I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all your mighty deeds. (Psalm 77:11-12)
As we head into 2018, most people are busy making resolutions that will improve their lives in the new year. Resolutions are beneficial, but I would argue that reflection should have an even greater place in our lives at this time of year. Reflection is a necessary precursor to resolution, priming our hearts to learn from our failures and successes and then make changes that are grounded and rooted in real transformation.
If done right, Thanksgiving offers the perfect opportunity to spend the month before the new year in reflection and gratitude to the Lord. This Thanksgiving, as I thought about all of the things I am thankful for—the many ways in which I am blessed and the countless ways God has provided for me—I realized how infrequently I reflect on the ways (big and small) He makes His presence known in my life. I’m not just talking about finding Him in my successes and triumphs when everything is going according to plan. I’m talking about looking at the hard times—the pain, the broken relationships, my failures, the times of doubt and struggle when things don’t go my way—and still being able to see God at work. Active and intentional remembrance that allows me to find the blessings in all seasons of life, even the hard ones. Remembrance that moves me to heartfelt gratitude and worship. We are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances, but are we cultivating habits that allow us to do this?
It seems to me that the Pilgrims got it just about right. After a year of hardship marked by sickness, disease, and a shortage of food, they gathered to thank God for bringing them through their first year and for a bountiful harvest. They weren’t celebrating a national holiday or following a tradition passed down from previous generations. Their celebration was a heartfelt response of gratitude to God for His provision, even in the face of tremendous loss. Their commemoration served as a memorial to God’s faithfulness and was a call for them to remember. To remember all of the things they endured during their first year. To remember where they came from and where God brought them. To remember that God is sovereign in all circumstances. Genuine thanksgiving is always predicated on remembrance. I would guess that, after reflecting on the year and worshiping God for His provision, the Pilgrims looked to the new year and resolved to make changes motivated by their past successes and failures. Reflection before resolution.
I recently remembered a recommendation from a friend that takes “count your blessings” to a whole new level. The idea is to fill a jar with reminders of all of the blessings you experience throughout the year. Then, at the end of the year (or week or month), you can look back and see all of the ways God has provided for you, surprised you, and worked for your good. Imagine all of the small, untold blessings we miss on a daily basis (or at least promptly forget the next day)! What’s more, think of all of the little glimpses God gives you of His love and grace that go unnoticed in the hard times. What a difference this simple practice could make in our lives!
These jars of blessings remind me of the jar of manna God commanded the Israelites to keep in the wilderness:
Take a jar and put an omerful of manna in it, and place it before the Lord to be kept throughout your generations. (Exodus 16:33)
This manna was to serve as a constant reminder of God’s provision for the Israelites as they waited to enter the Promised Land. The jar of manna was their jar of blessings, preserved for future generations to look back on in gratitude and worship. Throughout Exodus, God frequently instructs the Israelites to remember. Perhaps this was His response to their forgetfulness and tendency to grumble about their less-than-ideal circumstances, even amidst the very tangible reminders of His presence and guidance. Even before their Exodus from Egypt, God commands the Israelites to remember the Passover in an annual feast:
Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance. (Exodus 12:14)
Later in Exodus, God mandates three yearly national feasts—the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of the Harvest, and the Feast of the Ingathering. God was not willing to rely on the their short memories, but instead instituted repetitive acts of remembrance that would keep His provision ever before them. In fulfilling God’s command and commemorating the yearly Passover, the Israelites would remember that He alone delivered them from bondage and slavery and led them into the Land of Canaan as He promised. In this way, future generations could also be blessed, and their faith strengthened, by taking part in this active remembrance of God’s faithfulness to His chosen people. More importantly, God’s requirements for sacrifice, symbolic rituals, and feasts were put in place to point the Israelites to Christ and His ultimate plan of redemption. God’s command to remember was very closely related to His desire for worship. Remembrance should always result in gratitude and spur us to worship the Lord.
For believers, the Lord’s Supper is the perfect culmination of remembrance and worship. During Jesus’ Passover meal (the Last Supper) with His disciples before His death, Jesus gave specific instructions:
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.’ (Luke 22:19-20)
When we partake in the Lord’s Supper, we actively proclaim His death until He comes again, acknowledging that it is only through His atoning sacrifice and shed blood that our sins are forgiven and we can stand innocent before a Holy God. It is active remembrance, which results in heartfelt gratitude for His sacrifice and love for us and spurs us to worship Him and look forward in hope and anticipation to His promised return. Remembrance spurs us to real change as we reflect on God’s love for us and His continued provision for us moving forward.
It’s easy to criticize the Israelites for so quickly and easily doubting the Lord’s obvious care for them. After all, we aren’t blessed with such visible reminders of God’s presence (the pillar of cloud and fire, the manna and quail, and the tabernacle), right? But if we honestly look at our lives, are we really any different? We have the complete and final authority of the Word of God available to us at all times. As believers, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who empowers us and guides us. And, finally, we have the saving knowledge of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. Despite the overwhelming evidence God has given us, doubt and fear still find their way into our lives.
Praise is not an option for God’s children. We are to be a people of praise, praising the name of the Lord from the rising of the sun to its setting. (Psalm 113:3) And that means that even in the bad times, we praise Him. The psalmist knew that praise was predicated on reflection.
How often do you actively and intentionally reflect on the ways God has worked in your life and acknowledge His daily blessings and provisions? Does your thanksgiving lead you to worship? And does your reflection lead to real transformation? In the upcoming year, let’s cultivate habits that encourage active remembrance.
Will you find your jar of manna to place before the Lord?