How often do you ask God to remember something he did in the past? After I began my study of biblical prayers, I discovered that several biblical prayer warriors called on God to remember. Psalm 89 is an example. The Psalmist asks, “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?”(Psalm 89:49 NRSV). Throughout this prayer, he reminisces about God’s steadfast love: “I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.”
The psalmist reflects on how the world reflects the glory of its Creator. He notes that God controls that same creation: “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them” (Psalm 89:9). He identifies the values that form the foundation of God’s reign over creation: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14). He remembers God’s promises to David, king of Israel: “Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said: ‘I have set the crown on one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him; my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him” (Psalm 89:19-21).
God’s to promise to David and his descendants, however, had been conditional. The Psalmist notes that God had said, “Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm. I will establish his line forever and his throne as long as the heavens endure. If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my ordinances, if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with scourges; but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word the word that went forth from my lips” (Psalm 89:28-34). God would remain faithful even if David’s descendants did not. However, he would act with justice and righteousness. The Psalmist has reminded God of his promises. He has also remembered conditions to those promises. However, he stresses as he prays that he believes firmly in God’s reliability. The closing verses of the Psalm reveal the inner conflict of the Psalmist: God has rejected David and his line. Israel’s enemies have conquered the king: “You have removed the scepter from his hand, and hurled his throne to the ground” (Psalm 89:44).
This crisis underlies the plaintive cry with which I began the article, “Lord, where is your steadfast love?” Even stronger words of protest precede that question. He asks, “How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? Remember how short my time is – for what vanity you have created all mortals!” (Psalm 89:46-47). “Remember,” the Psalmist prays. He wants God to remember his covenant with David and his descendants. He wants God to act and save His people. He wants God to act now, while he still lives and prays! He speaks freely to his God, acknowledging that the king and his people owe obedience to the LORD, yet questioning the severity of the punishment given. We still struggle today as he did. We pray, “How long, O LORD?” We forget, as Paul reminded Timothy,
“The saying is sure: ‘If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself!” (1 Timothy 2:11-12).
God remembers. Even so, we may remind him of his promises as we pray. As we remind God of his responsibilities and what we want him to do, we remember our responsibilities and what we must do. We also remember that God will remain faithful even when we are not. We recall also, when all appears lost, that God provides.
The moral crisis of the Psalmist still haunts us today. Some turn away from God because they do not understand righteousness or justice. Others fall back because they forget his reliability and his power to sustain. Psalm 89’s writer belonged to neither group. He reminds God of his own faithfulness before concluding in submissive faith, “Blessed be the LORD forever. Amen and Amen.” Even as he questioned, he praised as he prayed. As we pray and ask God to remember, let us also remember, and say, “Thank you, Lord.”