The first day of school. The first date with your wife. The night your child was born. The funeral of your best friend. The aching regret of a mistake, a sin, that cannot be undone. Water skiing on the lake with friends. The smell of hot-dogs and popcorn that takes you in your mind’s eye to the ballpark.
Memories. We all have them. In fact, our minds are crowded with them, and they can be recalled from the great distant past in a single, unsuspecting moment.
Are they of any use? What is their benefit? God says they are of great benefit. All of them? The hurts as well as the joys? All of them. How?
“Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Cor. 10:11; NASB)
Our memories become valuable tools in the hands of God when we use our memories of the past to see the grace of God in our lives. It is easy to reflect on the past and pick up the baggage of guilt and regret. Yet a better use of the act of remembrance is to see God’s hand in those events.
When the memory is a joyful delight, we should be moved beyond simple happiness. We should reflect and see the sovereign, gracious hand of God in those events (Js. 1:17) and delight not only in the event, but in God who ordered the event.
When the memory is of a trial that was burdensome and difficult, we should be moved beyond our tears and pain to see how God used the circumstances to deepen our faith in Him. No circumstance is a random act of “chance.” Every circumstance passes through the hand of God, who either directly orders it or permissively allows it, and always for our benefit to make us strong in Him (Rom. 5:3-5; Js. 1:2-4).
When the memory is of our own sin and the devastation that it produced in our lives, our memory should be more than the ugliness of the sin, but of the grace of God that pulled us from the sin by the forgiveness of Christ (Heb. 9:22; Js. 4:8). [And if the sin has never been confessed to God, the memory of it should compel us to immediately confess it to find freedom from a real, appropriate, God-given guilt.]
These are the key to having a sanctified memory. And a sanctified memory is nothing more than thinking on the events of the past with a holy evaluation, remembering them as God would remember them.
“The past is a record of setbacks and how people coped with them. It is a reservoir of folly to be avoided and wisdom to be loved, of lessons to be learned and warnings to be heeded, of heroes to be admired and villains to reject. It is full of the sovereign hand of God and the sinning hand of man. It keeps us from exaggerating the present. It makes us mature and steady in the storms of change.” [John Piper, A Godward Life.]
We will never be able to forget every hard difficulty of life. But instead of being saddened and weighed down by the bitterness of life, let us think on the past to learn from it. May the past lead us to see the gracious, providing hand of God, the protective, maturing actions of God, and the merciful forgiving blood of Christ.