During my last study I had the same, single idea resurface a few times, which is always a clear indication to me of what my next topic of research should be. That last study was focused on counting one’s blessings, and how doing so is a form of remembering the good that God has done for is. As I thought about, though, I realized that there was a lot more to remembering in the gospel than just counting blessings, and I want to explore the concept further.
God has gone to great lengths to help us remember the things that matter most. To ancient prophets like Moses He not only gave His word, but also instructed that these things be written down and preserved, so that later generations would be able to remember the wisdom from before. The survival of these records clear to the present day is miraculous, and suggests the hand of God continuing its preservation.
In my own life, too, the question I bring to God today often is met with the remembrance of the answer He already gave before. In this study I want to consider what the full benefits of remembering are, the different ways that we can remember, and what sort of things we ought to be remembering.
At the start of this month I shared a personal goal for myself: to cut down on my use of media and entertainment. Now when I first made that commitment to myself I was thoroughly convinced on it. I knew that it was the right thing to do and I was actually excited to get started.
The next day I started to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake.
Of course, all the reasons to make this transformation in my life were still valid, but I just couldn’t make myself care about them anymore. In fact, it wasn’t long before I caught myself breaking my commitment, and not even maliciously, I had simply forgotten about the things that had once seemed so important.
Children of God are like this. We have real moments of grandeur where we sincerely want all that is good…followed by a long reversion back into our default “meh” state.
Now with my personal example, once I started thinking again about what my commitment had been and why I had made it, some of that old fire started to rekindle. It really felt like blowing on the coals, bit-by-bit getting the heat back into them until they could ignite again.
As such I’ve instituted a regular “blowing on the coals” practice into my day. Every couple hours an alarm goes off on my phone, reminding me to recite back my commitments and the reasons for why I am doing them. (Yes, the irony of using an alarm on my phone to remind me to not use digital media is not lost on me!)
I hope that in time I will learn to be a better rememberer. But even if I do, I suspect I will always require a time of refreshing, recommitting, and renewing. It is okay that we forget, we just have to be sure, then, to remind ourselves.
Hebrews 11:3, 7, 11, 17, 24, 29-30, 32-34
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
By faith Noah prepared an ark to the saving of his house.
Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed.
By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac,
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down.
And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God
By faith Noah prepared an ark to the saving of his house
Hebrews 11 is a wonderful treatise on faith, and well worth an examination just for that. But today I actually wanted to take a step back, look at Paul’s methodology in the chapter as a whole, and glean what we can from his teaching style.
What Paul is doing through this entire sequence is reminding the saints about miracles that have already occurred, even ones that occurred anciently and are only known because of the scriptural record that was kept of them.
Which I do believe is one of the exact reasons why God has kept and preserved the scriptures: so that we can be reminded of the good that He has already done, and thus feel empowered to ask Him to do new good works in us.
Which is exactly where most of us begin our path of discipleship. We didn’t have our own miracles to reflect on, so we had to reflect on the miracles of others instead. If He did all this for Noah, Sara, Abraham, Moses, and the Israelites, if He did all this for our pastor, our family member, our friend…then why not us as well?
Paul understands that reflecting on these stories, even though they are not our own, will still generate greater faith in our hearts, which leads us to take our own leaps of faith, which finally allows us to have our own miracles to recall.
Hebrews 12:1, 2 Corinthians 3:12 (ESV)
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold
Seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run the race before us
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold
We have just considered how Paul inspired the Hebrew saints with the memory of all the miracles that had been done to their ancestors. Immediately after this is his statement from Hebrews 12, that all of these examples of the faithful ought to empower them to be faithful themselves.
Thus Paul used the stories of the Old Testament prophets to inspire those that were familiar with those legends, but to those that were not, such as the saints in Corinth, he instead recalled their own firsthand experience of gaining hope in the message of Christ, and tells them that such faith should make them bold. It is the same message as to the Hebrews, but it is rooted in a different set of memories.
The point is that each of us is given something to start remembering the goodness of God by. For some of us it might be the words of the scriptures that we learned in our youth, for others it is the example of good men and women who pointed us in the right direction, and for others it is the first time that God spoke directly into our hearts. Whatever it is, each of us have something to think back to that inspires us to do great things.
John 14:26, Doctrine and Covenants 6:22-23
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.
Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?
The Holy Ghost, shall bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you
Did I not speak peace to your mind? What greater witness can you have?
We have seen how many of us begin our path of discipleship by remembering the good that God has done for others, and by that having hope that He will do the same for us. But this is not to be the end of our journey. Each one of us is meant to join the scriptural records with some personal accounts of our own.
Notice how Jesus left his disciples with the promise that they would be able to remember what he, himself, had said to them. All their lives they had had the story of Moses to reflect on, but that was not to be the only pillar of their faith any longer. Now they had their own personal experiences, words of the Savior spoken directly to them, to help sustain them as well.
Peter, James, John and the others had forefathers who had lived by the manna that was sent from heaven. But now Jesus was pointing out to them that they had a manna of their own to take courage from as well.
Each one of us must also come to see how God has nourished us directly, and then hold to the remembrance of that forever after.
Judges 6:12, 14, 17, 21-22, 25, 27
And the angel of the Lord appeared unto Gideon, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?
And Gideon said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.
Then the angel of the Lord put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the Lord departed out of his sight.
And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face.
And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto Gideon, Throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it:
Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the Lord had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father’s household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night.
The Lord is with thee. Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel: have not I sent thee?
Shew me a sign that thou talkest with me
The entire account of Gideon, in Judges chapters 6-8, is well worth studying for how it shows the man moving from one great act to another, in each step being motivated by the remembrance of the last. Today I have shared snippets just from the very foundation of his campaign.
Here we see God calling Gideon to free the Israelites, and Gideon asking for an assurance which is granted. A small miracle occurs, and it is enough to convince Gideon of his holy calling. The memory of that moment will be fundamental for him moving forward.
And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto Gideon, Throw down the altar of Baal
Then did as the Lord had said unto him: and because he feared his father’s household he could not do it by day, that he did it by night
That very same night, when the memory of the holy encounter would still be fresh in Gideon’s mind, the Lord gives Gideon his first test. Gideon is motivated enough to carry out the task, though he is also still weighed by the fear of the people. He performs the deed in the dead of night when none can witness it, but he does do it.
This, I believe is a turning point for Gideon. Now he does not only have the memory of the angelic visitation, he also has the recollection of he, himself, acting for good, even when it was hard to do.
God uses this same pattern numerous times throughout the scriptures. David faces a lion before Goliath, and Goliath before leading a nation. Abraham is commanded to sacrifice the home of his birth before sacrificing his son. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego hold to their principles of diet before holding to their principles in the furnace.
God is very wise in this pattern of initiating us through a small test of faith. It isn’t just about building up our confidence in Him, it is building our confidence in ourselves. When we reach our hardest times we are preserved by two memories:
1) God is good
2) And so am I
I want to pause for a moment to reflect on the lessons that we have already learned about remembering in the gospel. We have discussed how God invites us to remember the things he did for ancient saints, to encourage faith in us that He can do the same in our lives.
Thus, when we are called to stand up for what is right against great odds, we can be inspired by the story of Moses when he did the same. But, of course, when Moses went to seek freedom for his people from mighty Pharaoh, he did not have the example of Moses to rely on.
I think this is important. It means that each act of faith, even if inspired by those that went before, is still its own creation. Because after all, Moses didn’t give us an example exactly fitted to our experience, now did he? He may have stood up to Pharaoh, but he didn’t stand up to our boss, on this matter, on this day. So the past may inspire us to do today’s good, yet each new act of faith is a novel invention. It gives another reason to remain faithful tomorrow, though still leaves enough openness to tomorrow to for it to also have another novel invention of its own. There is a beautiful symmetry to this idea of looking back to the blessings of before, and being encouraged by them to reach for the blessings of today.
Luke 11:9, John 14:14, 1 John 1:9
And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you
If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us
We have considered how God asks to remember the good things that He has done for others, and also the good things that He has done for us. By reflecting on these we find the hope to do new good works. But this is not all. God does not only invite us to remember what has been done, but also to reflect on what will be done.
God makes promises for our future, blessings to be delivered “then,” if we will prove faithful “now.” And they are very rich promises as well. He assures that we will gain understanding, that we will receive what we seek, and that we will be forgiven of our sins. By remembering just the promise of these things we are encouraged to live in such a way that one day we are remembering the fulfillment of them instead.
Isaiah 40:31, Isaiah 41:10, 13
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee
Our natural state is to be deeply aware of our own limitations. We are intimately familiar with all the things that we cannot do, for we live within those constraints every moment of every day.
What is unnatural, then, is to remember the power that exists outside of ourselves. It takes genuine effort to keep in remembrance the influence of God, and how it can make the impossible things become possible.
Thus there is no shame in saying that we have difficultly remembering to make use of God’s help in our lives. Of course we do. But this tendency of ours has to be fought against, because otherwise life takes us into waters that are too deep for us and we start to drown in poor choices.
God, Himself, knows that we tend to forget Him, and it is for that very reason that He has seeded reminders of Himself all throughout our lives. We find the reminders to lean into God through the scriptures, in church sermons, in the majesties of nature, and in the pricking of our own conscience. Of all the things that we must remind ourselves of on a regular basis, the first must be the reality of Him.
John 14:26, Luke 24:31-32
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.
And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, he shall bring all things to your remembrance
And their eyes were opened; And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us
We have discussed how difficult it can be for us to remember the things of God, to keep the fire of Him burning in our hearts. There have been many times where I have been able to remember a past spiritual event clearly in my mind, but just haven’t known how to bring back the feelings of the heart that went with it.
And frankly, I think it is because I can’t. A sign to the disciples that they had truly met the resurrected Christ was how he brought the fire back into their hearts, something they had known before in his presence, and which only he was able to return to them.
And just before his departure, Jesus had explained to his disciples that they would be given the Holy Ghost, whose express purpose was to bring back to them the things they could not bring back to themselves. It is essential that we return to the fire that we have felt before, but we are not supposed to try and force those feelings back into us. It doesn’t work that way. It does not return by our own power, only by His grace. Thus what is required of us is simply to remain open to receiving that presence that is already beside us. We must permit it to stir our souls back to Him again.
Exodus 13:16, Hebrews 10:16
And it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt.
This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;
And it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes
The Ancient Israelites took strips of paper, wrote scriptures upon them, and bound them to their hands and foreheads. Yes, this practice was to help them remember the words, but the exact placement chosen by the Lord was meant to suggest something further. Upon the forehead to imply seeing the will of God wherever you look. Upon the hand to imply doing the work of God in all that you do.
The Israelites were being told to not just remember the words, but by the remembering be moved by them. Remembering God’s words is meant to color every aspect of our life, not be sequestered into a single meeting at church.
I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them
In this verse we are promised that God’s law will be written into our minds, suggesting that we remember the words of it always. But as with the Israelites of old, if we stop at remembering the words only we have only received half of the promise. For also we are told that the law is to be put into our hearts as well. We need to know the law, but we need to feel it, too. We need to remember its injunctions, but also its intent. We need to consider its structure, but also its joy.
Hebrews 10:17; Alma 36:17, 19
And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more
Thus far we have spent a great while discussing the need for constant remembrance. But here we come to a very interesting verse, one where God attests to His own selective remembrance. One of the most encouraging things that we can ever remember is that God doesn’t have to.
Of course the assumption is not that God loses a piece of His infinite knowledge, but rather that when we are willing to repent, He does not care to hold on to the offense anymore. “Remembering no more” means being able to release the guilt and condemnation of it.
While I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, I remembered also to have heard concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more
And, thankfully, this isn’t a miracle that is exclusive to God. We, too, can let go the remembrance of our own damnation. Yes, we will still remember our actions, but we do not have to live in our guilt and our shame once we have had them taken from us. The lively terror of being cast off can be surrendered forever.
Alma illustrates this beautifully in his account of how he was kept in a horrible remembrance of pain, which he was then able to replace with the remembrance of Jesus’s atonement. And just like that a bitter memory was turned into something beautiful.
Moses 1:6, 12-13
And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all.
And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.
And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?
And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten
And Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten;
When Satan came to tempt Moses, Moses was able to rebuff the Devil by remembering the truths that God had given him. Though Satan referred to Moses as “son of man,” Moses retained the title his Heavenly Father had given him: “son of God.”
We often speak of how God works to change us, and He does, but we often forget His other great objective, which is simply to remind us of who we already are. For the forgetting of oneself is the beginning of all tragedies, and the remembering of oneself is the first step in every victory. All paths of discipleship begin with returning to who we truly are, and who we truly are is sons and daughters of God. Once we retain the reality of that in our hearts, then everything else starts falling into place.
This has been one of the longest studies that I’ve done for this blog. I didn’t plan it that way, I just kept finding “one more” scripture to review, another after another, until it had gone on for nearly three weeks!
I often find with these studies that I begin by exploring the periphery, doing a search on key phrases, laying out verses side-by-side, and just seeing what sort of themes are consistent across them. Then, as I muddle about I start to see the actual principles and systems at play. I move inward from the periphery and start to see the heart of the matter.
This study on remembrance followed that pattern exactly. At first it was just random verses about how it is good to remember the Lord and the work that He does. Then it moved inwards, to considering our fundamental state as mortal beings, and why an active practice of remembering is essential to perfect our natures. Let us consider the core lessons we’ve discovered along the way.
Fundamental to understanding why God so often encourages us to remember Him, is to recognize that we are a forgetful people. This is not a cultural issue, it is a direct consequence of being temporal beings. Our nature is that we cannot conceive of anything directly, except for what is in the immediate present. I can see you and know that you exist, but as soon as you walk around the corner I am dependent upon belief and memory to remain convinced of your existence. After time I might forget you entirely, and any mention of your name brings up only a void in me.
Many times I have a spiritual experience, and in that moment I know the reality of God. I cannot question His existence, for it is manifesting to me directly. But then, the next day, I look out the window and I see cars, and lamp-posts, and door-mats…but not God anywhere. And though I knew He was totally real just the day prior, I find myself wondering how I can still believe in Him right now, when I cannot feel His reality any longer.
Which brings us to another key point. Remembering things intellectually is not what really matters. Knowing in my mind that I felt God speak to me just doesn’t cut it. I need to be able to remember things in my heart, I need to not just know that He loved me yesterday, I need to feel that He loved me yesterday, and that He still does today. If I cannot remember mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, then I am left to doubt.
Isaiah 53:6- All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.
Psalm 106:21- They forgat God their saviour, which had done great things in Egypt;
WE CAN REMEMBER
But though it can be difficult for us to remember things down in our souls, it is not impossible. We can only experience the present, but in the present, we can once again feel what we felt before.
How to accomplish that used to befuddle me. I would say to myself “yes, I remember that I felt really good that time I prayed when I was seven…so what now?” No matter of replaying the experience in my mind was enough to make it come alive in my heart. I wanted to remember it in my soul, but I didn’t know the right way to make it happen.
And what I did not understand was that we don’t make the remembering happen. Our ability to feel afresh the miracles of before is, itself, a miracle. We do not have the spiritual witness in the first place except by the grace of God, and we do not have the heartfelt remembrance of it except by His grace again. My spiritual remembering took a far better turn once I stopped trying to make myself feel things, and instead asked Him to put the feelings in my heart for me.
John 14:26- But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
John 14:14- If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
WHAT WE MUST REMEMBER
This is not to say that our actions are useless, though. Indeed, asking God to grant us His Spirit is an action. And what is more, I find that I very much invite the remembrance of God’s love into my life, when I do whatever my conscience is pricking me to do today. It is still God’s miracle that my obedient actions will be met with a spiritual witness, but I did do my part to make space for that miracle.
And when I do what is right, though it is hard to do, I feel that I not only gain a remembrance of God’s reality, of God’s love, and of God’s spirit…I also gain a remembrance of myself. My authentic, son-of-God-self feels the glory of his Father constantly. But sometimes I am not in that authentic self, and so I do not feel it. But when I return to that identity, when I put it on me anew, I remember both Father and self at once.
These are the things that we must remember, these are the things that we must ever keep fresh within us. The longer we go between remembering our Holy Father and our own self, the more likely we are to stumble and be lost. I want to return to that place continually, until at last I never stray from it again.
Hebrews 10:16- This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;
John 17:26- And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.