On a recent episode of our leadership podcast, Greg Heeres and I were discussing how easy it is for people to slip into a complaining attitude. One of the things I point out is that if we ask for compliments instead of complaints, we can begin to change the culture of our organization.
Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or Audible.
One of the things I love about the minor prophets is the reminder of the historicity of the Bible. Habakkuk, and the other prophets, lived in an actual moment of history. Check out some of the key dates during the ministry of Habakkuk:
605 BC—Nebuchadnezzar invades Judah and carries off Daniel and his friends
597 BC—the Babylonians attack Judah again and take 10,000 exiles back to Babylon, including the prophet Ezekiel
586 BC—Judah is besieged and defeated, and all remaining residents are exiled to Babylon
Jeremiah, a contemporary of Habakkuk, preached to faithless Israelites, imploring them to return to God, while Habakkuk attempted to encourage faithful Israelites to continue to trust Jehovah.
Habakkuk recognized that he was delivering a heavy word. When he opens this book by saying this is “the oracle” that he received from God, that word is better translated “burden.” Part of this burden may have been due to the fact that Habakkuk had something on his heart that we often have: a complaint.
Can we complain to God?
Habakkuk complained to God—twice!—and God doesn’t reprimand him, so there must be a right way to vent about our frustrations and confusions. Here’s what we can learn from Habakkuk’s two complaints:
Instead of making accusations, ask questions. Habakkuk asks God eight questions in his two complaints. I think this is an attitude issue. Complaints are saying, “God I disagree with what You’re doing,” while questions seem to be more like, “God, I don’t understand what You’re doing.”
Desire God’s glory to be seen. At the conclusion of both of Habakkuk’s complaints he uses the word “therefore” (1:4, 16). His conclusion is something along the lines of, “God, if You let this continue, it appears that Your glory is being obscured by the activities of wicked people.”
After your complaint, close your mouth and open your eyes and ears. After Habakkuk’s first complaint, God tells him to “look” at all He is going to do. And after the second complaint, God tells him to “write down the revelation” God gives him and then “wait for it” to be fulfilled” (2:2, 3).
Then Habakkuk does something that isn’t seen anywhere else in the Bible outside of the book of Psalms: he calls for us to Selah pause three times!
Habakkuk shows us that our best response to what God reveals to us should be worship:
Selah (3:3)—pause to consider what God has done
Selah (3:9)—pause to stand in awe of His very present glory
Selah (3:13)—pause in anticipation of His righteous justice and awesome glory that will be revealed
Key phrases from Habakkuk are quoted in the New Testament, and at least three of them are directly tied to these Selah pauses:
“The earth WILL be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (2:14), is echoed in the way all of humanity will see the glory of the risen Jesus.
“The righteous WILL live by his faith” (2:4), is quoted as a Christian’s ongoing interaction with the indwelling Holy Spirit.
“I WILL rejoice in the Lord my God … I WILL be joyful in God my Savior” (3:17-18) figures prominently in Mary’s song after she realizes that she is pregnant with the soon-to-be-born Savior.
Can you air your complaints to God? Yes, but do it the right way. Then silently listen, patiently wait, and then eagerly tell others about the coming judgment that they can avoid by having their sins forgiven through faith in Jesus our Savior. Only then can we also echo the “I will” statements of Habakkuk that are echoed in the New Testament—I will live by faith, I will look forward to the glory of God being fully revealed, I will continue to rejoice in God my Savior every day, and I will tell others how they, too, can live this way themselves!
People with limited vision have limited faith too. As a result, they frequently grumble when things don’t go their way. Ironically, their grumbling is almost always directed at the leader who does have far-reaching vision and God-honoring faith!
For most of his tenure as leader, Moses handled the grumbling of the people well. Sometimes, though, the complaints seemed more personal:
…in opposition to Moses and Aaron
…they quarreled with Moses
…“Why did you…?”
These complaints may seem like a personal attack, but in the end, we find out that these attacks weren’t really against Moses at all—“the Israelites quarreled with the Lord” (Numbers 20:13).
God tried to help Moses and Aaron see that this was not a personal attack on them. He instructed them to “speak to that rock” so that water would be provided for the grumbling people. But sadly, Moses and Aaron missed this point. They said to the Israelites, “must we bring you water out of this rock?” And then in total frustration with the quarrelsome Israelites, Moses “struck the rock” instead of speaking to it.
Moses made himself the focal point, not God. God responded: “you did not trust in Me enough to honor Me as holy in the sight of the Israelites” (v. 12).
A mark of a godly leader is one who doesn’t take personal attacks personally.
Previously, Moses responded to the grumblers better—
He “cried out to the Lord” and received directions
He obeyed God’s directions to the letter
He reminded the people that their grumbling was really “against the Lord” (Exodus 16:6-8)
He humbled himself before the people and pleaded with them not to rebel against God
He humbled himself before God and interceded for the people
If God has called you to lead, people will bring their quarrels and complaints to you. It will feel like a personal attack, but it’s not. When attacked or when people grumble, you need to humble yourself before the Holy Spirit and ask, “Did I do something wrong?” and then listen attentively for His answer.
If the answer is yes: repent, ask forgiveness, make things right.
If the answer is no: don’t take it personally, stay humble before God and the people, and obey the specific directions God will give you. Don’t get frustrated and cut short your tenure as a leader.
This is part 44 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.
…And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice (Philippians 1:18).
Paul is in prison, yet he tells his friends that he is choosing to rejoice. Wow!
Not only that, but this same imprisoned man also reminds his friends to…
… let their joy in Jesus overflow
… conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ
… continue to have a servant’s attitude like Jesus
… don’t give in to complaining or arguing
… look out for the interests of other people
… rejoice in the Lord
… don’t rest on their laurels
… forget the past and press on toward the future
John Maxwell has noted that most people have uphill dreams but downhill habits. That is definitely not a winning combination!
Paul is making his friends aware of the possible downhill habits that may hold them back from their uphill dreams, and using himself as an example. This first step—awareness—is vital if we are going to break free of the things that are pulling us away from our God-given dreams.
Solomon wrote, “The path of life leads UPWARD for the prudent to keep them from GOING DOWN to the realm of the dead” (Proverbs 15:24).
Being prudent is saying, “I’m always on the lookout for what’s best.”
None of us can go UP by ignoring our downhill habits, or even trying to coast through life. The only way to achieve our uphill dreams is to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal our downhill habits so that we can make a plan to turn those around.
Making my own way Getting a mentor / partner (4:9)
Being discontent Being content (4:11-12)
Trying to be self-made Striving to be Christ-reliant (4:13)
A good prayer for all of us who have uphill dreams that we want to achieve—Holy Spirit, reveal to me my downhill habits. I acknowledge that I need Your help to see and break these habits. Then help me to replace them with Christ-honoring uphill habits that will allow me to achieve the purpose God has for my life.
John Wesley was deeply introspective about his faith in Jesus Christ. He once wrote—
“I did go thus far for many years…using diligence to eschew all evil, and to have a conscience void of offense; redeeming the time; buying up every opportunity of doing all good to all men; constantly and carefully using all the public and all the private means of grace; endeavoring after a steady seriousness of behavior, at all times, and in all places; and, God is my record, before Whom I stand, doing all this in sincerity; having a real design to serve God; a hearty desire to do His will in all things; to please Him who had called me to ‘fight the good fight,’ and to ‘lay hold of eternal life.’ Yet my own conscience beareth me witness in the Holy Ghost, that all this time I was but almost a Christian.”
To help keep himself on the right path, Wesley came up with this list of questions he regularly asked himself. This is a list any Christian would do well to read through regularly—
Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?
Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
Did the Bible live in me today?
Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?
Am I enjoying prayer?
When did I last speak to someone about my faith?
Do I pray about the money I spend?
Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
Do I disobey God in anything?
Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
Am I defeated in any part of my life?
Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
How do I spend my spare time?
Am I proud?
Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican?
Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?
“‘Let him ask of God’ [James 1:5]; that is the advice of the Scripture. We are all so ready to go to books, to go to men, to go to ceremonies, to anything except to God. Man will worship God with his eyes, and his arms, and his knees, and his mouth—with anything but his heart—and we are all of us anxious, more or less, until we are renewed by grace, to get off the heart-worship of God.” —Charles Spurgeon
“Newly published research combining genetic, language, and demographic data challenges the idea of a single lineage of languages and human populations evolving out of Africa. Instead, the data supports the idea that multiple people groups have independent origins—a condition one would predict if the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel happened as described in the Bible.” Read more in Out Of Babel.
…but it does, I believe, capture his mindset. This is a quote from one of my favorite US presidents: “We have a given problem to solve. If we undertake the solution, there is, of course, always danger that we may not solve it aright; but to refuse to undertake the solution simply renders it certain that we cannot possibly solve it aright.” ―Theodore Roosevelt
“Malice needs nothing to live on; it can feed on itself. A contentious spirit will find something to quarrel about. A faultfinder will find occasion to accuse a Christian even if his life is as chaste as an icicle and pure as snow. A man of ill will does not hesitate to attack, even if the object of his hatred be a prophet or the very Son of God Himself. If John comes fasting, he says he has a devil; if Christ comes eating and drinking, he says He is a winebibber and a glutton. Good men are made to appear evil by the simple trick of dredging up from his own heart the evil that is there and attributing it to them.” —A.W. Tozer
“Let not thy peace depend on the tongues of men, for whether they judge well or ill, thou art not on that account other than thyself.” —Thomas á Kempis
“I must pray for the strength and courage to be truly obedient to Jesus, even if He calls me to go where I would rather not go.” —Henri Nouwen
“One of the greatest mercies God bestows upon us is His not permitting our inclinations and opportunities to meet. Have you not sometimes noticed that when you had the inclination to a sin there has been no opportunity, and when the opportunity has presented itself you have had no inclination towards it? satan’s principal aim with believers is to bring their appetites and his temptations together….” —Charles Spurgeon
“This is not Predestination: your will is perfectly free: but all physical events are adapted to fit in as God sees best with the free actions He knows we are going to do.” —C.S. Lewis
It’s a simple fact: You find what you’re looking for. If you are looking for bad news, you will find something to criticize; if you are looking for good news, you will find something to compliment.
In this election cycle, I hear and read far too many candidates that are looking for the things that are wrong. Electing those candidates perpetuates bad news. Is everything perfect in Cedar Springs? In Michigan? In the United States? Of course not. But there is a lot that is right. I’m much more interested in focusing on those things.
The way to move our city, our state, and our country forward is to support those candidates that are focused on our strengths—on what’s right in our communities—and electing them into positions where they can help our strengths overcome our weaknesses.
Send a message this election cycle: Vote for the candidates that are looking for what’s good and right and strong.