God often allows pains and difficult circumstances to mold and turn our hearts to Him. Hence, anguish and puzzlement are not only an inescapable part of life in a fallen world, they are integral to the faith formation of God’s people. It is no wonder that lament is the largest genre in the book of Psalms. In this light, Israel’s grumblings in Exodus 15 to 17 that happened just after their dramatic deliverance by the Lord from Pharaoh’s army should remind us of our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
However, what then separates legitimate cries and complaints to God from a disgruntled, discontented spirit of grumbling? Realised that God did not fault Israel for their complaints in Exodus 15 and 16. Instead, He heard their cries and reached down to help them. It is only as their story unfolds, their persistent grumblings, regardless of God’s provision for them, eventually caused God to chastise them.
The difference then between a lament and a grumbling spirit lies in the posture of the heart and its effect on our soul. A lament is an outpouring, a turning of our hearts towards God, to find refuge, solace, and answer in Him. It makes us ever more reliant on Him. It returns the glory back to God. This is a consistent characteristic in the Psalms of Lament. The prime example of a biblical lament is the cry of our Lord on the cross in Mark 15:34, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And it ended with His final breathe in Luke 23:46, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”
On the other hand, a grumbling spirit, as in the case of Israel in the wilderness, is rooted in unbelief. It has lost sight of God’s goodness and His sovereign purposes. It focuses on self and one’s circumstances instead of God and His promises. It does not seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness as it is rooted in the idolatry of self instead of the worship of God. Eventually, it breeds ingratitude and hardens one’s heart against God.
In contrast when we examine the prayers of the Psalmists, regardless of the form, be it praise, confession, lament, or petition, they are always rooted in worship and lead to worship. They teach us, whatever our circumstances may be, to always keep a true spirit of prayer, a spirit of reverence and awe, gratitude and thankfulness, faith and submission in the glorious presence of our all wise, all powerful, and all loving God.