The Importance of Remembering the Past

One of the most entertaining parts of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno is a segment called “Jay Walking”. Leno takes to the sidewalk and stops people walking by and asks them questions. Often these questions are of a historical nature. What makes the segment funny is the outrageous answers that Jay often gets to questions. When asked about Pearl Harbor many on the street had no idea what Pearl Harbor was and why it was significant. Many people had no idea who was President when the Atomic bomb was dropped or if the United States had even used the atomic bomb. Some suggested that World War II was fought in 1970! The answers were entertaining because the people were so wrong, but it is also a sad commentary on our awareness of our history.

When we forget the past we lose the anchor that keeps us from drifting. When we forget the sacrifices made for our freedom we start taking that freedom for granted. And when we forget our spiritual roots we begin drifting away from the Lord.

As a nation we have tried to keep our history alive through monuments. We have monuments to various wars. We have museums that contain artifacts that tell the story of the past. We place monuments in cemeteries and study family genealogical records, all in an attempt to keep our “history” alive.  This morning we are going to talk about the importance of doing the same thing in our spiritual lives.

From the very beginning of Israel’s history God made a habit of building monuments and establishing symbols that would keep people informed.

  • he gave the rainbow to Noah
  • the rite of circumcision to Abraham
  • the Passover
  • the sacrificial system
  • the required feasts
  • the symbols of the temple furnishings
  • the garments of the priests
  • the various monuments erected at the site of important happenings (several times Biblical people are told to make a monument of stone as a reminder of a miracle, a battle or some important event..
  • the written Word
  • baptism
  • the Lord’s Supper

In fact, notice that before God brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, before they even get very far, God established some reminders or monuments to what had happened and what was going to happen. In Genesis 13 we read that he required that every firstborn son be considered devoted to Him and that they be purchased (or redeemed) from Him for a price of five shekels.  He also requires that every firstborn animal be redeemed at the price of a lamb.

Why did God do this? He did it so that every firstborn child would be a reminder that those children exist by God’s grace. Every time there was a firstborn son they were to be reminded of the tenth plague and the Passover of God. Every time they paid the “redemption price” they were reminded that their son was alive by grace.

God also established the feasts or holidays of Passover and Celebration of Unleavened Bread. These were celebrations like our Christmas and Easter that were designed to make people stop once a year and remember God’s power, God’s love, and God’s faithfulness.

This morning we are going to look at several different issues.  We are going to examine, Why we need to remember, What we need to Remember, and How we can remember more effectively.


Because we have selective memories.  Do you notice that God didn’t wait until the people had gotten across the Red Sea? God didn’t wait until they were in the Promised Land.  God established these memorials because He knew that people remember things selectively.

Let me illustrate what I mean. When you are in a conflict with another person, what offenses do you remember most clearly?  Your offenses, or the other person’s?  If you are like most people you remember what others did TO you while you spotlight what you did FOR the other person. We conveniently forget the things we did to provoke a conflict.

In our spiritual life we often,

  • forget that we were once sinners without hope
  • forget that our salvation depends on God’s grace not our goodness
  • forget the times we thought God had forgot us but was really working behind the scenes
  • forget the promises we made to God and to each other

and when we forget, we demand rather than listen; condemn rather than love; and we feel that we have the right to define ethics and morality in a way that best suits us rather than obeying what God has declared.

The second reason we need to remember the past is Because it Reminds us Of Our Blessings. 

Isn’t it great to get out those old video tapes of the kids growing up? Isn’t it a wonderful thing to page through a scrapbook or look at wedding pictures? Isn’t it a precious thing to look through the photo albums and remember the people who have touched our lives and the events that enriched us? It’s hard to look at those things and not be grateful for the blessings we’ve had.

When I start to feel a little discouraged I often will pull out a little folder I have where I have placed a number of notes that I have gotten over the years. (These are the positive notes . . . I throw the others away). I take those notes out and read them and it helps me remember that things are not always hard and life is not always discouraging. There are times when we are able to make a difference.

God has given us His Word so we can be reminded of His love at any time. Every time we come to the Lord’s table for communion we are reminded of the Savior’s sacrifice for us. The act of eating and drinking is not what makes the celebration significant. You can take communion every day of your life and it will be meaningless if you don’t see what communion is pointing to. The Lord’s Supper reminds us that His body was broken for our sin. His blood was shed in our place. 

Baptism does the same thing.  It points to the fact that we are changed people.  We have died and risen to a new life because of Christ.  It is an act that points to something more significant than the act itself.  It reminds us that we have been made new creatures in Christ.

When we remember the past we remember that we have been bought with a price. We remember that God is in control, that He has given us all things freely to enjoy, and that He has met our needs in the past.  In other words, we are reminded that we are blessed.

Third, we need to remember the past Because it Spurs Us On and Keeps us Focused. Remembering what the Lord did for His people also reminded them of their obligation to serve Him with gratitude. The whole point of remembering is to spur you on.

  • Remembering your wedding vows helps you focus again on your commitment
  • Remembering how scared you were when you were sick will help you to cherish the days you have.
  • Remembering how much a visit meant when you experienced loss will spur you on to make that difficult visit to a friend who is grieving.
  • Remembering how cherished your kids were when they were born makes you cherish them more now
  • Remembering the hard fought battles of freedom remind us to defend that freedom in the present and to honor those who defended that freedom in the past.
  • Remembering the birth of Christ in Bethlehem deepens our worship
  • Remembering the resurrection of Christ gives us hope at a graveside
  • Remembering how much it hurt to lose someone helps you cherish those you had taken for granted
  • Remembering how you came to grace will make you more determined to be the bridge to life for someone else.
  • Remembering what you were before God changed you will help you be more loving toward those who have not yet experienced God’s transforming power.


Get a group of people together and lots of stories will be shared. Get some old friends together and you will often say that you were re-living the good old days. But did you ever notice what those good old days usually include? The include our successes, our accomplishments, our victories. We like to re-live and remember those shining moments. We don’t need help in remembering these things. We have lots of things to remind us of the shining moments of our lives,

  • diplomas
  • awards
  • scrapbooks
  • photographs
  • old friends

But we do need to work at remembering the important elements of our spiritual lives.

God’s Character.  We need to remind ourselves often of Who God is. It is so easy to drift into the belief that God is just a “good guy”. We forget that He is the Almighty God. We forget that He is Holy and does not trifle with evil.  We forget that He is Sovereign and is able to help in any situation.  We forget that God has a plan and that God’s wisdom is perfect. Because we are so quick to forget we need reminders constantly.

God’s Faithfulness. We need to remember God’s track record. We need to remember how He has faithfully worked in our lives. We also need to remember how God has faithfully worked in the lives around us. The God who was faithful in the past, will be faithful in the present as well.

God’s Grace

In the book, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo there is the great account of and escaped convict, Jean Valjean who had been imprisoned for twenty years for stealing a loaf of bread. Valjean stopped at the home of a bishop and was shown great hospitality. But Valjean did not resist the great temptation before him. He stoles some of the bishop’s silver and ran off into the night. He was stopped by a constable and tried to lie his way out of trouble by saying that the silver was a gift.

The constable took him back to the bishop and Valjean expects the worst. But what he received was not what he expected. The bishop said, “Of course this silver was my gift. But only part. You forgot the most valuable part. You forgot to take the silver candlesticks.” Jean Valjean was granted grace.

Before Valjean leaves the bishop said, “You must never forget this moment.  Your soul and your life have been brought back. You are not your own. From now on, you belong to God.”

The rest of the book is about the change that takes place in this man’s life. He kept the candlesticks as a reminder of the grace that set him free.  We would do well to find ways to remember God’s grace.

  • We need to remember that it is by His strength and not ours that we are saved.
  • It is by His strength and not ours that we make any kind of impact on the world.
  • It is His Spirit and not our gimmicks that will change lives.
  • The one thing we can offer the world that no one else can offer is His grace.  That’s our primary message.
  • We must remember that we owe Him and not visa versa.

God’s Promise.  We need to constantly remind ourselves of God’s promises to His people.  We must memorize them, display them, recite them as often as we can. We need to remember His promise to

  • be with us
  • to forgive us
  • to equip us
  • to empower us
  • to provide for us
  • to see us through any circumstance
  • to bring good even from tragic times
  • to guide us
  • to prepare a place for us
  • to love us


O.K., so we need to remember well. What are some practical things we can do to help us remember the things that are important?

Read Well.  I know that most people today don’t read.  They watch television, they listen to the radio, they try to keep moving. But all that does is cause us to run fast and not know where we are going. We need to be informed about our spiritual history and the reasons for our beliefs.  To that end we need to read,

  1. We need to read the Bible. How simple a step this seems to be but how often it is neglected. We will not understand or appreciate our past until we read and understand the Bible. We need to learn about Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, Peter, Paul . . . but most of all we need to learn about Jesus. The Bible tells us how we find God. And when we find God, we find our roots . . . we find life.
  2. We need to read the stories of the People who have gone before us. We can draw great strength from what others have learned in the journey of faith. It is helpful to read an occasional biography. It’s good to read good Christian literature, especially literature that tells us the stories of those who have gone before us. We must build on what others have learned.
  3. We must read Christian history. It is amazing to some people to learn that this is not the first generation of Christians. Some people act like our generation is the first one to “get it right”. How foolish, stupid and arrogant that is. We stand on the shoulders of saints who faced death, endured hardship, stood against public opinion, sacrificed all they had, and who knew a depth of spirituality that is so much greater than what we think of as revival. They have so much to teach us . . . we must work at listening to them.

Worship Faithfully. God has built into our worship things that will remind us of the past.

  • In worship we hear the reading of the Word and the exposition of that Word.  In God’s Word we are exposed to God’s ways and God’s work. In the process we learn about ourselves.
  • In worship we see are moved by the object lessons of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are commemorations that are designed to point us to our roots.
  • In worship we sing some of the great hymns which tie us to our forefathers (this is one of the dangers of singing only contemporary songs . . . they isolate us from our forefathers and make us prone to drift from historic Biblical faith).
  • In worship we are hopefully seeing new people coming to faith and experiencing the transformation that comes from His grace.  This constant reminder of what God can do reminds us of what He has done in our lives.

Establish Your Own Monuments

Develop a celebration for your spiritual birthday.  If you know the specific day you declared your commitment to Christ, celebrate it as your spiritual birthday.  For me, May 25th is a very special day. On May 25th 1968 I made my conscious and formal declaration of faith to Christ. Every year I remember where I was when He found me and find a new sense of wonder at what He has done in my life since that day.

Observe Spiritual Anniversaries.  Each year I mark the first Sunday of February because it is anniversary of my ministry in LaHarpe. In 2002 it will mark 20 years. It reminds me of the circumstances and events that brought us here and reminds me that our growth is His work, not mine.  You may want to mark

  • the day of your baptism
  • the day you joined the church
  • the day you received your first Bible
  • the day you started teaching Sunday School
  • the day you began a mission trip that impacted your life.

Remembering these special days reminds you of the dreams, the promises, the goals you had on that day and it will refresh you in your service to the Lord.

Erect your own spiritual monuments and Create your own Symbols.

  • Display a rock from a retreat that helped you in your spiritual life
  • Keep the old tattered Bible that was a symbol of a parent’s faith
  • Display a picture of some people you are praying for or are praying for you.
  • Find a symbol that reminds you of some spiritual truth.  I have an eagle in my office that reminds me that “those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.  They will mount up with wings like eagles and will walk and not grow weary and run and not grow faith.”
  • You might keep a lightbulb on your desk that reminds you that “he is the light of the world.”  Or a salt shaker that reminds you that you are to be “salt to a tasteless world”.
  • Some people wear an angel as a reminder that they are not alone and that God has “given His angels charge over you”.
  • Maybe you might display a picture of a person who models Christian character for you

Do something tangible. Be creative! God didn’t just tell the Israelites to remember . . . He gave them an aid to help them remember. Be creative!

There are two final things to point out.  First, please make sure that you don’t let your monument become an idol. The Bible tells of many occasions when something that was supposed to symbolize God’s work became so significant that it overshadowed God’s work. We’ve seen this in the church many times.  Treasured symbols like baptism and the Lord’s Supper now become the MEANS to salvation rather than a reminder of salvation. We begin putting our trust in the actions rather than in the Lord.

Second, it is important that you share your monuments with others. The Israelites were to be prepared when their children asked “what does this mean?” We should be prepared as well. No one will understand the significance of the eagle in my office if I don’t tell them.  And your family will not understand the significance of some of your symbols if you don’t tell them.

“In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed every firstborn in Egypt, both man and animal. This is why I sacrifice to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ (Exodus 13:14-15)

We need to help each other build our lives on the firm foundation of God’s truth. And the only way we can do this effectively is to remind each other of lessons of the past every chance we get. 

%d bloggers like this: