“Murmur Not”

Neal A. Maxwell

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


With all of you, I express my admiration to these wonderful men who are being released and whose status is being adjusted. They were exemplary at the time of their calls; they are even more so today. They are portable sermons for us all. My sermon was essentially prepared in June. It is for myself as well as for the members of the Church.

Murmuring is defined as a half-suppressed resentment or muttered complaint. We all remember, in Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye’s verbal asides to God.

However, just as “a yawn [can be] a silent shout,” 1 so murmuring can be much more than muted muttering. The real “Addressee” of some of our murmuring is clearly the Lord, as when the people complained against Moses. (See Ex. 16:8; 1 Ne. 16:20.) At least Tevye honestly acknowledged whom he addressed.

Murmuring seems to come so naturally to the natural man. It crosses the scriptural spectrum of recorded complaints. We need bread. We need water. (See Num. 21:5.) The needed military reinforcements did not arrive. (See Alma 60.) “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” (See Num. 11:20.) “Why did we ever leave Jerusalem?” (See 1 Ne. 2:11.) Some, perhaps understandably, murmured over persecution by unbelievers, and others even murmured over what the name of Christ’s church should be. (See Mosiah 27:1; 3 Ne. 27:3–4.) Most ironically, the coming forth of more scripture from God was to cause murmuring. (See 2 Ne. 29:8.)

An early scriptural instance of murmuring involved Cain’s offering to the Lord, illustrating how our intentions are at least as important as our deeds. (See Moses 5:20–21). Cain was “wroth” that Abel’s offering was acceptable but not his. Sometimes, brothers and sisters, we, too, worry if someone else seems to be more favored than we. Worse still, we want to be accepted of the Lord—but on our terms, not His!

A basic cause of murmuring is that too many of us seem to expect that life will flow ever smoothly, featuring an unbroken chain of green lights with empty parking places just in front of our destinations!

In its extremity, murmuring reflects not only the feelings of the discontented, but also the feelings of the very conflicted:

“Their sorrowing was … the sorrowing of the damned, because [they could not] take happiness in sin.

“And [yet] they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits, but they did curse God, and wish to die. Nevertheless they would struggle with the sword for their lives.” (Morm. 2:13–14.)

In His parable of the vineyard workers, Jesus noted of disciples how those who worked from the first hour, having “borne the burden and heat of the day,” murmured because they received the same wages as those who worked only the last hour. (See Matt. 20:11–12.) We beggars are so concerned with our entitlements.

Laman and Lemuel murmured against father Lehi for leading them into the wilderness because of the “foolish imaginations of his heart.” (See 1 Ne. 2:11; 1 Ne. 3:31; 1 Ne. 4:4.) This same depressing duo declared that father Lehi had judged the Jerusalemites too harshly, yet Jerusalem was soon to fall.

Lehi rebuked murmuring Laman and Lemuel for complaining over Nephi’s saying “hard things” to them .(1 Ne. 16:3.) Lehi noted: “That which ye call anger was the truth.” (2 Ne. 1:26.) How often you and I, brothers and sisters, can make that same mistake! Cutting truth does hurt, but its lancing can drain off pride.

There was murmuring, too, because Nephi broke his steel bow and couldn’t build a ship (see 1 Ne. 17:17) and because he was seen as trying to “rule over us” (2 Ne. 5:3). Those same murmurers, however, soon surfeited themselves on the meat brought back by Nephi’s new bow, and they sailed in the ship that Nephi built. How handy inspired but imperfect leaders in the Church are as focal points for our frustrations, especially if circumstances require them to suffer in silence! Having confidence in leaders who keep confidences is part of sustaining them.

Oliver Cowdery fell short of the coveted privilege of translating. He was told, “Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner.” (D&C 9:6.) Emma Smith was likewise told to “murmur not” when certain things were withheld from her. (D&C 25:4.)

In pondering these and various other examples of murmuring, several other things become obvious.

First, the murmurer often lacks the courage to express openly his concerns. If the complaint concerns a peer, the murmurer seldom follows Jesus’ counsel, “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” (Matt. 18:15.)

Second, murmurers make good conversational cloak holders. Though picking up no stones themselves, they provoke others to do so.

Third, while a murmurer insists on venting his own feelings, he regards any response thereto as hostile. (See 2 Ne. 1:26.) Furthermore, murmurers seldom take into account the bearing capacity of their audiences.

Fourth, murmurers have short memories. Israel arrived in Sinai, then journeyed on to the Holy Land though they were sometimes hungry and thirsty. But the Lord rescued them, whether by the miraculous appearance by quail or by water struck from a rock. (See Num. 11:31; Ex. 17:6.) Strange, isn’t it, brothers and sisters, how those with the shortest memories have the longest lists of demands! However, with no remembrance of past blessings, there is no perspective about what is really going on.

This powerful verse in the Old Testament reminds us of what is really going on:

“And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.” (Deut. 8:2.)

Perspective makes such an enormous and constant difference in our lives. It shouldn’t surprise us, therefore, that Satan, we are told, does not know the mind of God. (See Moses 4:6.)

Perhaps when we murmur we are unconsciously complaining over not being able to cut a special deal with the Lord. We want full blessings but without full obedience to the laws upon which those blessings are predicated. For instance, some murmurers seem to hope to reshape the Church to their liking by virtue of their murmuring. But why would one want to belong to a church that he could remake in his own image, when it is the Lord’s image that we should come to have in our countenances? (See Alma 5:19.)

The doctrines are His, brothers and sisters, not ours. The power is His to delegate, not ours to manipulate!

One especially fundamental fact about murmuring is contained in this verse: “And thus Laman and Lemuel … did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.” (1 Ne. 2:12.)

Like Laman and Lemuel, we, too, sometimes fail to understand the dealings of our God in our lives and in our times. (See 1 Ne. 2:12; 1 Ne. 17:22.)

Presidents Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball tried to discourage Thomas B. Marsh’s murmuring, but to no avail. A repentant Brother Marsh later said of that time:

“I must have lost the Spirit of the Lord out of my heart. …

“I became jealous of the Prophet … and overlooked everything that was right, and spent all my time in looking for the evil; … I thought I saw a beam in Brother Joseph’s eye, but it was nothing but a mote, and my own eye was filled with the beam; … I got mad and I wanted everybody else to be mad. I talked with Brother Brigham Young and Brother Heber C. Kimball, and I wanted them to be mad like myself; and I saw they were not mad, and I got madder still because they were not. Brother Brigham Young, with a cautious look, said, ‘Are you the leader of the Church, Brother Thomas?’ I answered ‘No.’ ‘Well then,’ said he, ‘why do you not let that alone?’” 2

Laborers in the Lord’s vineyard who murmur over life’s inequities, declared Jesus, murmur “against the goodman of the house.” (Matt. 20:11.) The goodness of the Lord is attested to in so many ways—mansions await!—yet we ungrateful guests still complain about the present accommodations.

Those of deep faith do not murmur. They are generously disposed, and they are reluctant to murmur, even while in deep difficulties, as with one faithful group, who said:

“Behold, [perhaps] ye are unsuccessful; … if so, we do not desire to murmur. …

“It mattereth not—we trust God will deliver us, notwithstanding the weakness of our armies.” (Alma 58:35, 37.)

Exemplary Job, who went through so very much, was openly anxious that he not charge God foolishly. (See Job 1:22.)

The pleading of one filled with faith who is also concerned with the welfare of others, as with Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, is not murmuring. This is not the murmuring of a superficial follower who is quick to complain and who is slow to endure. Reassurance and further instruction followed with Joseph being told: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.” (D&C 121:7.)

Damage to ourselves is sufficient reason to resist murmuring, but another obvious danger is its contagiousness. Even faithful father Lehi, for one brief moment, got caught up in the contagion of murmuring. (See 1 Ne. 16:20.) Similarly, when Moses lapsed, very briefly, it was under exasperating pressure from rebels. (See Num. 20:7–12.) No one knows how to work a crowd better than the adversary.

Instead of murmuring, therefore, being of good cheer is what is needed, and being of good cheer is equally contagious. We have clear obligations to so strengthen each other by doing things “with cheerful hearts and countenances.” (D&C 59:15; see also D&C 81:5.)

Basic things over which the scriptures say we are to be of good cheer include the transcending blessing that our sins can be forgiven and that Jesus has overcome the world! These are marvelous blessings. Additionally, we are assured that the Lord is in our midst. He will lead us along. He will stand by us. (See John 16:33; Matt. 9:2; D&C 61:36; D&C 68:6; D&C 78:18.) By knowing that these everlasting things are firmly in place, can we not, then, better endure irritations, such as a dislocated travel schedule? Besides, brothers and sisters, how can it rain on the just and the unjust alike without occasionally raining on our personal parade? (See Matt. 5:45.)

Of course there are ways provided—formal and informal—for expressing legitimate concerns and complaints, and for doing so productively. These avenues often go unused, especially if one’s real desire is to parade his discontent. Letting off steam always produces more heat than light. (See Matt. 18:15.) True, we may merely gripe or grumble in a passing way. We may even do it cleverly. Still, even mild murmuring can be more pointed than we may care to admit.

Some actually question God’s capacity, this in the face of His assurance to us: “I am able to do my own work.” (2 Ne. 27:20, 21.) Therefore, murmuring can be another form of mocking God’s plan of salvation. (See 3 Ne. 29:6.) Yes, such individuals say, God has an overall general plan, but we don’t care for His specific timing. (2 Ne. 27:21; Enos 1:16; Ether 3:24, 27.) Yet the scriptures specifically advise us that “all things must come to pass in their time.” (D&C 64:32; see D&C 24:16.)

Yes, such individuals may acknowledge God, but they criticize His ways. (See Jacob 4:8; D&C 1:16; D&C 56:14.) We want things to be done in our ways, even though our ways are much lower ways. (See Isa. 55:8–9.)

Furthermore, since God has told us He intends to try our faith and our patience, are not situations of stress the very settings from which such murmuring would emerge? (See Mosiah 23:21.) Of course—unless we are careful.

God accomplishes things, brothers and sisters, “in process of time.” This calls for our patience. Moreover, doing things in process of time is often His way of either preserving our agency or of providing us with needed opportunity. In fact, certain experiences, over which we might understandably murmur, can actually be for our good. (See D&C 105:10; D&C 122:7; Gen. 30:27.) Thus you and I may think God is merely marking time, when He is actually marking openings for us, openings which are sorely needed. Even then, we are so slow to use those openings in order to escape from the familiar cell of selfishness.

Murmuring can also be noisy enough that it drowns out the various spiritual signals to us, signals which tell us in some cases to quit soaking ourselves indulgently in the hot tubs of self-pity! Murmuring over the weight of our crosses not only takes energy otherwise needed to carry them but might cause another to put down his cross altogether. Besides, brothers and sisters, if we were not carrying so much else, our crosses would be much lighter. The heaviest load we feel is often from the weight of our unkept promises and our unresolved sins, which press down relentlessly upon us. In any genuine surrendering to God, one says, “I will give away all my sins to know thee.” (Alma 22:18.) To Whom shall we give our sins? Only Jesus is both willing and able to take them!

Finally, nonmurmurers are permitted to see so much more. Ancient Israel was once compassed about with “a great host” of hostile horses and chariots. Elisha counseled his anxious young servant, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” The prophet then prayed that the Lord would “open” the young man’s eyes, “and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha”! (2 Kgs. 6:14–17.)

Elisha’s counsel can help Church members today to silence our murmuring. Regardless of how things seem, or come to seem, in troubled times, “They that be with us are more than they that be with them.” My brothers and sisters, if our lips are closed to murmuring, then our eyes can be opened. I so pray for us all in the holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Show References

  1.  

    1. G. K. Chesterton, in The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, ed. Robert Andrews, New York: Columbia University, 1987.

  2.  

    2.  Testimonies of the Divinity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Its Leaders, comp. Joseph E. Cardon and Samuel O. Bennion, Independence, Mo.: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Co., 1930, pp. 103, 105.