Murmurs are abnormal heart sounds produced by abnormal patterns of blood flow in the heart. Many murmurs are caused by defective heart valves. Heart valves help to prevent a retrograde flow of blood with each heartbeat. Heart murmurs are a good illustration of what happens when Christians murmur (complain or grumble). Philippians 2:14 implores believers to do everything without ‘murmurings or disputings’. This is a piece of scripture that Christians have overlooked over time, causing detriment to the body of Christ. In medicine, heart murmurs point to heart valve defects, which are of two types; valvular incompetence and valvular stenosis.
Valvular incompetence means that the heart valves do not close properly, so blood meant to flow out of a particular heart chamber flows back in; a phenomenon known as regurgitation. Again, this is a good illustration of what happens when Christians murmur. Speaking about the children of Israel, Psalm 106:25 talks about how they murmured in their hearts and chose not to listen to God’s voice. Now, the primary way God speaks is through the Bible. Any other utterance from God’s mouth will tally with His written word 100% of the time. So, it’s safe to deduce that when we murmur, we do not have the word of God in our hearts. How is this equivalent to regurgitation? Ephesians 6:10-18 speaks about spiritual warfare, and how we are to stand. The components of our spiritual armor are all different depictions of the word of God; both as a shield and as a sword. When valves are incompetent, they cannot withstand the pressure in the ventricle or vessel containing blood, so they reopen, and blood regurgitates. When we do not have the word of God in us, we cannot stand when situations requiring that we do arise, and instead, we murmur.
The second cause of murmurs, valvular stenosis, involves the narrowing of the valve orifice, resulting in less blood flowing out of the heart chamber involved. Hence, the heart has to do more work than was previously required to pump an adequate supply of blood. A stenosed valve is a picture of a Christian not in total submission to God’s will. 2 Corinthians 6:12 talks about a group of Christians “straitened in their own bowels”. What that implies is that they were being cramped (straitened, constrained) by their desires or passions (bowels). These people were not ready to let go of their wills, and the resultant effect was a feeling of complete unease. What’s the natural response when you’re cramped up in a tight spot? You obviously complain about the discomfort. So, murmurs are also born out of our reluctance to let go of our wills and embrace God’s. Jude 16-19 speaks of how these murmurers are distinct, in that they indulge their senses rather than live according to the Spirit.
Murmurs are associated with significant morbidity and mortality if unaddressed. Valvular regurgitation or stenosis could progress to heart failure if not managed early enough. In the Old Testament, many an occasion caused the children of Israel to murmur, eventually leading to deaths and a wasted generation (Numbers 14). This pattern is also seen in the New Testament where even Jesus’ disciples murmured, turning their backs on Him (John 6:61-66). It’s obvious that as inconsequential as we think complaints and grumblings are today, they can result in our missing out on what God has in store for us.
Is there a treatment? Philippians 2:16 gives us the solution for spiritual valvular incompetence; holding forth the word of God. We need God’s word to take root in us so we can indeed stand without murmuring when obstacles arise. For stenosed valves, a procedure called a valvotomy (cutting open of the valves) is done. 2 Corinthians 6:13 encourages those stenosed Christians to be “enlarged”. In other words, open your heart to God’s will. It’s not an easy process, as it would involve some form of cutting or stretching, but the end product is worth it.