Remembering Is the First Change

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I recall Paul Tripp speaking on Psalm 27 once, and as he was emphasizing how important it was for David to “remember” in times of trouble, my mind went—as it often does in such scenarios—to another psalm, one that has been profoundly important to me in my Christian life.

I once went through a period of serious depression, laid low by the consequences of my sin and by the specific pains of my life circumstances. I was broken, weary, and frequently willing to simply “check out.” In my lowest moments of despair, I often thought of even taking my own life. I think the spirit of Psalm 42 speaks directly to such despair. At least, it certainly seemed that way to me at the time, and it does to me still today.

It strikes me as I read through Psalm 42 how crucial memory is to the process of faith in the midst of difficulty or depression:

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
(v.4)

One thing that is brought to mind is previous times of joy. In this case, the psalmist is remembering times of worship with his fellow saints. This may not “do the trick” of warding off present affliction, of course, but it at least reminds us that joy can be had. If could be had in the past, we should take care to anticipate that it can be had in the future. Joy is not impossible, in other words, and that glimmer of hope can be a consolation in times of pain. This is why he says in verse 5, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.”

But there is a deeper reflection, a more historic remembrance the psalmist goes to, as well:

. . . My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
(v.6)

The psalmist is here recalling mighty deeds of God, the milestones of God’s intervening redemption in Israel’s history. These geographic locations are signposts for his memory, places and times where God came through for his people big time.

When God allows affliction, it is important to remember his historic faithfulness. There is a reason the Israelites filled the ark of the covenant with mementos of God’s faithfulness, and it’s not because they were magic talismans. It was because they wanted to carry before them tangible reminders of God’s love and care and redemptive interruption of their troubles, lest they forget when they had to face trouble again.

When you are stuck, deep, despondent, or in despair, think back to what God has delivered you from in difficult times past. Remember how he has never really failed you. In fact, remember your way all the way back to Mount Calvary and the empty tomb. Remembering God’s historic faithfulness is the first step in enjoying his present faithfulness to you, even if you don’t feel it.

Remembering God’s historic faithfulness is the first step in enjoying his present faithfulness to you, even if you don’t feel it.

“We are simple people,” David Powlison says, “You can’t remember ten things at once. Invariably, if you could remember just one true thing in the moment of trial, you’d be different. Bible ‘verses’ aren’t magic. But God’s words are revelations of God from God for our redemption. When you actually remember God, you do not sin. The only way we ever sin is by suppressing God, by forgetting, by tuning out his voice, switching channels, and listening to other voices. When you actually remember, you actually change. In fact, remembering is the first change.”

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