How Should We Remember?
by David Mathis
I remember it so distinctly from my childhood—that early-morning glow on the doorframe of my father’s study. I had just stumbled out of bed and was still groggy. As I would come around the corner into the kitchen, I’d turn and see on the far end of the room that his light was already on, streaming into the hallway. Dad was reading Tabletalk and poring over his Bible, remembering the promises of God.
Over the years, he had made a habit of making a beeline for God’s Word first thing in the morning, to hear His voice in the Scriptures and respond back in prayer. It left an indelible impression on me in my youth, and it still moves me today to know that dad prioritized Jesus, not only in word, but in his everyday routine, especially when he first awoke. He cultivated the “habit of grace” of going first to God, to feed on the words of life and to remember his utter dependence on the Lord in prayer.
He lived the truth that where our habits are, there our hearts will be also.
The Means of Remembrance
When God calls us to remember Him, He doesn’t send us out to blaze our own trail and create our own avenues of approach—at least not at the level of principle. He has revealed to us His appointed means in the Scriptures. He has not kept secret the regular, everyday, ordinary channels of His grace. He has shown us where we can look to receive His ongoing power for the Christian life. He leaves open countless practical habits for our various personality bents and seasons of life and context in history, but His primary avenues for sacred remembrance are these: hearing His voice, having His ear, and belonging to His body.
What practices did the early Christians develop after the Spirit came at Pentecost? “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Word, prayer, and fellowship (more about “the breaking of bread” below)—these are ways that God fuels health and strength in the Christian life, from the first days of the church, throughout history, and into the twenty-first century and beyond. And our own “habits of grace,” then, are the particular practices we create and develop in our own lives for accessing these three timeless channels.
Word: Hear His Voice
The most basic means of God’s grace is His Word. He is a talking God. It can be easy for us to take for granted this stunning and remarkable grace: God has not left us in the dark about His person and His ways, but He has revealed Himself to us. He has communicated Himself to us not just in His created world (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:20) but in His redeeming Word.
Ultimately, He reveals Himself in His Son, the incarnate Word, the capital-w Word (John 1:1, 14; Heb. 1:1–2), the fullness of God dwelling bodily (Col. 1:19; 2:9). But He communicates Himself also in His spoken word, the gospel (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5), the message about His incarnate Word and the rescue He secured and provides for sinners. And God speaks as well in His written Word, the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15–4:2). His inspired and inerrant speech through the mouths and pens of His anointed prophets and Apostles (Eph. 2:20; 2 Peter 3:2) is preserved for us as an “external word” (as Martin Luther called it)—a fixed, objective record of God’s revelation to humanity, namely, the Bible.
If we are to “remember Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:8) and daily experience the grace and power that come from the Holy Spirit from doing so, it is vital to seize upon the opportunity to saturate our lives with the words of life in the Bible. This will mean cultivating habits of regular Bible reading, study, and meditation, but especially hearing the Word preached regularly in corporate worship. It can also mean making the most of other avenues for hearing God’s voice in the Scriptures, whether through reading Christian publications, conversing with fellow believers about matters of substance, or even the intentional use of podcasts, social media, and articles online. As we witness and partake in the sacraments also, we experience God’s Word as it is made visible to us.
We will want to become lifelong learners of God’s grace to us in Christ. Such intake then leads naturally to the output of prayer.
Prayer: Have His Ear
His voice sounds first. He is God, and we first need to hear Him speak. Yet, wonder upon wonder, He beckons us to respond. It is a relationship, after all. He wants to hear from us. Prayer is our responding to God in view of what He has said to us in His Word. How remarkable that we have the very ear of God Almighty because of Jesus’ person and work. When we are joined to Jesus by faith, we have the Father’s ear just as surely as the Son does.
And so, we want to learn to maximize this opportunity by praying regularly, as Jesus instructed us, in the “closet” of private prayer (Matt. 6:6) and when we get up off our knees by cultivating a spirit of prayerful dependence as we go about our day—praying without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17; see also Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2; Eph. 6:18). And we might even call it “the high point of prayer” when we unite our hearts with fellow Christians and pray together, especially in corporate worship.
What might this dynamic of hearing from God in His Word and responding back to Him in prayer look like in practice? Over the years, I’ve learned to lean on a simple three-stage process in personal devotions: begin with Bible, move to meditation, polish with prayer.
I begin with the Bible because I want to start with God’s voice, not mine. He is God; I am not. He should speak first; I should listen. So after just a brief word asking for His help, I start in on my readings for the day at a pace that allows me to find food for my soul. I’m trying to read the Bible to my heart, and I’m on the lookout for places to pause and reflect more deeply on God’s goodness.
When I find a fresh biblical statement of His goodness, I move to meditation and seek to lodge the truth into my mind and heart. Meditation means chewing on some truth and savoring it, seeking to apply it to the heart, to feel its significance. Meditation has become for me the high point of daily devotions, when the real time of Bible reading goes into slow motion, even into freeze-frame, and I linger over some glimpse of God’s goodness breathed out in His Word.
Finally, having walked this bridge of meditation, I finish with prayer. Meditation naturally connects hearing God’s voice in the Bible with responding to Him in prayer. Over time, I’ve found it most helpful not to immediately turn to a prayer list, but to let the content of that day’s meditation set the direction for my prayers in praying for family, friends, church, ministry, and God’s global cause.
Fellowship: Belong to His Body
Third, and perhaps most overlooked in our day as a vital avenue of remembering God, is the community of fellow Christians in the local church. Let it be said loud and clear that other believers are an essential, irreplaceable means of edification in our lives. Most of our lives are not spent bent over our Bibles and on our knees in private prayer, but most of us do rightly spend a massive portion of our daily lives with other people. And, it is hoped, some of those people, whether family or coworkers or in whatever avenue of life, are fellow believers who can be not only acquaintances but God’s willing instruments in the ongoing delivery of His grace into our lives.
Whether it’s a word of spiritual encouragement, a memorized or paraphrased verse, a probing question, a kind corrective word, or the simple invitation to pray together, we need real-life relationships with fellow believers who know us well enough to direct both encouragement and challenge into the specifics of our lives. The Christian life is a community project.
The Most Important Habit
Chief among the many good habits we can cultivate under the banner of fellowship is corporate worship. The reading and preaching of God’s Word come together with corporate prayer and receiving His grace in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper within the context of worshiping Jesus together.
You might say that the coming together of Word, prayer, and fellowship in corporate worship makes it the single most important habit of the Christian life. It is the vital spark plug of faithfulness. Your Christian life will soon become famished and anemic without corporate worship and its unique banquet of spiritual blessings to be received in active faith.
Recently, I returned to my hometown to perform the wedding of my childhood nextdoor neighbor. Our family stayed with my parents, as we do when visiting South Carolina. I got up early one morning to get in a jog before our kids were awake, suspecting I was the only one up. There it was. The doorframe of the study was aglow. Light streamed out into the otherwise dark hallway. Dad was up already with his Bible. He was remembering.