Moving Forward by Looking Back

Are you planning to skim this article as fast as you can so you can move onto the next thing? If so, then you are fairly normal. We live in a fast-paced, instant gratification, FOMO culture. Rushing from one thing to the next is our societal norm, but God has always called his people to take time to slow down––to pause––and to ponder the past before moving into the future. Psalms 78, 105, 106, 135, and 136 are all examples of God’s people reflecting on the past, specifically on the wondrous deeds of the Lord in Israel’s history.

These historical pictures and poems of praise have been preserved for us, both as a glimpse into our spiritual history in Christ, and as a reminder of our collective and personal need for times of remembrance and reflection.

Remember, Jesus brought you out of Egypt

In Psalm 105, we find a poetic retelling of the Exodus story; God’s extraordinary act of rescuing his people and the mighty miracles he performed for their protection and provision during their wilderness wanderings. For Israel of old, this Psalm and others like it invited them to rehearse the story of their deliverance, immersing them further into the truth that Yahweh had saved them from the hand of their enemy.

In 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 and Ephesians 2:11-22, we see that we too have been brought into this story; this is now our spiritual family history. But as those living on this side of the New Covenant, we understand that this great rescue story has been brought to a climax in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, the better Moses of the ultimate Exodus. In the light of the Son, all shadows give way to glorious color.

These words from the song “Jude Doxology” by Ghost Ship capture this well:

Remember, Jesus brought you out of Egypt

Remember, He has sought you as His people

Remember, He has saved you from your sin

Remember, remember Him.

It is the remembering of this story that helps us embrace the truth of who God is, what he has done, and who we are in light of his wondrous work on our behalf. Because the Holy Spirit delights in bringing glory to the Son through the Scriptures, remembering what our Savior has done in the past unleashes the Spirit’s activity in our lives, and reorients our perspective in the present as we longingly await the future day of restoration.

A Journey through Psalm 105

As you meditate on this Psalm, remember that it is paradigmatic of our own personal and corporate remembrance of Christ’s redemptive work at Calvary and its application by the Spirit in our lives today (our own testimonies of his wondrous works of grace).

Psalm 105:1-6 ESV

1 Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;

   make known his deeds among the peoples!

2 Sing to him, sing praises to him;

   tell of all his wondrous works!

3 Glory in his holy name;

   let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!

4 Seek the Lord and his strength;

   seek his presence continually!

5 Remember the wondrous works that he has done,

   his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,

6 O offspring of Abraham, his servant,

   children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

From verse seven onward, we encounter the poetic retelling of Israel’s journey into and out of Egypt. The attentive reader will notice one dominant truth; it is God who is at work through and through. He is the chief choreographer of each step in the plan of redemption.

Nearly everywhere in this story, it is God performing the action: God remembers, God protects, God performs miracles, he strikes down his enemies, he turns hearts, and he acts on behalf of his people. Even in the midst of horrible circumstances, it is God who is lovingly and sovereignly at work. This is powerfully portrayed in the story of Joseph, which is retold in verses 16-22.

Remembering His Work When Trials Come Our Way

If your past year has been heavy on the side of hardships, it is crucial to view those difficulties within the bigger story of redemption. A story in which God accomplishes the ultimate good of his people (their union with Christ) through unexpected and tragic circumstances (Christ’s rejection and crucifixion). In light of that grand narrative, might God be able to work out your unexpected and tragic circumstances to bring you into the joy of greater likeness to his Son? See Romans 8:28-29.

We wish we could see the whole picture now, but our vision in this life will always be blurry at best. First and foremost, we must remember what God has done in history through the person and work of Jesus. Secondly, and in light of the first, we ought to remember what he has done in the lives of our spiritual forebears like Joseph, Ruth, and Daniel––trusting that our God is able to work similarly in our lives (Romans 15:4).

We Remember Him because He Remembered Us

This historical poem begins to conclude in verse 42, with a wonderful truth: God remembers. God’s remembering is not the result of forgetfulness but is rather a deliberate action on our behalf according to his unconditional promises.

42 For he remembered his holy promise,

   and Abraham, his servant.

43 So he brought his people out with joy,

   his chosen ones with singing.

44 And he gave them the lands of the nations,

   and they took possession of the fruit of the peoples’ toil,

45 that they might keep his statutes

   and observe his laws.

Praise the Lord!

Here in the concluding verse, we learn that God calls us to a similar kind of remembering. One that results in action: that we might “keep his statutes and observe his laws.” That is, that we might experience life as it was meant to be lived under the good reign and rule of the true King and extend his kingdom to every corner of the earth. The Psalmist wants us to move forward with our mission, first by looking back at our redemption. God’s work on our behalf must be the primary motivation for our obedience (2 Corinthians 5:14). Here in this Psalm, as throughout the Bible, we have both the power of salvation and the purpose of salvation. Because, as Jeff Vanderstelt has said, “Everything God has done for you, he wants to do for others through you.”

Discussion Questions:

As you go throughout the next few days, prayerfully reflect on this personally and as a community: how has God shown his faithfulness to you and to your church family over the past year?

What are some specific practical steps you could take to make remembrance a greater priority?

How might you stimulate a more intentional “rehearsing” of the redemption story during your regular communion times?

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