The Spiritual Discipline of Remembering

As an exercise in remembering, Memorial Day has a specific focus. My purpose is not to detract from remembrance of our nation’s warriors who have lost their lives in the defense of liberty. Rather, I want to put this particular act of remembrance in the larger context of remembering as a feature of the Christian way of life.

Deuteronomy 8 helps us do that. Here we find that the Bible not only speaks powerfully to us in times of trouble but that it has equally important things to say to us after troubled times have passed and things are going well again. What it calls us to do in this “good times after bad” scenario is intentionally look back and remember the struggle.

Some context: Deuteronomy is a series of sermons Moses delivered in the plains of Moab before Israel crossed over into the land of promise. The “children of Israel” have endured four decades of wilderness life, and though they are about to face hardship of a different kind during the conquest, they are also going to experience unparalleled prosperity.

Moses looks ahead to those good times and provides a word of caution that is just as relevant to us today as it was to his people thousands of years ago.

Remembering Truly Is a Discipline

A discipline is something we do on purpose even when we don’t feel like it. Lately I’m on a plan to get my weight back to where it was a couple of years ago. Quite a few of us know what that involves: moving when you’d rather not, going hungry when you’d rather not. Discipline.

In Deuteronomy 8:1-2, Moses says,

The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. (ESV, Deut. 8:1–2)

He commands them to remember in v.2, specifically because they will not feel like remembering.

It’s no coincidence that the followers of Jesus Christ are called “disciples.” Disciples are followers who are devoted enough to engage in personal sacrifice (this is what “self-denial” is) in order to faithfully follow—and learn—the way of their master.

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:26–28)

Our Remembering Must Be Specific

There’s a kind of spiritual and emotional euphoria that comes on us after a time of struggle ends and things get better. Grateful rejoicing is appropriate, but as we relax and think “Wow—I’m sure glad that’s over!” we soon lapse into indulgent ease, and inattentiveness to the hazards that still exist.

In Deuteronomy 8:2-5, Moses draws his people’s attention to specific events and principles that they are likely to fade from their thinking in the future after the struggle has passed. Without allegorizing or spiritualizing, we can readily see several ways in which the experience of God’s people is similar to our own.

Five Truths We Need to Remember After Hard Times Pass

1. That we’ve been through a journey. 8:2

“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness.”

Most of us would rather let the worst of times fade quickly in memory, but “the whole way” of that journey is important context for understanding our current and future blessings.

2. That we needed humbling. 8:2

“And you shall remember …  God has led you … that he might humble you, testing you.”

A constant mindfulness that we actually need the humbling effect of hard times and painful experiences ensures that when they return—as they certainly will, we’ll be able to see them for what they are: part of God’s ongoing work of remaking us.

3. That we needed to learn to trust. 8:3

“He … let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know … that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

The point here is often missed. The “word” is the command of God, by which He sovereignly orders the circumstances that meet our needs. We are not really sustained by the physical things we see, touch and taste. We are sustained by order of the One by whom all things consist (Col. 1:17)

4. That God was more gracious to us than He seemed at the time. 8:4

“Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.”

Whether the times of hardship are transformative or punitive (in Israel’s case they were both), God remains gracious all the way through them. Sometimes we have to look hard to see it, but the grace is always there.

Deuteronomy 8:16 is also important here because of the little clause at the end.

who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. (Deut. 8:16)

Peter helps us see the “good” more clearly.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6–7)

5. That God’s correction was fatherly. 8:5

“You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.”

Though human fathers do not always discipline well, they usually have a beneficial purpose in mind. As the perfect Father, God always disciplines with perfect purpose and just the right level of severity (See Heb. 12:5-7). This means that in the life of the believer, suffering is absolutely never pointless.

Remembering is Unnatural in Times of Blessing (8:11-18)

In these verses, Moses emphasizes that things are going to be really, really good soon. And his concern for his people is unmistakable as he confronts a strong tendency of human nature: the more fun we’re having the less mindful we tend to be of the things that matter most. Vulnerabilities to temptation result.

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, (Deut. 8:11–15)

The ordinary course of cause and effect is where we live. As a result, in the good times, we forget that our thriving is actually a very personal, intentional, and ultimately supernatural thing. Moses speaks directly to that:

You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deut. 8:18)

Remembering Is Preventative 8:19-20

And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them … (Deut. 8:19)

As the chapter ends, Moses frames the central idea as an either-or. Either we will remember in the good times or we will slip into idolatry. Remembering how God has dealt with us in the past may not seem so vital to thriving spiritually. But the truth is that this kind of looking back crowds out the affections, attitudes, and conduct that lead us to put relationships, ambitions or personal pleasures at the center of our lives where only God belongs.

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Paul Henebury's picture

Thank you Aaron,

This was an excellent and edifying read.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Thanks, Paul. Deuteronomy is one of my favorite books..... I have 65 more favs but Deut. is definitely special.

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