Some day, we’ll look back on the global COVID-19 pandemic and rehearse the ways God came through for us, how we provided supplies and people and even peace just when we needed it. Social distancing and sheltering-in-place orders and unwelcome job furloughs will be experiences we have to work to remember, because so many other daily concerns, normal things we do all the time, will take their place. Some day, we’ll marvel at how we all stayed home all those days and didn’t kill each other or lose our minds. We’ll remember what a blessing it was to do the things we haven’t had time for in years, things like baking and playing Uno and writing letters, and we’ll miss the ways we checked in on each other, connecting more deeply with each other even though we couldn’t be together for days.
Some day, we’ll look back on these days and be bolstered by their memory, but right now, while we’re living them, it’s easy to lose heart. In the middle of distressing circumstances, often the only thing we can see is the lack, the need. In the present, the pain can be overwhelming, shortening our perspective and causing our vision for the future to dim.
In moments like these, we need hope that brighter days are coming, but the only sure way to convince ourselves of that is by looking backward.
It’s one of the beautiful paradoxes of life, that to move forward into the future with faith, we must first look back to the past. It’s a truth that shows up in both our personal and public lives as we commemorate moments, but tragic and triumphant, that we lived through and even thrived in. It’s also a truth that runs deep throughout the Bible, as God again and again invites His people to remember what He’s done for them.
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:19-24)
But how exactly does rehearsing God’s past faithfulness help us face our present struggles?
The book of Deuteronomy could be called the Book of Remembering for all its admonitions to look to the past. In verse after verse, the Israelites, who haven’t even made it to the promised land yet, are invited to remember God’s faithfulness to them as they journey onward. Here are six ways Moses says remembering will help them:
- Remembering will give them courage. “You may say to yourselves, ‘These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?’ But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out. The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear” (Deut. 7:17-19).
- Remembering will help them obey. “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands” (Deut. 8:1-2).
- Remembering helps to build perseverance. “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you” (Deut. 32:7).
- Remembering is a way to worship. “Observe the month of Aviv and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Aviv he brought you out of Egypt by night. Sacrifice as the Passover to the Lord your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the Lord will choose as a dwelling for his Name. Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt” (Deut. 16:1-3).
- Remembering helps us pass our faith on to our children. “Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country; what he did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how he overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea as they were pursuing you, and how the Lord brought lasting ruin on them. It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the Lord has done. … Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth” Deut. 11:1-7; 18-21).
- Remembering allows us to see God’s provision. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today’ (Deut. 8:10-18).
As you consider your own life, take some time to remember God’s past faithfulness to you.
- When has God brought you through a scary time? Take courage; He will do it again.
- When has God given you a path of obedience even in difficult times? Do what He says; His word is a lamp for your feet, a light on your path.
- When has God given you endurance through a long season suffering? Keep going; He walks with you even now.
- When has God wooed you to worship because of his work in your life? Praise him now; He’s always worthy.
- When has God worked in your life that you haven’t yet told your children? Tell them now; His faithfulness is for all generations.
- When has God provided for your needs? Look around; all you have was given by Him.
It’s tempting in moments of great suffering to look directly to the future as a way to cope with the present. But God has given us a different path toward hope.
First, look to the past.
The Psalms provide another great model for remembering God’s faithfulness. In particular, Psalm 105, 106, and 107 offer a kind of template for allowing God’s past faithfulness to help us face our present struggles.
First Psalm 105:5 invites us to “remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced.” Let God’s past faithfulness embolden us to endure our present hardships.
Then, Psalm 106:4-5 invites us to ask God to remember us during this time of trouble. “Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people, come to my aid when you save them, that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may share in the joy of your nation and join your inheritance in giving praise.” Use the memory of God’s past work to lead you into prayer.
Finally, Psalm 107:2-3 invites us to tell others about God’s work in our lives. “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.” By telling our stories, we can help others find their way forward in faith.
These are perilous days we are traveling. Many of us are walking dangerously close to defeat and despair over all the uncertainty and change coming our way. But God is faithful. He has walked with us on these paths before, and as we rehearse his many works from the past, may we have courage to walk with him even now. And to bring others along the path with us.
This song by Christopher Williams is a beautiful expression of the power of memory.
Paradox of the Past
Want to further explore how remembering the past helps you face the future with faith?
Download this free Bible study to dig into the book of Deuteronomy and several of the Psalms. Respond to prompts about your own past and consider how God’s past faithfulness can help you in the current crises you are facing.