One of my long-time favorite psalms, if one may play favorites among Scripture’s inspired verses, is Psalm 103. This song expresses with unparalleled passion the joy and comfort an individual soul possesses in the knowledge of what God has done for him. Here the psalmist is exhorting his own soul to greater faithfulness in praising God for such benefits of inestimable value. The Psalmist lists these benefits given to the people of God at length. The Lord has forgiven us of our sins and cured our spiritual diseases. Not only has He redeemed us from the destruction which was our due, He also has revealed himself to us, made us His covenant friends, and satisfies us with every good thing. Verse two especially has long struck me with its profundity “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” How often is it not the case that we forget the Lord’s benefits to us, and by such forgetfulness fall into sin. Spiritual forgetfulness is indeed one of the most common problems in the Christian life.
The book of Judges for example is a narration of Israel’s persistent forgetfulness of both God’s goodness to them and His commands for them. How soon the people of God forgot the marvels which God worked among them! Judge after judge was sent by God to rebuke them for their sinfulness, forgetfulness, and backsliding ways. Often there was temporary repentance. Yet soon enough they slid back into the all too easy ways of the idolatrous nations which encompassed them. They forgot the Lord’s benefits and His admonitions yet again. To us it may seem as though the people of Israel suffered from the most acute case of short-term memory loss. Perhaps so. Yet do we not often have the same tendency? I can recall numerous occasions in my own life in which my own neglect of spiritual things and of spiritual discipline caused me to forget God’s benefits to me as one of His children. Idleness in spiritual matters begets spiritual amnesia. This amnesia is not that the knowledge of God and his benefits is completely removed from our minds, rather the idea is that it is shelved and becomes inactive and ceases to exist in the forefront our minds and to exert influence over our conduct. The moment our knowledge of God’s benefits ceases to inform and shape the way we think, act, and live is the moment in which we have forgotten those benefits. This leads to a state of spiritual lethargy, a particularly fitting word to describe this human tendency to forget. If we pull this word apart it provides a nice illustration. The word Lethargy is a combination of two other words, the first part “leth” meaning forgetful, the other part “argy” meaning idle, lazy, or not engaged in work. Spiritual forgetfulness or lethargy often has this component of idleness, of “not working” after spiritual things. The spiritual life of the Christian is a life of hard work, that is, spiritual work, or “heart-work” as Matthew Henry aptly calls it. The word of God must be read, revisited, meditated upon, discussed, recited, memorized, and rememorized, for it to sink into our minds and souls. So also the Christian life must be one of diligent and frequent prayer. We must go to church on Sunday to hear the word of God preached; the same gospel message which is proclaimed from Sabbath to Sabbath. This repetition is not redundancy, it is necessary for spiritual life. All these things are a joy for the Christian, yet they are still difficult work, and often just as the people of Israel, we can become lax in these areas of the Christian life, and as a result become forgetful and lethargic. We must strive in our daily lives to “work” spiritually and to call to remembrance the benefits which the Lord has bestowed upon us. As the Lord admonished his covenant people in the Old Testament:
“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons…” (Deuteronomy 4:9)
So too He admonishes us, for with the eyes of faith we have seen and know the wonders which God has performed. We know them from the experience of God’s work of grace in our own lives. The Christian life is, among many other things, a life of remembering the benefits of the Lord to us and rendering due praise to his name. Thank God that He, remembering that we are dust, provides the strength necessary to overcome the weakness of our fleshly minds and to continue in the way of remembrance of Him.