Signpost #6 - Remember!
Eleven troubling habits of chronically unhappy people. Five ways to spice up your marriage. Seven reasons to stay single. Eight steps to managing stress. Ten reasons twenty-somethings are returning to traditional worship ...
Is anyone else weary of endless lists in the blogosphere or social media? Yes? So why would I offer you another one? Give me credit for this: the list I am about to give you has only one entry.
We heard in the last Wilderness signpost that God responded to the people's despair and accusation with what sounds like incredulity. Why were they panicking again? Could they possibly have forgotten that He parted the Red Sea for them? Couldn't they call up the memory of their enemies' chariots being swept away and thus refresh their courage for the next challenge? Did they think God had left them? Did they fear He'd lost his power or His will to defend them? (Numbers 14)
Stunningly, Paul claims in his first letter to the Corinthians that these things happened to Israel in order to warn and encourage us, who live at the end of the age. (1 Corinthians 10) If this is so, what is the Wilderness wisdom for meeting the challenges of our own day, particularly those circumstances, global or intimate, which tempt us to stress and fear? For Signpost #6, I offer a one-entry list: Remember!
Before the people of Israel have even left Egypt, God prescribes in Exodus 12 exactly how they should remember, for generations, what has not yet happened. They receive instructions for celebrating the Passover, yearly, before it occurs! It's that important. It must be recalled and not lost. And at the end of his life Moses warns the people, saying: “But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren." (Deuteronomy 4:9 NLT)
Why this enormous emphasis? Remembering fuels faith. It's that simple. And in future generations, whenever Israel forgets what God has done for them, they spiral into disobedience and destruction. How do we take this to heart for ourselves, as Paul exhorts us to do?
The first and obvious application is simply to remember the actual Exodus. God has not changed. He is utterly in control of His world, our world, including our most horrifying enemies. I love thinking about the Transfiguration, as recorded in Luke, where it says Jesus discussed His coming "exodus" with Moses and Elijah (from the Greek, usually translated "departure"). Moses is there to remind Jesus of the Red Sea parting, just as Jesus is about to accomplish another, greater deliverance. (While Moses never got into the Promised Land in his lifetime, he gets in this way! And what a glorious assignment!) What if, in the grip of some anxiety, small or large, I actually grasped the living, historical, reality of the Exodus, and even more, the Resurrection, to fortify my heart?
Yet there's even a more personal application for us. We need to remember the deliverances and wonders God has done in our own lives so that we find courage for our own next challenges.
Where have you seen God's rescue? Where has God turned seeming disaster into deliverance in your life? Are there places where you would have re-written the script if you could, but now you are glad you couldn’t ... because of what God did?
Remember is a pretty limp word in our culture. Kind of nostalgic and blurry. But when we see God remembering someone in the Scriptures, it's an active, muscular thing. God remembers Abraham and so saves Lot. God remembers Rachel and so opens her womb. The thief on the cross asks Jesus to remember him in paradise. It's not the ‘Oh yes! I remember that guy! What a son of a gun he was!' kind of remembering. No. Jesus remembering the thief meant forgiving, saving, blessing, bringing him into paradise.
God remembers people and so acts on their behalf … displays His power. In the words of the Psalmist and the prophets, He has a "mighty arm." When our kids were little, in our prayers we often asked God to remember someone, to "make a muscle" on their behalf.
So what does it mean for us to remember his works? It is similar. It means to remember the Lord’s works in our own story, and therefore to be changed to act in faith in the present predicament.
Our remembering is meant to be muscular too. Remembering God's works in our lives changes the present battle, and reverses despair. God has not changed. Remembering for us is meant to be bracing ... calling us to get a grip ... summon our courage ... act in faith!
There’s a powerful echo of this exhortation in Jesus’ words to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. I made a list recently of just his instruction to each church … peeling away the description of each place or the diagnosis of their strengths and weaknesses. I wanted to see starkly what He was actually asking of us. And the strongest common thread is an exhortation to remember and return to what they saw, heard, and did “at first”… followed by the command to hold on to what they had to prevent further loss and danger.
His words describe a drift over time - away from Jesus and ardent, active faith and contending for the Gospel. And His antidote is essentially the same as the one we hear in Exodus and see played out in the Wilderness story.
Isaiah says it starkly: Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me! Then listen to what follows ... For I am ready to set things right, not in the distant future, but right now! (Isaiah 46:9, 13a) There's a connection. God is about to deal with Israel's enemies once again. This time it's Babylon. If they remember the Red Sea, they'll believe it and be ready!
Stirring ourselves to remember our own redemptive histories, God's deliverances, and wonders He has enabled us to do and see, fuels our faith for what God can and will do now. It's a serious command, and to obey it we will need to do some disciplined recalling. Whenever our lives are Wilderness-like, barren and frightening, that's when it's time to start our lists.
When our kids were teenagers and I was facing a scary surgery, they exhorted me to use the time of being wheeled into the OR to 'make a mental list of your stories' (of gracious rescue and answered prayer). I took their advice seriously, and had the most amazing, and completely uncharacteristic, peace by the time I had to count backwards for the anesthesiologist! Whatever God asks of us, whatever He counsels, He does out of His deep love, and ignoring Him adds to our sorrow.
Who can list the glorious miracles of the Lord? Who can ever praise him enough? (Psalm 106:2)