One of the joys of language is in how you often find encapsulated in a few words fundamental life giving principles. Such is this one. ‘Forget not His benefits’. Referring to God, the psalmist enjoins a lifestyle of constant remembrance, He posits that God has done amazing good to man, proceeds to enumerate some of these, He forgives, he heals, he restores, he renews, He provides and culminates, totally carried away, in a celebration encompassing the heavenly hosts. Thanksgiving and gratitude are huge and not overly common. Thanksgiving proceeds from a sense of non entitlement, a sense that I have obtained something precious of which I was neither the architect nor deserving. And truly that is the human story, yet we so quickly move from fleeting enjoyment of one good to strenuous requests for the next without dwelling on the richness of what has been bequeathed to us and expressing appreciation, in word and in deed.
When Israel would bring their tithes before God, they would go into this lengthy recitation of who they were, where they came from, where they had arrived and who brought them there; they recounted how God showed up and delivered them and blessed them. And they testified that they were now bringing their tithes in obedience to Him, they had not ‘eaten my tithes’. In other words I am mindful of your goodness and I bring you what is due to you, in view of your first loving me. In our vertical relationship with God we are required to have long memories; but so also in horizontal relationships. Indeed, the same principle is valid for all human relationships, when someone has been good to you – forget not his benefits. Gratitude towards God, gratitude towards man.
We are prone to forget. Perhaps not altogether so, we are simply prone to forget good, to underestimate and discount it. We are quick enough to remember and actively nurture memories of long past evil done, many will tell you how they were smacked in the cradle with great embellishment. Any pastor can tell you that, people have long memories, no need to exhort them to “forget not someone else’s misdemeanours” real or imagined. That they do readily enough. And sometimes Ministers are cannon fodder. They walk people through difficult places , hold them up, pray for their families, preach life into their dead spirits, train, and raise them up, and God restores them.
And somehow they think it’s happily ever after between them from now. And then, often, a rude awakening. People forget. They do not rehearse where they came from, and through whom God brought them this far. They hit on one misunderstanding and throw you to the dogs. Other times the shoe is on the other heel, those who laboured in the early days, who encouraged when no one saw the potential are easily disparaged once we hit the big league. I guess I should take to quoting this verse the next time someone comes to bellyache about some erstwhile benefactor. When people badmouth someone to me who I know has been a great blessing to them in the past, I make a mental note to be wary of them. They are ungrateful people. They will no doubt do the same to me.
I guess I am big on this because of the way I was raised. The Yoruba have myriad ways of saying thank you. And when it’s done they go back to it the next day when they meet the person again and it’s thank you for what you did yesterday. One year later, it’s thank you for what you did the last time. Decades later when they meet the son, it is I’m so thankful for what your father did, and so on and so forth. The Yoruba are wont to say ” when one is thankful for the good done yesterday, he will receive even more.” and to be considered an ungrateful wretch is to be despised indeed. Thanksgiving and gratitude attract favour, from God and man. Showing grace and gratitude to those through whom God has provided for us in the past is a sign that we can be given more.
When we bite the fingers that fed us, when we join others in vociferating against them, for no earthly reason, surely God must stand back from involving His other children in our affairs as we are likely to turn round and spit venom on them too. New messengers of favour will be few and far between when the previous ones have been so ill used. There are people weeping and crying today begging God to intervene on their behalf and wondering why the situation in their lives is not changing; sometimes they will need to go back and heal the finger that they have bitten. We need to not find it so easy to move on to the next friend, the next neighbor, the next church, the next leader, the next soul mate leaving a trail of fingers on the pavement. We need to not be so skilled in the art of forgetting good.