How Memory Cultivates Courage

Everyone has a condition, and only some are aware of it. But whether you acknowledge it or not, it affects you. It can even become a dangerous condition–it is called “spiritual amnesia.” Yes, spiritual amnesia is very real. It is our innate and undying propensity to forget the goodness of God and then doubt Him because of it.

The great enemy of faith is forgetfulness; so the great friend of faith is memory.

When we allow spiritual amnesia to run its course we lose faith, maybe not permanently, but we certainly lose the bold faith that we have when we are in spiritual tune with God. But there is good news, you can counteract spiritual amnesia! 

The answer to our spiritual amnesia is setting aside times of remembrance, or commemoration. In other words, bolstering our faith with tangible reminders of God’s faithfulness. 

Creating a rhythm of remembrance cultivates courageous trust and fights off spiritual amnesia.

To commemorate something is to commit it to memory; to call it to remembrance; to mark it as a ceremony to be observed again and again. This is exactly what happens in Joshua 3-4. The two-chapter narrative covers the nation of Israel crossing the Jordan River. It may not sound too exciting, but this meant more to these people than we could ever know!

First of all, let’s remember that these people were the second-generation removed from the events of Egypt and the exodus. The plot of the story for them was all anticipation, finally getting to walk onto the very soil that would be their inheritance. The river that divided the land was more than a topographical barrier, it represented what separated them from their destiny. 

Furthermore, crossing the Jordan river was risky business, especially for people who never had the luxury of swim lessons. This wasn’t some babbling brook where your socks might get wet. This was a force of nature, approximately twelve feet deep of raging water!

Crossing the Jordan river would require a miracle and the people of Israel knew it.

Joshua prepared the people for this, saying: “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you” (Joshua 3:5). Joshua even told the people that God would halt the waters for the sake of their passing.

14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing… So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. (Joshua 3:14-17)

So, they cross the river and keep on marching toward destiny. End of scene. Right? Wrong.

The day was not completed until it was commemorated.

Joshua gives additional instructions.

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” … Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:1-3, 5b-7)

They could have just kept going, but Joshua (being the good leader he was) knows the gravity of the moment. He commands a representative of each tribe to go step back into the soggy soil and grab a rock from the middle of the river. He wants them to go into the middle, where one had to trust that God would keep the rushing waters of nature at bay for a little bit longer. They had to go back and grab a stone.

The stones were not valuable because of their color or size. They were valuable because they came from the middle of the Jordan river, where no one could grab them if not for a miracle. These kinds of moments didn’t happen every day, for them or for us, and so it was worthy of commemorating. The stones from the middle of the river became an emblem of God’s power and faithfulness. Every time an Israelite saw those stones, they would recall the story behind the stones.

We commemorate the things that are formative to our faith so that we do not lose sight of those things during the ordinary or discouraging days.

When God shows His faithfulness in a profound way in your life–call it breakthrough; call it rescue; call it entering a new season–what do you do to commemorate that moment? This practice is crucial for our spiritual well being. 

When someone is sick with a really bad cold, they sometimes lose their sense of taste. Have you ever been that sick? It is like whether they eat chocolate or vegetables it makes no difference! But here is the obvious truth… it’s not like the food ever stopped having flavor, that is not possible. The food did not cease having flavor; the one who is sick ceased having the ability to taste. Our health determines our experience of the flavors of food. 

Like the flavors of food, so our spiritual health determines our experience of God amongst us. God is always working among us and interacting with us, but depending on our spiritual health we may or may not be able to sense or experience it.

How tragic it is when we see people who are blind to the workings of God in their lives. Our culture even dares to question the existence of God, which goes to show the extent of the “sickness.” Let’s become people who have a greater awareness and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s presence and interaction in our life both in the ordinary and the extraordinary. And sometimes we need to create intentional moments of remembrance–tactile memorials that remind us of the times when God has acted in marvelous ways. On our off days, or even in the mundane, it will be our remembrance that motives us toward perseverance.

Memory cultivates courage. 

What will you do to create a rhythm of remembrance? How will you grab stones from the middle of rivers you pass through?

After all, who will have the courage to trust God in this next calendar year? I bet it will be those who have stones in their hands–stories to serve as vibrant reminders of how God always accomplishes His purposes. 

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