“I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old. I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your holy deeds….You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples. With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.” (Ps. 77:11-13, 15-16)
Do you remember a time when you encountered the Lord? Was there an experience where He moved in your heart, spoke to you through Scripture, or filled you with an unexpected peace? Chances are really good that there is not simply one time but many times when He has done such things. Sometimes, however, we are really bad at remembering those moments for very long. The Lord might speak powerfully while we are on a weekend retreat and by the end of the following week, we no longer remember those graces.
This isn’t a new thing. The Israelites did the same thing. God freed them from slavery to the Egyptians and then they said God abandoned them in the desert. God provided manna for them and they would complain again. God provided quail and….the story keeps repeating. Over and over, God provides and His people forget so quickly.
There is a remedy for this cycle.
A frequent practice of gratitude opens our hearts to recognize more things for which we can be thankful. Have you ever encountered a person overflowing with gratitude? The joy they radiate can cause us to recognize how pessimistic we can be, but it also reveals how much we should be thankful for. Working with the poor, elderly, or imprisoned, it can be surprising what specifically they express gratitude for in the moment. One inmate I encountered during a prison ministry event expressed gratitude for waking up in prison because it meant he was sober for another day. Another man I met on the streets of Pittsburgh was extremely grateful for a cup of coffee someone bought him, even though his cold hands shakily caused the coffee to spill onto his gloves. Situations where I encounter the gratitude of others challenge me to be more thankful, especially when the other person seems to be in a far less desirable position.
“I remember the days of old; I ponder all your deeds; the works of your hands I recall.” (Ps. 143:5)
Expressing gratitude for what the Lord has done in our lives both shifts our perspective and also causes us to continually ‘call to mind the deeds of the Lord.’ When we remember what God has done in the past, it gives us a renewed hope that He can and will work again in the future. The way He works will likely be different, but this practice of gratitude allows us to deepen the trust we have in Him. Again and again, the Old Testament proclaims God’s goodness and His providence, compelling the people to trust again, especially when it feels like the Lord isn’t near or His promises remain unfulfilled. Just like He did not abandon the Israelites in the desert (despite their grumblings), the Lord will not forsake us in our time of need.
Being grateful for what God has done in the past, doesn’t simply encourage us to be more thankful. Consolation can be found in remembering the wonders God has worked in our lives. This can be particularly helpful when we aren’t currently experiencing that consolation in prayer. Keeping a journal or some record of prayer can be helpful when you are on the brink of saying God has never worked in your life or questioning if you remember it accurately. Numerous times I have experienced the peace and love of God simply by re-reading old prayer journals that testify to how He has shown that peace and love to me in the past. It also stirs up a new gratitude for the various ways He has made Himself known to me.
The generosity of the Lord is meant to be received that moment, but it also buoys our hopes for the future. When Jesus brought Peter, James, and John up the mountain and transfigured before them, He offered them both consolation in the moment and also provided an event that would sustain them through the sufferings to come. The same is true with us. God works beautifully in our lives and we are meant to store up those graces for future times when we will experience a spiritual desert.
The Lord is always faithful, whether He is filling our laps with abundant blessings or seeming to hide His face from us. He is always working in our lives and in our hearts. In the moments when God is near, rejoice! Soak up the consolations of the moment and store them in your heart. In the moments when God feels far, rejoice! He is still good and His actions in the past show that He is worthy of our trust.
“Bless the LORD, my soul; and do not forget all his gifts” (Psalm 103:2)