Cultivating Faith by Remembering God’s Past Deeds
True gratitude rests in the riches of God’s grace as it looks back on the benefits it has received. By cherishing grace this way, it inclines the heart to trust in future grace. Gratitude exults in the past benefits of God and says to faith, “Embrace more of these benefits, so that looking back on God’s deliverance may continue.” John Piper
Approach the Word
What threatens the vitality of your faith in the Lord?
Does your capacity to trust Him totter when bills pile up due to unemployment? Do you vacillate between trust and doubt when there is conflict at work or when you are grieving over estrangement from a loved one? Does a depressive episode test your faith in Christ, or is your faith challenged by debilitating physical pain that keeps throbbing no matter how many meds you swallow? Is your organization or company facing what looks like an insurmountable hurdle to stay financially solvent or to reach growth goals?
Perhaps the more important question is this:
What instills the faith that you need to face these kind of setbacks or obstacles?
One of the answers to that last question is application of a clear biblical principle that, on multiple occasions, has boosted my faith in the Lord, as well as the faith of Dr. Mark Smith, president of Columbia International University, whose story I recently finished writing. This devotional is a revision of a “Faith Lesson” that is in Part 2 of the book, tentatively titled Oh God, I’m Dying! How God Redeems Pain for Our Good and for His Glory.
It is a story of God’s sustaining grace in Mark’s life after a near-fatal car crash in 1996, and the enablement from God that he receives as he continues to battle daily pain stemming from the accident. Though you have not read his story (the first nine chapters of the book), the references to his accident in this devotional, and corresponding help from the Lord he received, will be easy to follow.
The biblical principle explained and applied in this devotional pertains to all of us this Thanksgiving. This devotional, as with the other nine covered in Part 2 of the book, follows an “Approach the Word,” “Absorb the Word,” “Apply the Word” format. The book will be published sometime in 2020.
Absorb the Word
As a Christian university president, Mark often envisions new programs and facilities that will enhance fulfillment of the school’s mission. Then his vision requires resources. What gives him bold faith to believe that God will provide through the donors with whom he speaks? What has fueled the trust in the Lord that has enabled him to raise huge amounts for Christian schools?
What strengthens the faith he needs to keep throbbing pain from sabotaging a workday’s responsibilities?
What Mark Learned from His Past
A faith-strengthening practice he relies on is remembering God’s past faithfulness. When he looks over his shoulder and remembers past answers to prayer, his faith for a personal or university need is cultivated. He faces obstacles optimistically and thinks, “Do it again, Lord!”
“In 1996, I saw how God answered desperate prayers offered from my hospital bed,” Mark recalls. “He met our financial needs, answered my plea for sleep and an end to nightmares about the crash and promoted healing of my body to a far greater extent than doctors expected. That prompted me to trust Him more and more as the years went by. The accident and its aftermath made me a man of prayer and faith.”
Remembering God’s past faithfulness—even answers to prayer prior to the accident, as disclosed in Chapter 2 of Mark’s story—sustains Mark and his wife Debbie through current trials and prompts Mark to make bold requests on behalf of the university he serves.
“I keep expecting God to do more because of what I have seen Him do in the past,” Mark explains. “My faith increased incrementally, as I kept accumulating memories of His past faithfulness.”
Even when Mark is hurting physically, one reason he perseveres is awareness of all the times God enabled him to keep going in the past.
Biblical Basis for the Principle
Remembering God’s past deeds is a theme that stitches a lot of pages together in Scripture. God wanted His chosen people to remember His past miracles and provision. He often referred to Himself as “I am the God who…,” then He’d recite a specific incident, such as bringing them out of Egypt or into the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 5:6; Leviticus 25:38). When they forgot His past works, He grieved. The psalmist even equated such forgetfulness with rebellion: “Our fathers did not remember Your abundant kindnesses, but rebelled by the sea…They forgot God their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt” (Psalm 106:7, 21).
The Old Testament even commands a recollection of God’s deeds. “Remember His works which He has done” (Psalm 105:5), and “Give heed to yourself, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
Of special interest in this faith lesson is the correlation between remembering and faith. After pointing out how their forgetfulness of His past deeds hurt God, the author of Psalm 78 linked forgetfulness and unbelief. “They did not believe in God and did not trust in His salvation” (Psalm 78:22).
Jesus also linked remembering His past deeds to trusting Him for current needs. Mark 8:13–21 records a story involving Jesus in a conversation with His disciples while they were in a boat. His followers were complaining about their lack of bread. This conversation occurred subsequent to Jesus’ feeding of 4,000 persons with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish (Mark 8:5–7).
Jesus reminded them of two recent incidences when He had fed a multitude with a minimal amount of food. When they had correctly answered His factual review questions about those miracles, Jesus lamented, “Do you not yet understand?” (vs.21).
What was Jesus’ teaching point? He was saying that His past performance, which they had observed, should have buttressed their faith in relation to the present need for bread. They failed to “put the past into the present tense” by realizing that the ultimate provider was in the boat with them!
As He reviewed the previous miracles, Jesus asked His disciples, “Do you remember when I…?” Then He recited, in specific terms, what He had done for the crowds.
When we face peace-robbing situations, or needs that exceed our ability to meet, He whispers the same question to us: “Terry (or Susan or Bob), do you remember when I…?”
He wants us to reply with a resounding “Yes!” He yearns for us to plead, “Do it again, Lord!”
Key Truth: Recalling the Lord’s past performance on our behalf sustains us during present difficulty and engenders within us the faith to persevere.
Apply the Word
Identify a few specific ways God has intervened for you in the past: answers to prayer, unexpected provision for needs or resolution of problems.
How should your recollection of the Lord’s past faithfulness affect your response to any current trial or challenge you are facing? Thank Him for the past incidences of His faithfulness. Ask Him to use those memories to deepen your faith for handling a current crisis or stressor.
For parents or grandparents. The memories that boost your faith can exert the same effect on the faith of your young children or grandkids. The commands couched in Psalm 145 apply to all believers, yet have special pertinence to you. Read this psalm. Then zero in on God’s desired response on our part to His past deeds.
In addition to gratitude, God tells us through David to “declare Thy mighty acts” (vs.4); to “speak of the power of Thy awesome acts” (vs.6); to “eagerly utter the memory of Thine abundant goodness” (vs.7) and to “make known to the sons of men Thy mighty acts” (vs.12).
This call to share memories of His faithfulness is especially applicable to parents and grandparents due to verse 4: “One generation shall praise Thy works to another.”
While you are driving with the kids, tucking them in at night or involved in a formal family devotional time, make it a habit to tell interesting stories of how God intervened for you in the past. If your child or grandchild was old enough at the time of God’s intervention, start your story with “Remember when…?” Even if the incident occurred before they were born, fill their minds with stories that depict our Lord as a caring provider.
The next time you have such an opportunity, what story will you share with your son, daughter or grandchild?
Here are two excellent books on expressing gratitude to God for things He has done for us.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy (Moody Publishers, 2009).
Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts (Zondervan, 2010).
A couple years ago, I wrote a review of Nancy Demoss’ fine book, Choosing Gratitude. If you did not read it, here is the link:
This Thanksgiving, may your gratitude for God’s past faithfulness put a smile on your face.