January 23, 2024

Lest You Forget the Lord

Sinclair Ferguson
Lest You Forget the Lord

When we grow despondent and wonder if God has forgotten us, the opposite might actually be true: we’ve forgotten what our God is like. Today, Sinclair Ferguson reflects on the peculiar warning to “take care lest you forget the LORD” (Deut. 6:12).


Yesterday, I was talking about remembering and how important memory is in the Bible, and I mentioned one of the great master keys God has given to help us improve our spiritual memory. We need the space of one day in seven in order that we may remember well the other six days.

Here’s another key. And for some reason, the Bible puts it negatively, maybe to emphasize it to people who tend to assume that it’s something we’d never forget—something God emphasizes, “Now, never forget this.” It’s the words of Deuteronomy 6:12: “Take care, lest you forget the Lord.” The same words appear again only a couple of chapters later on in Deuteronomy 8:11: “Take care, lest you forget the Lord.”

Why should God have issued such a wake-up call to His people, and through them, to us? I think perhaps because it’s so easy for us to think, “The one thing I’ll never forget is the Lord.” Perhaps He’s intervened in your life in some way, and you’ve said, “From now on, it is impossible for me ever to forget the Lord.” And yet, before too long, you’ve begun to forget Him again.

I don’t mean that we become atheists. We don’t forget God in that sense. What I mean is, we forget what He’s like. And that sometimes means we end up thinking He has forgotten us. It’s one of the great paradoxes of spiritual life. We have forgotten Him, but we misinterpret reality and we think He has forgotten us.

There’s a very moving illustration of this, I think, in Psalm 102. It’s not only a great psalm, but it’s a great example of how to remember what you have forgotten, and the difference remembering the Lord makes. The first eleven verses are perhaps the most melancholic poetry you could imagine reading. I think Job could have written them. The psalmist is distressed, and he’s depressed. He says his days pass like smoke. He’s off his food. He’s lonely. He’s not sleeping well. And he basically feels nobody understands him. He’s withering away like grass. And worst of all, he feels that God has forgotten him. And yet, the man is obviously a believer. So, what’s wrong?

Well, part of the answer is this: in the space of these eleven verses, he’s used the word “I” six times, the word “me” seven times, and the word “my” eleven times, and that’s the problem. As Martin Luther used to say, in some ways, it’s our biggest problem. We are, as he put it, incurvatus in se, “turned in upon ourselves.” We’re remembering ourselves, but we are not remembering the Lord.

And what’s the answer? Well, after eleven verses of sinking down, the psalmist comes to it. Yes, it is going to take time for him to recover fully, but here is how the transformation begins. It’s actually just two words in Hebrew: “But you, Lord.” “But you, Lord, are.” It’s as if he’s pressed the ignition switch. The engine of grace has been fired up. The spiritual memory file has unfrozen. He looks outward and upward. He looks Bible-ward, and he begins to remember. God is enthroned; God is the Lord; God has been remembered throughout the generations; God is merciful and will have pity on him; God is from everlasting to everlasting.

Earlier in the psalm, he felt isolated, turned in upon himself, and he had forgotten God, and life was no longer worth living. But when he remembers God, by the end of the psalm, he’s talking about his grandchildren knowing the Lord’s blessing. He’s talking about the people of God having a future. No wonder we’re told not to forget the Lord, because we’re so prone to.

But if we have forgotten Him, the first step of recovery is this: to say out loud, “But you, Lord. Lord, I remember You, and I know You have never forgotten me, and that You are there. And I’m coming to You now. Lift me up and restore me.” And like the man who wrote Psalm 102, He surely will.