If you’re a parent you can probably relate to this: you tell your child to clean his/her room, and when you later ask if the assigned task has been completed you are told, “I forgot.” Forgetting is the universal “explanation” among kids, or so it seems. And we tend to accept it, perhaps too often (but that’s a subject for another day). My reason for bringing this up is to speak to the forgetfulness dynamic as it relates to our relationship with the Lord.
In their devotional book on the Psalms, The Songs of Jesus, Tim and Kathy Keller serve up a helpful and thought-provoking meditation on Psalm 78. In that psalm, one of the major issues was the forgetfulness of God’s people: “They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them” (v. 11). Failure to remember God’s activity and promises is far from an “innocent” matter in the Psalms, as shown here and in many other places.
Spiritual forgetfulness, according to the Kellers, can cause our growth to stagnate. The antidote “is to have a heart constantly vitalized by deliberate remembering of the costly sacrifice of Jesus.” And is this not a primary purpose of the regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper in our congregation? We do it in remembrance of Jesus and his sacrifice on behalf of his people (Luke 22:19). God has accommodated our forgetfulness by giving us this command.
The Kellers include a prayer at the end of their meditation on this portion of Psalm 78, and it’s this prayer that I’d like to elaborate on briefly, a phrase at a time.
Lord, I worry because I forget your wisdom. We know the verse in Philippians 4 about being anxious for nothing, but as often as we remind ourselves of that, the anxiety of life—financial concerns, health worries, family matters: the list is endless—presses in, disrupting our sleep, robbing us of peace, and generally making us miserable. How we need to remind ourselves that worry is caused by forgetting that God is infinitely wise, that he really does know best what we need and has promised to provide it. Worry is an implicit denial of our Father’s all-encompassing wisdom, and a taking on ourselves of a responsibility he never intended us to bear.
- I resent because I forget your mercy. How does resentment show up for you? For me, it has to do with believing I haven’t gotten what I deserve. And it’s complicated by the observation that someone else has. In other words, God has been kinder to someone else than to me. Think of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20. They resented the generosity of the vineyard owner when he paid everyone the same. They forgot that if the owner hadn’t come to them offering work, at a wage they agreed was fair, they’d have had nothing. So they grumbled, and resented. The owner corrected their perspective with these words: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” You and I belong to Jesus, and he has dealt with us better than we deserve, farbetter. We need to be thankful for his mercy, rather than resenting it when others are the recipients.
- I covet because I forget your beauty. When I first read this, it didn’t immediately connect for me. But the more I thought about it the more sense it made. Forgetting the beauty of Jesus leads to desiring something else I think will satisfy more. If Jesus is the all-satisfying, supremely beautiful Lover of my soul, how can I think that something, or someone, else will be more satisfying or fulfilling than he? I need to continually ask the Lord to give me the heart of David in Psalm 27:4: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.” How do we “gaze upon the beauty of the LORD”? By immersing ourselves in his Word, which is where we see Jesus most clearly.
- I sin because I forget your holiness. My tendency is to trivialize the holiness of the Lord, which enables me to minimize the seriousness of my sin. I understand on some level that all sin is cosmic treason, as the theologians express it, and that even our culture regards treason as a capital offense. But that isn’t an awareness I keep in the forefront of my mind constantly, as I should. I read recently about a woman who was extremely allergic to peanuts, so much so that when her boyfriend kissed her after eating peanut butter, she actually died. Apart from the death of Jesus on my behalf any sin is punishable by my death. Such is the holiness of God. May we be more continually mindful of this sobering truth.
- I fear because I forget your sovereignty. We are all subjects of a kingdom; that’s what sovereignty implies. If there’s one who is sovereign, he rules, and that describes God. He rules us and everyone in the world. In this kingdom, the Ruler always gets his way in the end. That’s good news for those of us who are sons and daughters of the King. Nothing happens in this kingdom that’s ultimately outside the control of the King. And he intends, he relentlessly intends, to do good to those who are in his family (Ps. 84:11; cf. Jer. 32:40-41). So fear is bound up in forgetting that our heavenly Father is the sovereign ruler of everything that exists, and ordains everything that happens, and is in it all for our good.
The last line in the Kellers’ prayer is this: “You always remember me; help me to remember you. Amen.” And may all God’s people say, Amen!