(Photo: Courtesy of First Baptist Dallas)
The Rev. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, says in order to avoid falling into the trap of complaining that Pope Francis warned against during his Wednesday Mass, Christians first need to understand how much God hates complaining.
Speaking to staff members who work at the Domus Romana Sacerdotalis, a guest residence for members of the clergy who are employed in the diplomatic service of the Holy See or work in the Roman Curia, Pope Francis warned that obsessing over life's hardships and difficulties can hinder believers' ability to see God's work in their lives.
Using the gospel of Luke as an example, the pontiff described the despair Jesus' disciples felt after witnessing his crucifixion and death. "They were afraid. All of the disciples were afraid," the pope explained, according to Vatican Radio.
"... And they stewed, so to speak, their lives in the juice of their complaints and kept going on and on and on with the complaining," the pope said. "I think that many times when difficult things happen, including when we are visited by the cross, we run the risk of closing ourselves off in complaints."
When Christians are stuck in the cycle of disappointment and despair, Jeffress told The Christian Post on Friday that he recommends a reflection on the scripture Hebrews 5:8: '"Although He (Jesus) was a Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered.'"
"If Jesus could learn something positive from difficulties in His life, why should we be surprised that God's plan for our lives also includes suffering?" Jeffress said. "In my own life, I can say without hesitation that the most valuable lessons I've learned have been in difficult times, not easy times."
He continued, "Christians who are experiencing suffering in their life can find great encouragement in Paul's letter to the Philippian Christians. Repeatedly, Paul encourages believers to 'rejoice in the Lord.' As my friend and mentor, the late Howard Hendricks used to say, 'When Paul wrote these words he wasn't sitting on the French Rivera sipping a Pina Colada, but was in prison facing his possible death.'"
Citing an example of God's displeasure in witnessing people's obsession over their personal hardships, Jeffress noted, "God's judgment against the Israelites in Numbers 11 for their incessant complaining is a stark reminder of what God thinks of grumbling and grumblers."
He also suggests reading the books of Job, 1 Peter and Philippians, as a reminder of the struggles of Job, God's faithful servant, and the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul, respectively.
For a modern-day example of a Christian who's dropped her complaints and is using her gifts to help others who face daily struggles caused by their physical disabilities, Jeffress suggests people read one of the books written by author Joni Eareckson Tada, whom he describes as a "present-day saint [who] reminds us of the positive benefits of suffering."
At 17, Tada jumped into shallow waters in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, and sustained injuries to her neck that left her paralyzed from the shoulders down. In 1979 she founded the organization Joni and Friend International Disability Center, which helps people living with disabilities, as well as their families.
"Finally, and most importantly," Jeffress said, "the key that releases us from the prison of complaining is expressing gratitude to God. 'In everything give thanks,' Paul commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. Paul understood that it is impossible for gratitude to God and bitterness toward God to exist in the same heart."