Confession: I’m unbelievably forgetful. While I’m fixing dinner, I forget there’s still laundry in the dryer. My students know that if I don’t write assignments down, I won’t remember what I’ve instructed them to do (and they’re off the hook). I have driven straight past exits because I’m lost in thought or listening too intently to Nat King Cole (“so straighten up and fly right!”).
You know what else I’m bad at? While I take notes during sermons and personal devotions, while I am blessed with highly specific lessons from His Word almost daily, while I work to saturate myself with Scripture… once I get up to go about my day, before an hour has passed I can’t remember what that “highly specific lesson” even was. “For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.” (James 1:23-24)
Have you been there? Some people are brilliant at recalling and applying truth, without any practical assistance… and some of us do well to remember our own phone numbers. If everyday distractions make you forget the truth the Holy Spirit has for you, be comforted – you are not failing to grow. Tomatoes grow like weeds, but they’re a trailing mess all over the ground unless they have a support structure to sustain their growth. What many of us need to thrive is a “tomato cage” – a plan of action that will cause us to grow up, not out.
Ask. The Holy Spirit’s whole purpose is to lead me into an increasing knowledge of God and His precepts. Ask Him both to reveal His truth to you, and to remind you of it. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:12-13a). There’s no point trying to bypass Him. If I want to grow in grace, I need to confess any sin that will plug my ears to His voice, and ask Him to open His Word to me.
Write it down. It might be fair to say that as a culture, first-century Christians were far more reliant on memory than anyone is today. Books were rare and illiteracy was common; they learned by hearing. But today we’re heavily dependent on written information, bombarded with textual content in everything from internet articles to restroom signs. How on earth can I expect my weak memory to compete with that? When He speaks to your heart, use a journal, index cards, Post-It notes, anything that forces you to put into words what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach you.
Immediately make application. I teach piano improvisation. If I simply assign an exciting chord substitution as homework, very rarely does the student ever successfully use it. But if we immediately apply the technique in a hymn, two things happen: (1) the student remembers the principle, and (2) the student is much more likely to apply it to things we never covered in lessons. This taught me that in my personal devotions, I need to take a moment to practice the real-life application of truth before I ever leave my time with God. Manna rotted after a day, and so does spiritual nourishment.
- Instant action for things I can deal with immediately, such as forgiving a person.
- Predetermined plans for recurring things, like getting into a habit of praise. Maybe you’ll add it to a prayer list, a reminder alarm, or even a note on the fridge.
- Hypothetical scenarios for things I’ll need to act on later, such as dealing with anger. Remember when your mom made you practice how to behave in the grocery store before you ever got out of the car? She was setting up a hypothetical scenario. Envision the moment you’ll need to apply this truth, so when the moment comes, you are already “practiced up” for it.
Share. If you can add 20 political posts to social media in a week and the most you can say about heavenly things is “Good preaching tonight #PTL”, you have a problem. And we spend so much time talking about negative things and not breathing a word of Biblical solutions. At what point did Christians decide it was politically incorrect to talk to other Christians about spiritual things? What an amazing thing, that Almighty God cares enough to teach me anything from His Word – and instead we relegate it to a private thing so no one notices if we backslide. Talk about Him and what He’s doing in you. “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13)
Praise. Reading the Psalms can be a bit like whiplash. They’re full of raw emotion – guilt, fear, frustration, weakness, and more – and without warning, we’re swerving into a passage of praise. There’s a reason for that. As He teaches me and convicts me, I also need to recalibrate my perspective of the One Who is ultimately in control here. Take notes from the Psalms – praise Him for Who He is, for what He has done, for what He can do; for creation, salvation, hope; for the power He is capable of, no matter how He chooses to execute that power. “Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart” – scattered, distracted, fragmented as it may be – “to fear thy name.” – Psalm 86:11
Ultimately, God blesses the one who continues in growth, even if you need to create a system to prevent you forgetting. “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” (James 1:25) Until the next post, let’s focus on letting His truth – not our short memories – be the determiner for how we live.