We all know that person who tells the same stories again and again. We roll our eyes and think, “I could tell this story by now.” We have Twitter to check, news to read, and places to be. In an ever-changing and updating world, who has time for repetition?
This impatience for restatement often bleeds into how we approach the Word of God. We come across a familiar passage and our eyes move faster. Our pastor starts a new series on a familiar section of Scripture, and we think, “I’ve heard this one before.”
Learning new things is not the only goal when we open our Bibles
Certainly, it’s true that we can always learn something new—even from passages we first witnessed on flannel graphs and have read thousands of times since. And we should approach familiar passages with an eagerness to discover new things. But there is a posture we should also cultivate as we come to well-worn texts and messages: a readiness to be reminded.
A Quest for More Than Mere Novelty
Have you ever noticed that most of our bookshelves give the impression that virtually no authors existed before 1990? They are filled with new books. We want books with a fresh perspective, a novel take. And there is sense in that—we should continue learning. But sometimes we are so drawn to novelty that we forget the riches of time-weathered men and the old, old stories. The truth is, good stories are worth repeating, not because we don’t know them, but because humans need reminding. Novelty draws our attention, but our hearts also need to remember.
Our forgetfulness is one of the consequences of being fallen humans in a broken world. We forget God’s faithfulness, promises, and commands. The troubles of this world, the allure of novelty, and the deceitfulness of sin are ever leading our attention away from those truths to which, in our better hours, we would wholeheartedly assent. We forget what we once knew so well.
The living Word has the power to teach us new things, but it also has the power to remind us of the truths we so desperately need to keep before our eyes. That’s why sitting through a sermon on a text that’s familiar is not a waste of time, even if you don’t learn anything new. We need to be reminded. In fact, we are commanded to remember.
Commanded to Remember
The next time you’re reading through Deuteronomy, pay attention to how often God commands the people of Israel to remember the things He had done for them (Deut. 5:15; 7:18; 8:2, 18; 9:7;15:15; and on and on). God is well aware of our forgetfulness. He even gave the Israelites feasts and festivals as reminders of His commands and past works.
But our forgetfulness seems to be more than cognitive. Because of our fallen nature, spiritual amnesia plagues the human race. It’s less of an “I’m bad with names” and more of an “I’m bad with obedience” situation.
God commands us to remember,
and the only thing we have to do to forget, is nothing
Jude writes: “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5 ESV, italics mine). In this passage, Jude warns the church about the consequences of being enticed by erroneous doctrine, even while acknowledging that they already knew the truth—and fully! But obviously some in the church were interested in this fresh take on the faith. They had forgotten the beauty of the old, old stories, and they were being lured away with novelty. They had done nothing, and they had forgotten.
I, too, am guilty of spiritual amnesia. I was recently reading through some of my old journal entries and was surprised by the number of times I had written about learning the same lesson. Each time I wrote as though I had finally stumbled upon a grand epiphany. But the truth is I had simply forgotten what I learned. I needed to be reminded.
We are commanded to remember, but what kinds of things should we be looking to Scripture to remind us of?
Remember the Commands and be Convicted
The continual cry of the Old Testament prophets was, “Remember what the Lord has commanded!” And the call to remember the commands of God is just as true for New Testament believers. Peter writes:
This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles. (2 Peter 3:1–2, italics mine)
Did you just skim that Bible verse? Go back and read it, slowly.
Peter was urging believers to remember the words of the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus Himself, and the apostles (Peter and his contemporaries). Don’t neglect to immerse yourself in the whole counsel of God, not matter how well-underlined the pages may be. Your heart needs to remember.
Do not harden yourself against the Holy Spirit’s conviction in these reminders. The attitude of “I already know this” builds a resistance within you—an a priori assumption that the living Word of God has nothing more to convict you of, because after all, you've read that passage before. Let the Word remind you of God’s commands and be convicted afresh by lessons you have forgotten.
Remember God’s Works and be Encouraged
Remember, too, the promises of God. It’s so easy to let our eyes droop from Christ to our circumstances, to loosen our grip on the promises of God. Remembering what the Lord has done and promised gives us strength for the fight:
And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” (Neh. 4:14 ESV)
Remember the days the Lord has been faithful in the past:
When I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Ps. 63:6–8 ESV)
When we think on previous accounts of the faithfulness of God, we are reminded that the God who has delivered us time and again, is powerful and faithful enough to do so once again.
As Christians, we remember what it was to be separated from Christ, and the darkness this trajectory brought with it (Eph. 2:11–12). Of all the things you hear repeated in the Scriptures or in church, never tire of hearing that old story of Jesus who lived, died, and rose again to redeem a people for Himself. And in that reminder, take great encouragement. Never become bored of hearing familiar passages, because spiritual amnesia is cured through repetition.
[Editor's Note: This article was originally published in April 2018 and has been updated.]