Last week we had one of the most encouraging evenings I can remember in the church. I probably can’t put the full details online- suffice it to say that we had the opportunity to celebrate the completion of a translation project that has been ongoing for around 25 years. There have been many ups and downs- and the church has been praying throughout. There was a genuine sense of praise and thanksgiving as we looked back and considered the Lord’s faithfulness and the wisdom of His providence in allowing certain events that were puzzling at the time but subsequently proved essential. It was a great evening.
The following day was my day off. I went down to see a friend of mine on the Isle of Wight. I’ve been down there about three times a year for the past 15 years as I have had two very good friends working at a church in Ryde. In some ways it took me aback to realize I had been making the same journey for 15 years- but it encouraged me to look back and note the faithfulness of God over the years in keeping me. I am very aware that my heart is prone to wander yet I am so thankful that God has held me by my right hand (Psalm 73:23). The line I always tend to use when being asked to give my testimony is this: my life is a story of God’s grace (in treating me better than I deserve) and God’s faithfulness (in keeping hold of me.) Reminiscing on this whilst travelling over by ferry was a great spur to praising God.
The Bible encourages us to be those who look back. We’ve been noting that in our series in Exodus. Time and again the people are called to remember: the Feast of Unleavened Bread reminded the people of God’s rescue through the Passover, the storing of some manna in a jar was to enable them to recall God’s provision and the written record of the battle with the Amalekites was to bring to mind the Lord as one who fought for His people against their enemies. I’m just coming to the end of reading Joshua. The last few chapters are full of reminders to the people to look back and see all the ways in which God has kept His promises: “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”
A few years ago I read the book The Devoted Life. It contains twenty essays from different authors considering the work of a variety of Puritan writers. Sinclair Ferguson’s piece on John Flavel’s Mystery of Providence was the one that struck me most- especially the instruction: “Work hard at remembering and exploring the providence of God towards you.” We should look back with the aim of listing all the ways in which God has been good to us- perhaps with a particular focus on those things that seemed painful at the time but which the Lord has used for good. And we must not limit those blessings to the physical- simply the fact that the Lord has brought us to Himself and kept us should be enough to cause us to be thankful.
What are the benefits of this? I think there are two. Firstly, it does stir up praise. We can be sluggish in giving thanks to God: a remembrance of His mercies as we look back can help us to overcome that. In addition, though, looking back on God’s faithfulness can help us to trust the Lord in the trails and difficulties we face at present.
It is so easy to live simply in the here and now. God’s word encourages us to look forward to our future hope. But it also encourages us to look back with thanksgiving for the Lord’s faithfulness. We should spend longer doing it. It’s why this is rapidly becoming one of my favourite hymns:
All the way my Saviour leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.
All the way my Saviour leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread;
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living Bread.
Though my weary steps may falter,
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see.
All the way my Saviour leads me
O the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages—
Jesus led me all the way;