While lament tends to be my native language, learning the language of praise has been harder for me. But while praise used to be rote, a stiff and formal part of my prayer life, it’s slowly becoming more intimate and familiar. The greatest tool I’ve found to help me in my praise is remembrance.
Remembering is something throughout Scripture that we are commanded to do (Deuteronomy 6:12; 8:2, 11; Isaiah 46:9; I Corinthians 11:24). This is because, as author and theologian Kenneth Bailey writes, “We are what we remember.” In a very real sense, the way we choose to remember our past shapes the people we are in our present and future.
If we choose to remember our past through the lens of bitterness, pain, unforgiveness, or fear, chances are, we will become bitter, wounded, angry, and anxious people. But if we choose to remember our past through the lens of God’s steadfast, faithful love, we will become a joyful, grateful, forgiving, peace-filled people.
But remembering our past – either the past day, past year, past decade, or a long-ago season of our lives – through the lens of God’s faithful love is a discipline that requires attentiveness, patience, and prayer.
Thankfully, God has given us a beautiful guide to help us in our remembering, and we find it in the words of Psalm 103.
Out of all of David’s psalms (at least 73 of them), this one stands apart. David seems less harassed or filled with wrestling over guilt or shame of his own sin or the sin others have committed against him. Instead, he is focused on giving himself and others directives on how to bless and remember God. He starts off by telling his soul to “bless the Lord” and “forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:1-2). In other words, David is paying attention to what he is remembering. And instead of listening to himself, he is talking to himself and reminding his soul to bless the Lord.
He does this in two specific ways:
- He remembers who God is.
- He remembers what God does.
Both of these elements are essential in our remembering.
Like David, we must remind our souls that no matter what our outer circumstances seem to say about our past, present, or future, the character and goodness of our God remain the same. Quoting directly from Exodus 34:6, David writes, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). He then goes on to say, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgression from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:10-13).
To forget the character of God and how He consistently moves in our lives is not just absent-mindedness; it is pride.
It is insisting our own thoughts color our existence more prominently than the mercies of God.
It is choosing to willfully dwell on all that we do not have instead of all that we do – a God whose love is so high it cannot be contained in the heavens and so personal that He offers us a seat at His table and a place as His child in His house.
But along with remembering who God is, David also remembers what God does on both a national and personal level.
Echoes of the exodus, the great act of deliverance God performed on behalf of the Israelite people, run throughout Psalm 103 (vv. 6-8), but echoes of God’s personal acts towards David of generosity, forgiveness, healing, and grace run throughout the Psalm as well (vv. 1-5). These remembrances rouse David’s soul to remember his life through the lens of a God who loves Him, is always for him, will never forsake him, and will bring him to His home as His child one day.
As I mentioned before, this kind of remembering takes time, intentionality, and focus. It takes paying attention to exactly what you are remembering, how it is affecting the way you see your life, and then making an intentional choice to remember the character and saving acts of God over and above everything else.
Not too long ago, I was having a stressful day. My to-do list was long, my time was short, and hurts from my past were bubbling up inside my soul clamoring for attention. In a quiet moment, I started paying attention to exactly how anxious I was – my heart was racing, my mind was muddled, and despair was descending. All I could hear in my head was the all-too-familiar narrative of shame playing on repeat about all of the ways I had failed and how I was doomed to continue failing in the future.
I took a deep breath, and started to shift my thoughts to Psalm 103:1-2: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” Slowly but surely I started to remember the truth – who God was and what He had done for the people of God and for me personally.
Beginning with the letter “A” in the alphabet, working my way all the way down to letter “Z,” I began to remember who God was and change the narrative running through my head:
- A – “Always faithful” – You are always faithful God. You have been faithful to remain by my side, even in my darkest moments, and You promise to be there for every step in the future.
- B – “Beautiful” – You are beautiful, God. You showed me Your beauty in the mountains of Italy this summer, in the frozen waterfalls of Yellowstone last winter, and in my daughter’s face this morning. Your beauty is what defines and characterizes all of creation and all of my life.
- C – “Creative” – You are creative, God. You are creative in the sunsets. You paint in the evenings and in the ways you weave together the events of my days. All I have needed, Your hand has provided. You will be faithful to provide in the present and future just as You have done in the past.
And so on all the way down to Z.
By the time I finished, I had tears streaming down my face – not from panic, anxiety, dread about my to-do list, past failures, or unknowns about my future but from remembering the overwhelming kindness, goodness, and faithfulness of God. My heart stopped racing, my mind cleared, and my despair shifted to a tangible peace. I was reminded my identity in Christ was safe and secure and that what God had done in the past, He would be faithful to do again and again and again.
I can’t say that I’ve been perfect at paying attention and remembering who God is and what He has done every time I’ve felt anxious or overwhelmed the past few months, but I’m learning to praise. Praise is becoming my go-to language with more frequency than lament, and I am learning to lean into the healing, freeing, redemptive language of remembrance little by little. And it is making all the difference.
What about you? Can you begin to make intentional time today, this week, and this year, to bless the Lord?
- Pay attention to your thoughts.
- Identify what lens you are remembering your life through.
- If it is not the lens of the faithful, steadfast love of the Lord, then stop, and choose to remember.
- Remember who God is.
- Remember what God has done:
- For the people of God in the pages of Scripture
- For you in specific instances in your life
As you choose to bless the Lord, you will begin to reflect on the redemption, renewal, and restoration of our God. You will become what you remember.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
Read more about the importance of learning to lament as another essential part of prayer.
 Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), p. 397. Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), p. 399.
Susannah Baker is a writer, Bible study teacher, and founder of Restore retreats for women. She just released her newest book and companion Bible study workbook, Restore: Remembering Life’s Hurts with the God Who Rebuilds. She has been married to her husband, Jason, for twenty years, and they live in Houston, Texas where they raise their four beautiful daughters. You can connect with Susannah at www.susannahbaker.com and on Instagram, @baker.susannah.
Book Links on Amazon:
Restore: Remembering Life’s Hurts with the God Who Rebuilds