Memory is a tricky thing. We all have a tendency to remember events in such a way that makes us look the best. Sometimes, or in some areas, we remember events so that we can see ourselves in our worst possible light, feeding our own insecurities or personal issues. The inability of we humans to remember accurately is part of what makes eye witnesses so unreliable.
Having created us, God knows our faults. He knows that we will have to consciously make the effort to remember our own fallacies in order to maintain our healthy fear of Him, the fear that is the knowledge of His awesomeness and makes us want to worship Him and do what is right. On their trek through the desert once they escaped Egypt, even though God perpetually saved the Israelites from their own follies, they seem to fail to remember. They complain, they want to return to Egypt, they doubt God will keep His promises, they worship other gods.
Because God’s memory never fails, He remembers His promises. As He has Moses prepare the Israelites to finally enter the promised land, He has Moses implore them:
“Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deut. 6:4-9 NLT)
God intends to keep His promises to make Israel a great nation, but He expects them to remember His instructions. (At one point late in the 40-year journey through the desert, God is ready to wipe out the entire bunch and begin again until Moses talks Him out of that plan because God is so disgusted by the Israelites perpetual forgetfulness and thanklessness.) And why was the remembering of God and His promises so vital for the Israelites? They were about to embark on the final length of their journey, into a promised land that was filled with pagan peoples who might easily tempt the Israelites into forgetting that God was the one and only, thus allowing them to slip into actions detestable to God, like making idols or touching unclean things.
But the most important reason for remembering is this: For we will be counted as righteous when we obey all the commands the LORD our God has given us (Deut. 5:25 NLT) In the New Testament, Grace makes a difference about our source of righteousness: I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; Paul writes, rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. (Philippians 3:9 NLT)
Faith versus works does not lower the bar of our commitment to remembering God. In fact, it raises it. Paul explains:
But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. . . .I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3: 12-14 NLT)
Remembering God means forgetting the wrongs or perceived wrongs done to us by others, putting God’s wants before our own, and even forgetting what good we may have done so as not to rest on our laurels and fail to achieve all that we might through the Holy Spirit working in us. When we remember how much God has done for us, it makes us love God even more, and it should make us love others, no matter what perceived hurts they cause us.
Remembering God also means pouring out our thankfulness to Him. God wants to hear our gratitude and our acknowledgement that all we have and all we are, we owe to Him. Paul implores us, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT).
Christ instructs us to pray with this attitude of gratefulness: Our Father, who art in heaven, Christ tells us to begin, hallowed be thy name. In acknowledging our relationship to God as Father, we are reminded that He who made everything wants to have a relationship with us. In acknowledging His holiness, we realize how grateful we should be to have a relationship with God, to know His love for us because of grace.
When you are faced with the challenges of life, whether you are having physical problems, mental problems, work problems, family problems, or financial problems, it can be so easy to just whine to God or be mad at Him and ignore Him (as if that somehow hurts God instead of us!). But when we are in times of peril it is even more important to remember first to be thankful, to acknowledge what God has done for us through the grace of Christ.
Finally, when we remember to be thankful, I think it makes it easier for us to be the love of Christ to those who do not yet believe, to shine His light as Christians are supposed to do. In his book, Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life, Abbot Christopher Jamison describes Christian patience this way:
“Patience is more subtle: it is the attempt to live out in a positive frame of mind the difficulties that come from trying to obey and love other people”
It is so easy to forget. But a successfully run race with Christ can only be accomplished when first we remember.