J. I. Packer defines “complaint” in prayer as “a kind of speech that blends lamentation (raging, glooming and despairing over what is bad, frustrating and hurtful) with supplication (begging and pleading that someone will do something about it)” (Praying 190).
But is it ever permissible to “complain” to God in prayer? Or should the believer gird up his loins, grit his teeth, and keep his mouth shut? More than permissible, it is often essential. If you doubt the legitimacy of godly complaint, take a moment and consider these expressions found in the Psalms:
“O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD—how long? Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes” (Psalm 6:1-7).
“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2).
“But I call to God, and the LORD will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and He hears my voice” (Psalm 55:16-17; see also Psalms 38, 79, 88).
“And so our complaint prayers,” says Packer, “are not mere self-centered whining that life has not treated us right. Instead, our compalints are those of dependent children, running in fear and in hurt to our almighty Father, who rules all things. God, if He chooses, will relieve our pain. And if, for nurture’s sake, He chooses not to do so, even then we are to snuggle and nestle into His arms, knowing that Father God loves us, hears our complaints and will love us now and forever” (Praying, 204).