also automatic, and that is the cycle that we are trying to break in this book.
Choosing Your Attitudes
It won't be automatic or overnight, but if you stick with it and remain sensitive to what God is teaching you, lasting joy and true "promised Land living" are not as far away as you might think. Did you know that the whole generation died just a few miles from the land flowing with milk and honey? Do you know why they died without stepping into the Promised Land? They died because they grumbled against God and rejected the call to enter the land. (See Numbers 14:1-4, 22-35, especially verse 29.)
They were so close to the joy of Promised Land living. Like them, you and I are much closer than we think to dramatic, joy-producing life change. Like them, you can make a choice to reject complaining and to trust God. Like them, the barrier is your patterns of thinking-and those patterns can change. Yes, they can!
And you can take the first step when you are willing to say, "I choose my attitudes." You can't change an attitude until you admit you chose it. But if you are willing to say, "I choose my attitude," then a different choice becomes your option. By admitting you made the choice, you put yourself in a position to make a different choice next time.
Perhaps you're not quite there yet. You want to read more before you accept responsibility for your attitudes. If that is your case, I encourage you to say this by faith: "I choose my attitudes. Lord, show me this is true." Pray that out loud. It's a prayer I'm confident God will answer, because He wants you out of the wilderness even more than you do. He wants to give you the fullness of Promised Land living, and He will as you allow Him to change your negative attitudes.
The Truth About Complaining
OK, back to the specific attitude of complaining. Here is one basic truth about complaining we cannot ignore:
Complaining is a sin.
Yes, it is. Complaining is a sin. The word sin literally means "missing the mark"; "failing in regard to God's holy standard and just demands." So equating complaining with sin puts complaints in a dangerous category.
Maybe you're thinking to yourself, "Wait a minute; complaining's not a sin. I mean, it may not be a great thing, but a sin? I mean, stealing and lying and blasphemy-sure (because they're obvious sins), but complaining? I mean ... who am I hurting? Who am I really hurting when I complain?"
Well, first of all, you're hurting yourself! When you complain, you are choosing a response that does you harm rather than good. Our complaints may lead to anger, bitterness, and even depression. God loves you. He doesn't want you hurting yourself. What hurts you, hurts Him; so complaining hurts you both.
Beyond this, when you complain, you're not just hurting yourself but God indirectly. God is directly affected when He hears our complaining and our wrong attitudes, because complaining questions God's sovereignty! To complain is to say in effect; "God, You blew it! You had a chance to meet my expectations, but You couldn't handle it! Nice try, God, close-but not close enough." So complaining definitely injures you and the Lord.
In addition to that, we hurt the people around us. We affect others with our "stinking thinking." Nobody likes a negatron, or a lifetime member in the cold-water brigade, do they? If your friends and family hear you complaining all the time, you are bringing them down.
"But they do the same thing," you say. OK, then, y'all are bringing each other down. My point is only that complaining hurts far more than just you. It hurts God and those who hear it, and that's not right. So, no doubt about it, complaining is a sin.
Before we go any further, let's get on the table a clear definition of this sin, so we will know when we are damaging ourselves and others and our relationship with God. Here's a key definition: Complaining is expressing dissatisfaction with a circumstance that is not wrong and about which I'm doing nothing to correct.
First of all, complaining is about things that are not wrong. If the thing is wrong, and you express dissatisfaction, it's not complaining. It's not a sin to picket an abortion clinic. That's not complaining. It's not a sin to say to my spouse, "We need to spend more time with the children." That's not complaining. Complaining is grumbling about things that aren't wrong. You're dissatisfied with the meal served on a trip and ask the flight attendant to rewarm the food, or later write customer service suggesting they change caterers or offer different options. That's not complaining; that's expressing a legitimate grievance.
Second, complaining involves things that I'm doing nothing to correct. I'm choosing to whine about it, but I'm not doing anything to correct the situation. That's complaining. It is complaining to whine about abortion, but never pray or picket or vote or give donations or write leaders. Just do nothing but mumble a lot under your breath, and there it is-you're complaining. It is complaining to talk about your husband's lack of time with the children. It's not complaining when you talk with your husband and together try to reach a constructive solution. It is complaining when you tell a fellow passenger, "This food stinks." It's not complaining when you tell the flight attendant you dislike the beef and politely request a different entree.
According to our definition, complaining involves circumstances. Please note that complaining doesn't involve people. Criticism involves people; complaining involves circumstances. We re going t talk about criticism in chapter 5. Complaining is about circumstances, specific situations that we dislike because of how they affect someone or something we value.
Finally, complaining involves expressing dissatisfaction. This gets a little tricky. Some people pride themselves on verbal control. "I never complain," they say. Well, hang on for a minute. Those of us who are extroverts and often find ourselves saying things that we regret would plead with those of you who are introverts to recognize that you're not simply living in victory because you have a piece of duct tape over your mouth. "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). So complaining is not just the outbursts of frustration, but it's also those things that we think. That's complaining, too. To express dissatisfaction in any way-not just verbally but even in your thoughts-with a circumstance that is not wrong and about which I am doing nothing to correct ... that's complaining. In the short term, it separates us from God; in the long term, it becomes a lifestyle, and we spend our lifetime in the wilderness.
Excerpted from LORD, CHANGE MY ATTITUDE by James MacDonald Copyright © 2008 by James MacDonald. Excerpted by permission.
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