Friday, May 15, 2009

Just Keep Swimming

I relate a lot to Dory from Finding Nemo – the fish with the two second memory. Whenever I think of things I have to do, but am not able to access a pen and paper, I repeat them over and over and over again in my head, trying not to forget anything, but growing desperately frustrated with myself when I inevitably do. I wish the most important things I forgot were calling someone back, getting my laundry out of the dryer, or reading a chapter of homework. But my forgetfulness runs so much deeper; it seems I often do not remember the very truths that keep me alive.

Psalm 103 says, “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

It’s amazing how renewed we can feel one minute, how blessed and full of praise, and then how quickly our worries and daily tasks can drive these thoughts away. I think it’s more amazing how forgiven we can know we are, only to find ourselves plagued by guilt and burdened down by sin. We just…forget. We forget the truth ingrained upon our very hearts; we forget the God who has shown himself to be more glorious that anything else we can imagine; we forget the joy that should at all times be welled up in our souls, waiting to bubble over. We walk into church and we walk out. We pick up our Bibles and we put them down. We are cleansed and, once again, we sin. We find ourselves humming a happy little tune: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” and then all of the sudden we stop and ask, “What are we doing again?”

I think this is why these first few verses of Psalm 103 are so important. Because we do forget. Our minds go blank, and in our sin, we panic. But the psalmist paints an example for us: When you forget, don’t forget. In other words, when the truth seems the farthest from your memory and the words hold the smallest amount of meaning for you, preach to yourself.

For some reason, in our minds we reserve the job of preaching for the pastor. He’s the one who studies the Scripture, comes up with the points, and lays it all out there to convict us each Sunday. Terrific. But that’s where we run up against this wall. The wall I’ve been talking about here – short term memory loss. As vital as it is for our pastors to preach to us each week, it is just as vital that we, in turn, continually preach to ourselves. We have to make it a habit to tell ourselves what we don’t want to hear and to say it over and over and over again. We have to command our souls “Praise the LORD.” You don’t want to, but do it anyways. We have to shake ourselves good and hard and say, “Forget not all his benefits. He forgives you, and heals you, and redeems you, and loves you, and satisfies you. Do NOT forget. You have forgotten, but do NOT forget.”

The Israelites did forget. They forgot over and over and over again. That’s why there’s a whole chapter in Deuteronomy titled “Do Not Forget the LORD.” It tells God’s people to remember all He has done for them – the way he delivered them, humbled them, and provided for them. “Be careful,” it says, “that you do not forget the Lord your God” (8:11). It cautions that when the Israelites prosper, “then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God” (8:14). God only spoke about what He knew to be true. He wasn’t cautioning just for fun. He knew the conditions of the Israelites’ hearts, just as He knows the conditions of our hearts.

The Dory-syndrome is nothing new. But the remedy is still the same. Tell yourself the sweet story of the Gospel. Grab at each word separately until they mean something to you. Thunder in your own ears. Wrestle with the truth that you know but have forgotten. Wrestle until you have not forgotten. And do this each week, each day, each minute. Hopefully the frequency of our preaching will increase over time, until it becomes such a habit that no doubt crosses the threshold of our mind and no sin peeps its head out without being quickly and firmly told of the faithful God, the unchangeable I AM, who has shown and proven Himself to us time and time again.

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