Psalm 103 Part 1: Forget Not
When was the last time you had a good conversation with yourself? I am not talking about a moment of frustration or anger, even a short bout with pity or an exclamation of joy, when was the last time you had a meaningful conversation where you reminded yourself of what you know to be true while possibly being tempted to worry about what is out of your control? In Psalm 103 David was talking to himself. He was not writing a song to be sung with others or a poem to be read during worship, he was reminding his soul of what far too often gets forgotten. In the past we have heard David list his troubles, complain about his circumstances, even curse his enemies, but here he is not trying to get God’s attention, he is giving his attention to God. David turns his attention from what he does not understand to the One he knows. He did not need a word from God, he needed to have a word with himself.
“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”. David was not just talking to himself; he was giving himself a command. We have no idea what was going on at the time. Was David trying to pull himself out of despair or pity? Was he trying to launch himself into a step of faith or an act of obedience? Or was this part of David’s relationship with God, part of his spiritual discipline, that he trained himself to speak truth to his heart knowing that without this intentional effort his heart would be tempted to speak worry, fear, doubt, and anxiety to itself?
David tells himself to “Bless the LORD”, what does that mean? The Hebrew word that we translate “bless” is “barak”, its literal meaning is “to kneel”. “Kneel before the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, kneel before his holy name!” To kneel in front of someone is to submit to them, to entrust yourself to them, to yield to their leadership and to choose to believe in their character. David was reminding himself that the LORD was worthy not just to be obeyed, but to be trusted, to be listened to, to be believed. But there was something more that David added, something that had to be joined with the command to bless the LORD, he also had to actively work to “forget not all his benefits”.
Have we not all forgotten something that we were sure we would always remember? An important date, a key piece of information, the sound of a loved one’s voice, the depth of God’s love? We must come to grips with the fact that we are a forgetful people and then, we must do something about it. I am going to go to the Hebrew language again because it is just so beautiful. The word we translate “forget” literally means “to mislay”. The picture is not that the information slipped our minds but that we did not keep the truth in the front of our hearts. David was writing that the way to bless the LORD was to remember His actions that flow from His character. Again, self-talk. Remind ourselves of what God has done, tell ourselves of who God is, say loudly and often what we know to be true. We kneel before God every time we choose not to forget all His benefits.
David chose to use the word “all” several times. All encompasses everything. This means that we are not only to remember the big things or the recent things, but our hearts need to remember everything. David begins listing things that must never be forgotten: God forgives all our iniquity, He heals all our diseases, He redeemed us from the pit, crowned us with steadfast love and mercy and He satisfies us with good. I tend to thank God for what He has done today, which is good, but it puts distance between what He did yesterday and all the days before. I love when some of the saints will stand to give testimony of God’s goodness and they begin with, “I want to thank the Lord for waking me up this morning”. It reminds us to begin at the beginning. The only way not to forget ALL of God’s benefits is to actively give thanks for each of them. To take time to thank God for everything beginning at our very breath.
How hard would it be to fear God’s absence if we actively and even constantly gave thanks for His presence? While David is writing in general, can’t you hear the specifics of His remembrance? I can hear David thanking God for his days tending his father’s sheep, for the nights in God’s presence, singing his heart and hearing God’s, for the day God gave him the strength to fight off a lion and the time he was able to fight off a bear. I can hear David thanking God, probably through tears, for the day Samuel came to his father’s house and anointed him the king of Israel, for the sling he used to kill Goliath, for the harp that he played to send the evil spirits away from Saul, for the details we know and the ones we do not know about David’s life. What would your thanksgiving sound like if you started at the beginning and worked your way back to today? Why is it that we can go over a long list of prayer requests but sometimes rush through what should be an even longer list of reasons for praise? What if not forgetting is as simple as choosing to remember by actively and continuously giving thanks?
In the middle of this command to bless God and the call to remember there is a statement that David made that brings me conviction. David wrote that God is the one “who satisfies you with good . . .” I must admit, I am often unsatisfied. Isn’t that what anxiety, worry, fear and doubt are? Are they not just the fruit of dissatisfaction, the outcome of forgetting just how loved, cared for and surrounded I am? Can’t my lack of contentment be tied to my failure to regularly and thoroughly give thanks? I Thessalonians 5 tells us to both pray continuously and give thanks in all circumstances. If our prayers are not matched by our praise, we will be tempted to believe that our needs are greater than our gifts, that what we are waiting for is more valuable than what we have been given so far.
This happened to Israel in the wilderness. As they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land they ran out of food. Their first response was probably no different than mine would have been, they panicked. They did not kneel before God, they ran to Moses, they did not remember what God had done, they looked at what was happening. They complained, they argued, they worried, and they thought they were going to die. God had not only been aware that they would need food, but He had also ordered their steps in such a way for them to need Him to provide their food. Deuteronomy 8:3 says that God caused the situation that led to their hunger so that He could teach them something they had not yet known. God did not send manna because Israel was hungry, God caused Israel’s hunger so that He could send them manna.
What if God does not just know what we are facing, but He is ordering our steps so that He can teach us more of His heart? But at the same time, what if we must actively give thanks for what God has done or else, we will not only forget His goodness, but we will begin to despise and diminish His gifts? Israel ate manna every day, they never hungered, they never lacked. Six days a week manna appeared from heaven and provided them with everything they needed to eat for seven days a week. Eventually, Israel stopped giving thanks for the manna and then they even started to complain about it. In Numbers 11:6 Israel said, “But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” For 40 years they never got hungry, but at some point, they got bored with heavenly bread. They had everything they needed; they just did not want what they had. They forgot that God was feeding them because they stopped giving thanks for the food they had been given.
I know that we like to think that our complaints could never be as dramatic as Israel’s but what is the difference between their forgetfulness and ours? Is my worry not the same as their frustration, my anxiety the same as their ingratitude, are they not both born in dissatisfaction? And is dissatisfaction not the fruit of forgetting, of failing to remember “ALL” of God’s benefits? There is much more I want to share from Psalm 103, and we will get to that soon, but for today, sit down and make a list of everything that God has done that is worthy of our thanks. Actively remember every act of mercy, every whisper of love, every time He intervened when we were spiraling out of control and every time, He gently steered us when we were stubbornly going our own way. Thank Him for it all, from beginning to end and if you do not know where to start, just follow the lead of those older saints and simply say “Thank you God for another day”.