Several years ago, I was walking through an airport with my wife on our honeymoon when I overheard a conversation that I have never forgotten.
A man and a woman were in a discussion, and the woman was noticeably upset. The man looked stunned, and, as we passed by, I overheard him exclaim, “Our anniversary was yesterday!?” I had no context for their conversation, but, as a newlywed, I wondered how anyone could ever forget their anniversary.
Thankfully, I have never forgotten my anniversary, but I have forgotten other important things in my marriage and I forget little things every day. We all do! We forget to take out the trash or to set our alarm; we forget where we put our phone or where we parked the car. We can all easily agree on this: To be forgetful is to be human.
Why Remembering Is Important
For the Christian, the importance of remembering takes on a whole new level of significance. God has given us many truths in his Word to remember, as well as ways to remember them. God has given us promises, commands, and examples. He has shown us what love is, how to think, and how to care for others. He has shown us who we are, who he is, and what he has done for us.
When we forget those things, the result can be devastating. We can become selfish, angry, anxious, fearful, or a host of other things. We are tempted to see God and ourselves in a bad light. We can minimize him and magnify ourselves. To boil it down: when Christians forget, we tend to fall into one of two ditches; we become prideful or we become distraught.
Ditch #1: When We forget, We Become Prideful
We see a perfect picture of how God’s people become boastful when they forget in the book of Numbers. In chapter 15, God tells Moses to put tassels on their garments as a reminder. What does he want them to remember?
“And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after” (Num.15:39).
God wants his people to remember to follow him, listen to him, and trust in him—rather than themselves. The Israelites had plenty to remember. They had been rescued by God from Egypt, led by him with many miracles. God’s incredible power and wonder had been on display to save them.
You would think that after all that, the Israelites would follow God as Lord and trust him as their rescuer, but they were a forgetful people. Their bent was to pridefully rely upon themselves—what they see and think is right—and forget God.
This is the truth for us as well. We quickly forget God and make gods of ourselves. Quickly, we become selfish, unloving, and unkind. We put others aside, seek our own good, trust in our own power, and forget God. We take his commands as suggestions, thinking we can take care of ourselves. It is our bent. As image-bearers of the living God, we can easily look a little like him because we make idols of ourselves or other parts of God’s creation.
It is important to remember who we are, who God is, and what he has done because we can become prideful.
Ditch #2: When We Forget, We Become Distraught
Life brings trouble. That is one reality most of us don’t need to be reminded of, especially in light of the COVID pandemic. Our own sin, the sin of others, and the brokenness of the world all speak loudly and cause us to forget.
We see another excellent example of this in the book of Numbers. In chapter 14, the Israelites were about to enter Canaan, the Promised Land where God faithfully had led them. Forgetting God, they sent spies to assess their enemy. The spies returned, exclaiming there was no way they could overtake Cannan. Their response was utter distress:
“Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Num. 14:1-4)
This, too, happens to us. When we forget God’s sovereign care, our circumstances seem so overwhelming—so out of control—and we become distraught. We see no way out, no purpose, and no hope. Instead of feeling good because we take overwhelming pride in ourselves, we turn to utter despair because we do not have absolute control over our circumstances.
It is important to remember who we are, who God is, and what he has done because we can become distraught.
How To Remember
As we see the importance of remembering who we are, who God is, and what he has done for us, the natural question arises: how do we remember?
We remember by focusing on two things: (1) God’s Word and (2) the tangible examples of God’s power and care in our own lives and the lives of others.
1. God’s Word: God gave us his Word, and it is magnificently designed to help direct, guide, and remind God’s people. Look at how The Gideons International organization beautifully describe the Bible:
“It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Here Paradise is restored, Heaven opened and the gates of Hell disclosed. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet.”
The Word of God is powerful. The Word of God puts right in front of our eyes who we are, who God is, and what he has done for us. Romans tells us “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (12:2). Reading God’s Word does just that. It changes your heart, shapes your thinking, and puts God’s loving commands and promises right in front of your face.
The truths and promises of the Bible are built to combat our forgetfulness.
2. Tangible examples: God is continually faithful to us. Every breath we breathe is a gift from God. When troubles come, God’s goodness can be easily forgotten. What has God done for you? How has he tangibly shown himself in your past that reminds you of truth in your own life right now? Maybe he has saved a loved one, carried you through a particularly difficult season of life, met substantial needs of a home or income, or given you faith.
This premise is beautifully shown in Psalm 77. Listen to the contrast of what the Psalmists circumstances are telling him and how he reminds himself with God’s shown trustworthiness:
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?. . .
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old. . .
What god is great like our God?. . .
14 You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
The psalmist explicitly reminds himself that God is trustworthy because he redeemed his people in the past, despite what his current circumstances tell him. We all have seen the Lord work in our own lives and the lives of others. Thinking about those realities can help us remember.
The late David Powlison, a wise counselor, author, and speaker, once said: “You can’t remember ten things at once. Invariably, if you could remember just one true thing in the moment of trial, you’d be different.”
What is one truth you need to remind your soul of right now? This can be truth from Scripture or something you have seen God already do in your life. Take a few moments to think about that truth and allow it to fight your tendency toward pride or distress. Allow it to help you remember!