By Ps Lim Wei-en
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. (Deuteronomy 8:10-14)
Last weekend, Rev Dr David Wong spoke on the importance of “remembering” as he expounded on various passages in Nehemiah during our church anniversary services. Specifically, we were encouraged to request God to remember us when we feel forgotten, “remind” God to remember his promises to us when we are going through hard times, and to remember God at all times.
The call to remember God is not unique to the book of Nehemiah. It appears throughout Scripture, such as in the above passage in Deuteronomy. Then, Israel was exhorted to remember – or rather, to not forget – God before it entered the promised land. Surrounded by the abundant blessings of God in that land, Moses knew that Israel would be tempted to forget God (and indeed they did). Given that many of us live in relative comfort today, we would do well to heed his words.
Forgetfulness is severely detrimental to our spiritual lives. First, it breeds pride – we think that all we have acquired or done comes through our own abilities. We think our good grades is the result of our intellect, our success at work the result of our diligence, our wealth the result of our financial acumen. To some extent, this is true – we often do reap what we sow. However, it is the Lord who ultimately grants us both success and the ability to succeed in life and were it not for him, we could very well have nothing to show for all our efforts. When we forget God and hoard the glory that is due to God for ourselves, we will become puffed up with pride and will think we are more than who we really are.
Second, forgetfulness breeds a sense of entitlement – we think it is our right to have the good things of life. Linked to the above point, when we forget that it is the Lord who ultimately is the Giver of good things (and thus has every right to choose to withhold good things from us according to his purpose and pleasure), we will think that life itself owes us many favours and privileges. The truth is, life owes us nothing, and the fact that we have good things at all is evidence of God’s generosity to us. In fact, strictly speaking, the only thing we are “entitled” to, as sinful human beings, is eternal condemnation, which God in his grace has rescued us from through Christ. Forgetting this, we will never be satisfied with what we have but keep living life with a misdirected sense that we should have more.
Third, forgetfulness breeds ingratitude – rather than rightfully giving thanks for what we have, we are upset for not having more. This was the Israelites’ big problem in the wilderness – they grumbled and complained whenever they faced discomfort of any kind, and demanded to be given what they wanted, forgetting all that God had already given and done for them. Again, the truth is that God has already given us plenty. Even if we do not have much by way of material blessings, we still have every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3). When we forget the greater gifts (e.g. salvation, forgiveness, newness and fullness of life in Christ) that we already have, and instead yearn for lesser gifts (e.g. money, fame, romantic relationships) that others have but we do not, we become envious and cease to be thankful for all God has given us.
Perhaps, one of the best outcomes of the pandemic, when we have had to tighten the purse strings a little, and when we have not been able to enjoy the full privileges of life as before, is to remind us of all the good God had given and done for us in the past, through little effort of ours. Even as restrictions ease, and life meanders back toward the way it once was, may we never forget the Lord. Instead, may we practise daily remembrance and cultivate a deeper contentment and gratitude for all we already have.