What’s the difference between a concern and a complaint, and why does it matter?

Ever been to a restaurant and your food was a little cold? Frustrating right?

But if you’re just feeling concerned about it, then you’ll probably find yourself saying -‘The food is fine’ – when the waiter enquires after your meal. You don’t want to make a fuss, or cause a scene.

But complaint is different!

If something really bothers you then complaint will drive you to speak up. You just have to do something. Concern is usually passive. Complaint is always active.

A dictionary definition I read describes complaint as “an expression of discontent, regret, pain, grief or lament.” Complaint seems to trigger something in the depths of our conscience. It provokes a visceral, emotional response to a problem.

Scripture is full of visionary men and women who were indignant about a situation. Sure, there were lots of people who were concerned but concern never moved them to vision and action. Consider these examples…

  • For 400 years the Israelites were concerned about their Egyptian captivity, but it took a Moses to get a complaint which stirred him to make a stand.
  • A vast Israelite army was concerned about a nine-foot giant, Goliath, but it took a teenage David, with a burning complaint in his belly, to cut the head off this formidable foe.
  • God’s people in exile were concerned about their planned destruction at the hands of the Persian empire, but Esther was the one willing to risk it all to save her people.

What was different about Moses, David, and Esther – and so many other biblical characters I could name, and countless historical leaders (e.g. Martin Luther King Jnr, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa etc)?

These people weren’t just concerned. They were indignant. Righteously angry. An injustice was taking place on their watch, and they weren’t having it.

Vision is birthed in complaint. A dream for a better God-honouring reality is conceived in the place of pain, outrage, and passion – and there’s so much pain in our world today.

As I write, my dear friends, Sam and Leo in Moldova, are engulfed in loving swarms of Ukranian refugees, as they open their home – and hearts – to these devastated people. The need is on their doorstep, but they could hide away. They could play it safe. They could choose comfort. But in reality they can’t. Their hearts are broken. The flames of justice and generosity are roaring in their souls. They’re doing all they can, whilst they can.

Pastor and author Paul Scanlan reminds us that… “At the core of every visionary leader’s life is a deep dissatisfaction with how things are. At the root of every history-makers calling is complaint.”

We can’t fight for justice for everyone, but we can fight for justice for someone! We must! It’s what it means to be human, to be made in the image of God, to be a reflection of the divine in the world.

Jesus refuses to walk by. Motivated by the deepest of compassion, He enters into a suffering world and gives everything, His very life, to save it.

What is your complaint?
What stirs you?
What gets you up in the morning?
What is your burning holy discontent?
What is stirring righteous anger in your belly?
If you haven’t got something – then I pray that God will show you.

We can’t do everything, but we can do something, for someone.

Father God, forgive us that we’ve not cared enough for the hurting and broken in your world. Captivate us with a cause that we can give ourselves to. For the good of others, and for your glory, Amen.