RESTOCKING THE AISLES OF YOUR HEART
By: Emily Lickey
Recently as I raided the cheap school supplies at Walmart for markers, which my four young children rarely actually use up...it is often just a lost lid issue, my cart entered seasonal shopping warp speed when I rounded the corner and met the endcap of Christmas décor. We shake our heads about this every year. The aisle swap outs for Christmas products come earlier and earlier. Stores know that for us to pull off our tremendous checklist of projects which will seemingly guarantee a joy-filled holiday, we have to begin early. We purchase and plan ahead, eking out precious time slots for the Christmas prep.
Sadly, one of the holidays that is all but skipped over in the advanced stocking of the holly and the ivy is Thanksgiving. We somewhat parallel this in our Christian homes as well. A quick weekend of eating much and giving little thanks is shoved rapidly to the side for present stockpiling, party planning, and festive decorating. There are many factors for this, but one we are going to focus on is our lack of gratitude towards God. The aisles of our hearts are filled with grumbling and complaining, and we desperately need to swap them out with shelves that are overflowing with gratitude and thanksgiving to the Lord. This spiritual switch can never come too early. Let’s work right now and over the next couple months to fill the aisles of our mind with the correct supplies for a project which guarantees a joy-filled Thanksgiving and Christmas and LIFE.
Before we go further, know my reason for writing this article is at the suggestion of a couple of my mentors. For years I have battled (that may be a generous word for it) with grumbling, discontent, and ingratitude at home. God has graciously started to bring into my life “Godly grief that produces repentance” as opposed to my more typical “worldly grief that produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). Know that I am in the middle of rooting out this debilitating sin. I realize that sanctification is never complete until heaven, but I am talking about habitual sin. My mentors knew that I needed to dive even more deeply into God’s Word and the wisdom of those who have gone before. This is not a complete theology of grumbling and gratitude; it is more a fusing in my mind of past illumination and noteworthy lessons with truths that captured me during my recent study.
When you start to eradicate any habitual sin, realize whom is your powerful Helper: Someone who had the power to raise Christ from the DEAD. The Holy Spirit. Using the argument of greater to lesser, I would say He’s got us covered in our effort to discipline our weak flesh to align with our slowly-becoming-willing spirit. Ephesians 3 gives a divine plan for that process. It’s the “put off, renew your mind, put on” principle. “Put off” your old self that is corrupt, be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and “put on” your new self. We like measurable lists and projects, but if you just focus on the “put off/put on”, you will make the same, temporal progress as your unsaved neighbor who is trying to kick a bad habit. The renewing your mind piece ebbs and flows between the two. It ensures you are not merely conformed to the morality of the world but are able to discern God’s will, since the renewing process transforms your mind (Romans 12:2).
Renew Your Mind & Put Off:
Our goal is thankfulness/gratitude, so we have to “put off” the ingratitude/complaining. Nancy Leigh DeMoss, in Choosing Gratitude, says “Ingratitude is the taproot out of which grows a host of other sins. And if we don’t put the axe to that root, we provide Satan with a wide, vacant lot on which to set up his little shop of horrors in our hearts.” This is exactly what Paul recounted in Romans 1, when he spoke of the truth suppressors whom God gave over to their unrighteousness. How did their downward sin spiral begin? “They did not honor him as God or give thanks to Him.” Yanking out the root of ingratitude halts the grumbling AND the growth of numerous other sins.
The Bible gives many examples of people who complained and God’s consequences for them. I Corinthians 10 teaches that the sins and consequences for the Israelites were written for our example. Their sin of complaining is notably listed alongside sexual immorality and idolatry. We typically do not give those three the same sin weight. Moses also reminded the Israelites that as they grumbled to him, they were actually grumbling against the Lord.
Many times, when we are discontent, we spew the excuse of, “I’m not myself today.” Matthew tells us in 12:34, “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” The aisles of our hearts are abundantly full of discontent and ingratitude, so when the day is less than externally stellar...your complaining self speaks. It’s all you. It’s all me. It’s sin. No excuses. Additionally, the people whom we love the most are usually the recipients of the majority of our heart-overflowing-with-disdain issues. And this disdain exists in the midst of weekly Sunday praise & worship to the Lord, along with the other six days of daily moments of exalting Him. James calls us out on that contradiction when he speaks of the tongue. “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water” (James 3:9-12)? Do I categorize my complaining and grumbling towards my family as cursing them? Am I convicted by this dichotomy?
In the midst of my attempts to “put off” words of discontent, there is one characteristic of my perfectionist prone life which Satan gladly adds to his little shop of horrors in my heart. Pride. My battle with pride is such a struggle. Like the Venus fly trap, it snaps at and consumes many of the baby steps I have so far taken in the “put off” process. Henry Ward Beecher says it piercingly well: “A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never gets as much as he believes he deserves.” The evidence condemns me, and the verdict is in. I must believe I deserve a lot.
Yet, as Christians, we realize the irony of his witty statement. Praise the LORD that I do not get as much as I deserve! In A Gospel Primer, Milton Vincent expresses this truth through a gospel-centric word picture. He portrays our lives as cups and reminds us that we lowly sinners deserve a cup full of the churning wrath of God. To have an empty cup would be an act of great mercy and cause enough for infinite gratitude. To have a drop of blessing in the cup would be grace upon grace, but God FILLS UP our cup with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3).” Incredible! Let’s echo the words of Jeremiah, “Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins” (Lamentations 3:39)? We must renew our pride-filled minds by daily preaching the gospel to ourselves.
In addition to these spiritual blessings, most of us are Americans, which means we have unparalleled earthly blessings. Statistics show that the average Westerner is more prosperous than 99.4% of anyone who has ever lived on earth. With this fact in mind, consider the interaction Paul David Tripp had with a church leader from India. Paul asked the man what he thought of Americans, to which the man politely replied, “You have no idea how much you have, and yet you always complain.” We are so similar to the Israelites. Moses warned them of the DANGER of blessings. “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12). They forgot. We forget. The spiritual war for what is stocked on the shelves of our heart’s wages on.
Did you know that in addition to spiritual ramifications, you have physical ramifications when you grumble and complain? A basic fact of neuroscience is that our brain has synapses, which are separated by a synaptic cleft. When we have a thought, one synapse shoots a chemical over to the other side, creating a bridge to carry the electrical charge which brings with it our current thought. Every time you fire off that similar thought, the synapses grow closer together, to make it easier for them to have the chemical link and trigger the thought. In other words, when you complain, your brain is changing, so it is easier and easier for the triggering of that complaining sequence to happen. Also, when you are grumbling and stressed and eventually angry, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. That nasty hormone directly relates to higher blood pressure, weight gain, bone density, and many more negative physical affects women dread. Have you ever linked your desired weight loss to grumbling loss? Do we realize each moment of ingratitude is propelling physical traits which lead us further into complaining mode?
As I read, researched, and listened to podcasts, I found Jon Bloom’s article, “We are Far Too Easily Displeased”. Two thoughts of opposites stood out. Grumbling is not seeing grace; gratitude is seeing grace. Grumbling is the accent of HELL; Gratitude is the accent of heaven. Ouch! That sears the soul! Over the past weeks, “you have the accent of hell right now” has scrolled like a news ticker across my mind.
Most of this “put off” part has focused on renewing your mind—on truth for meditation that leads to motivation to change. One active practice you could do to “put off” discontent is something I tried the other day. Mark down every single time you complain aloud or in your heart. It is SHOCKING how high the tally gets. For many of us, the synapses are so close, we now have a Bermuda Triangle sized blind spot. Our conscience is seared (I Timothy 4:2), and the downward spiral is sucking in many other forms of sin. DeMoss summarizes the incredible importance of “putting off” ingratitude: “After decades of ministry to hurting people, I have come to believe that a failure to give thanks is at the heart of much, if not most, of the sense of gloom, despair and despondency that is so pervasive even among believers today. I believe many of the sins that are plaguing and devastating our society can be traced back to that persistent root of unthankfulness that often goes undetected.”
Renew Your Mind & Put On:
For so long my focus and efforts to eradicate grumbling revolved around “putting off.” Just stop it. Quit complaining. Yet, since I do not often replace the grumbles with anything, success is always short lived. I need a list, so here are some ways to renew your mind and put on gratitude. This is not an exhaustive list but choose some to spur on your sanctification.
- Pray and Share WITH Thanksgiving
We quote Philippians 4:6–7 in an effort to correctly focus our anxious thoughts that are commonly a catalyst for complaint. We want the peace of God and expect we can get it through prayer and supplication. But, we skip the “with thanksgiving” part. As you cry out to the Lord to change your ungrateful heart, realize you need to find thankfulness in the circumstances you are grumbling about before His peace and change can come. God does not expect you to be silent about your struggles and difficult aspects of life. He tells us we are to integrate our lives deeply. However, work diligently to find ways to give thanks about the circumstances before you begin to ask for help or offer it as a prayer request. This will usually keep your accent the heaven kind instead of the hell kind. Nancy Lee Demoss rightly says, “The test of faith and surrender to the will of God is the ability to express thanks BEFORE we know how He will respond.”
- Let Christ’s Response Be Your Goal
Isaiah 53:7 prophesies, “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth”, and Peter talks of Christ’s response to His sufferings in I Peter 2. “Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth.” We know Jesus is our high priest who empathizes with our weakness of opening our deceit-filled mouths. The Holy Spirit power that resurrected Jesus can keep yours closed and pure like His.
- Express Thankfulness...Out Loud
Gladys Berthe Stern said, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” I never thought about it that succinctly before! One of my favorite verses is Hebrews 3:13: “Encourage one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Gladys and the writer of Hebrews give us much to consider and change. Many times, we think encouraging words, but we do not take time to express them aloud or in written form. When we do pause to thank someone, especially noting how the Lord is channeling grace in them, the joy they emit is reciprocal. Our hearts overflow with rejoicing as well. Our words have the power to bring life, softening hearts that might be on the brink of hardening due to sin’s lies. Time to pull out the dusty box of thank you notes and write some sincere expressions of gratitude, or more simply, send an email or text when the Holy Spirit prompts. This includes your immediate family! Do not forget the ones who probably need many deposits of affirmation into their account after all of the grumbling and complaining withdrawals they endure from me and from you.
- Go to Church Regularly
Your faithfulness at church is imperative to your
“putting on” process. You need to be surrounded by other believers in cooperate worship. The concentrated focus on Christ and the gospel and every spiritual blessing, while shoulder to shoulder with other worshipers, is a unique and imperative gratitude-focused moment in your week. For your thankfulness to carry through the other six days, for you to be a fountain of blessing to God AND man (instead of cursing man), you need church-filled Sundays, in addition to your personal, daily time with the Lord.
- Rest in the Talents God Gives
One huge source of despondency for women is rooted in comparison. We steal our own joy when we compare. Meditate on the parable of the talents. We tend to glaze over one application. Our Sovereign God gave out the talents according to each one’s ability...the abilities He fearfully and wonderfully made unique to us as He created our inmost being. Soak in that truth. Be content with the different doling out of talents. BOTH servants that were faithful heard, “Well Done!” I cringe at the world’s recent mantra of “You Be You”, but if you filter it through God’s Word, it is truth that releases the pressure we create (and then complain about) when we compare. Be the most toned and healthy version of your part of the body. Stop wishing you were a mouth instead of a hand, or a foot instead of a backbone (I Corinthians 12:12-27).
- Focus on WHOM you are gratifying
As women of the Word we know that our high calling is to be bond servants of Christ. Yet, many days, being a servant of humans does not emote the same sense of fulfillment. This is another large realm of complaint: all the aspects of serving others, especially in our home. I do not have room to list the ways we can grumble about serving. One dear, older woman said many times she just had to skip right over her seemingly ungrateful husband as motivation for faithfulness in the home. She hopped over him and went straight to the Lord, knowing He saw her diligence. Oh, she cracked me up! But, as we saw earlier, Moses told the Israelites when they grumbled to him, they were leap frogging over him and actually grumbling to God, so I’ll go for the converse of that with her husband analogy. Of course, a heart overflow check is always in order for how pride-filled we are when we do the hopping over! And as an aside, you will never fill up your content tank when you are looking to others for responses that do the filling. God being a jealous God necessitates that you must look only to Him for gratification that then leads to contented thankfulness.
- Entrust Yourself to the One who Judges Righteously
I Peter 2 continues and tells us that during Christ’s sufferings, He “uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” You and I express disdain over situations we cannot control, large and small, where complaining makes us temporarily feel better or vindicated. We must ENTRUST ourselves to the Lord who “pursues us with goodness and mercy all our days” (Psalm 23:6), and “loves justice; He will not forsake His saints” (Psalm 37:28). The confidence you gain by trusting the Lord leads to gratitude for His Sovereign hand working all things for our eternal good.
- Strengthen Your Weak Knees and FIGHT
This battle against the sin of grumbling is difficult. You have the Prince of the Earth waging war, along with your own selfish desires and lusts. The Holy Spirit is always working, but you must discipline yourself while receiving the discipline of your loving Father. Follow the thought process of these verses.
“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, not be weary when reproved by him” (Hebrews 12:4–5).
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore, lift your dropping hands and strengthen your week knees and make straight paths for your feet” (Hebrews 12:11–12).
“I discipline my body and bring it into subjection” (I Corinthians 9:27).
“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12).
And then a final word from DeMoss, “The grateful heart that springs forth in joy is not acquired in a moment; it is the fruit of 1,000 choices.”
I can easily be wimpy and give up around choice number 7.
- Memorize Scripture
A familiar verse that packs some incredible sin squelching punch is “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11). That is a catalyst for some memorizing motivation! Let’s “put on” some Scripture. Women will post note cards or sticky notes around the house, strategically placed in zones where they tend to lose the complaining battle. Others read it over and over before they eat meals. The best advice I’ve heard for developing a new habit is to tack it on to another habit. Attach it to an already regularly occurring activity, so you have a prompt to do it. And always ask a friend to hold you accountable by way of a deadline or even doing it together.
- Focus on the Next Generation
Whether it’s your own kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, Sunday School kids, neighborhood kids...the eyes of the next generation, many of whom are unbelievers, are watching you as “you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). The crooked and twisted generation we live in model’s ingratitude, and even when they appear to model gratitude, it is void of thanks to the Source of the common grace they are receiving. Let that be a motivation to “put on” thankfulness. Eradicating grumbling for your own sake is sometimes not as initially galvanizing as doing it for the sake of your children. Often like the practice of the scapegoat for the Israelites, we make our children bear the sins of our complaining around them and against them, sending them to wander as scapegoats in the wilderness of a toxic environment. We are the thermostat for our home. We SET the temperature. Psalm 17:22 tells us the effects of how we set our gauge. “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” A favorite illustration came via a podcast years ago. It addresses just one familiar way we tend to get exasperated and grumble.
A young boy spilled his crayons all over the floor, and unlike some other times, his mom chose to calmly and kindly help him pick them up. Later that day she was walking out the door and bumped into something, spilling her purse everywhere. Her son quickly came over and helped pick up the contents saying “That’s ok, Mommy! I’ll help you!”
My tears of conviction well up every time I replay this. Some day we will be old and frail, and our children will need to consistently clean our messes. Will they respond with a joyful heart or a crushed spirit based on what we modeled for them?
How are we doing at shining our lights of thankfulness in our home and to the other children of the world?
- Determine to Not Waste Your Hardships
Since our steps are established by the Lord, we can be assured that our small and big struggles are what God intended for us, and we can also know that the Holy Spirit is our Comforter throughout. Instead of grumbling and complaining about whatever difficult moment we are in, let this verse in 1 Corinthians 1:4 give us a purpose-filled perspective. “Who comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” If you and I are so distracted in the midst of a trial with hearts that are overflowing with crabbiness and discontent, we miss a way that God is working it for our good. Sometimes we pull off minimal complaining, but we still miss paying attention to and seeking to remember the ways God faithfully comforted and guided us. When my husband and I went through years of waiting on the Lord to give us a child, this verse was my prayer. Even if He chose to never allow me to be pregnant, I prayed that He would graciously give me a reason this side of heaven, and that the reason would be my ability to comfort another woman in the future. In other moments, and ironically usually in much smaller trial moments, I have regret. (It is interesting how our trust flourishes in the “big” suffering but crumbles into grumbling in the “little” sufferings.) I waste many, many hardships on my path where I could intentionally pursue Christ and “put on” thankfulness. In those areas, my counsel of comfort to other women is to be the opposite of how I shamefully was throughout.
Another facet of this point is to realize, as some have noted, that the only thing more debilitating than what you are going through, would be going through it ungratefully. George Matheson’s quote brings beauty from the ashes. “Show me that my tears have made my rainbow.” What an incredible picture to meditate upon. We can have tears that stay trapped in a rumbling storm cloud or ones that make a rainbow.
Months ago, before this article opportunity, I redid my chalkboard verse with my need for a change towards thankfulness in mind. God knew it would correspond perfectly with this final point. David sang in Psalm 9:1, “I will give thanks with my whole heart. I will recount all of your wondrous deeds.” His gratitude originated from a remembrance of God’s past faithfulness. Throughout Scripture, God calls people to remember. The gratitude-filled lives of our cloud of witnesses recorded in the Bible and in other accounts call us to remember. Here are a few ideas to promote this reflection.
- Stones of Remembrance: God had the Israelites set up 12 stones as a visual reminder to tell their children of His faithful character. In our home, we have a special glass jar that we use to model this. When God’s power and protection is on display in a significant way in our lives or a friend’s we have prayed for as a family, we record it on a stone.
- Gratitude Jar: Set up a container in your home for anyone to write a way they are thankful to God on a piece of paper and collect them over a designated amount of time. Read them together, and even save them for future recollection. Some families do this in the month of November each year.
- Text a Friend: I read this idea on a friend’s Facebook page, and I started a couple weeks ago. Each morning, a friend and I text each other 3 “Thankfuls”. This practice can be more challenging than you would think some days, but it is forcing me to discipline myself to notice the abundant blessings from the Lord each day. Sometimes a thankful is for a trial about which I normally would grumble, but I am slowly putting on gratefulness for the Refiner’s fire.
- Gratitude Challenge: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, whom I quoted many times, has a ministry called Revive our Hearts. One impactful feature on their website is their 30 Day Challenges. She has a Gratitude Challenge, and I would cherish the opportunity to do it with many of you! I believe it would be an incredible way to begin moving into the calendar season of Thanksgiving and result in a rest-of-your-life long season of gratitude. If you want to join a group of us for motivation and exhortation to keep on keeping on with the Challenge, email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org or text me @ 913.682.3420. We will start pretty quickly after this newsletter makes it into your hands, so don’t delay!
Thank you for allowing me to pursue the sanctification process even more deeply through this article. I pray that you allow the Holy Spirit to spur you on in your effort to clear off the aisles of your heart that are stacked full of grumbling and complaining situations. Renew your mind daily, as you restock your shelves with Scripture, thoughts, and habits that allow you to accomplish the life altering project of a heart that is reflexive with gratitude.