Jennie Evelyn Hussey was an accomplished poet a young age. She spent much of her youth cheerfully caring for her invalid sister, frequently referring to this service as the cross that God called her to take up daily. In her middle-aged years, she herself suffered debilitating rheumatism, which effectively left her invalid. She knew what it was to suffer.
During Passion Week in 1921, as she suffered excruciating bodily pain, she wrote the hymn for which she is best remembered. The chorus line reads, “Lest I forget Gethsemane, lest I forget thine agony, lest I forget thy love for me, lead me to Calvary.” She knew that, in the midst of her suffering, she might be prone to forget God’s mercies and so she prayed that he would not let that happen. As Christ led her to Calvary, she would find comfort in her present affliction by remembering his past mercies.
The writer of Psalm 77 reflected on the same truth. We don’t know the details of the trouble in which he found himself but we know that he struggled to stay focused in the midst of his trouble. He lost sleep as his hand was stretched out unwearyingly in nighttime prayer (v. 2). The burden held his eyelids open (v. 4) and he longed for the days when he was able to face the night with song rather than burden (v. 6). He wondered whether God’s favour would ever return (v. 7) and whether his covenant love had completely ceased (v. 8). Had God forgotten how to be gracious and to show compassion (v. 9)? How would the psalmist reconcile his feelings of abandonment with objective truth?
The answer lay in remembrance. “Then I said, ‘I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old” (vv. 10–11). The key to hope in the present was remembrance of past mercies.
We do well to learn this same lesson. When it seems that the world is against us and that God has forgotten how to be gracious, we do well to reflect on the past. Remembrance puts feet to our faith.
In their commentary on Psalm 77, Tucker and Grant note, “The book of Deuteronomy is designed to be an expression of the covenantal relationship between God and his people for their new situation as those who were soon to dwell in a land of their own.” Deuteronomy frequently calls God’s people to “remember” and highlights the benefits of remembering. Consider five benefits of remembering as set forth in Deuteronomy.
First, remembering gives courage (Deuteronomy 7:17–19). When faced with paralysing fear of the enemy, God’s counsel to his people was, “Remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh.”
Second, remembering aids obedience (Deuteronomy 8:1–2). It was as the people remembered God’s leadership in the wilderness that they would “be careful to do” what God commanded.
Third, remembering spurs worship (Deuteronomy 16:1–3). As the people remembered their deliverance from Egypt, they would be encouraged to observe the worship feasts celebrating their salvation.
Fourth, remembering fosters discipleship (Deuteronomy 11:1–7, 18–21). As they remembered that their children had not benefited from the Egyptian deliverance, they would be careful to teach their children of God’s mercies.
Fifth, remembering engenders appreciation for provision (Deuteronomy 8:10–18). God warned the Israelites that, if they forgot him and his deliverance, they would soon fall into the trap of thinking that they were meeting their own needs rather than benefiting from his provision.
As you reflect on this psalm in the day ahead, remember God’s past mercies and all that remembrance to give you courage, to aid your obedience, to spur your worship, to foster discipleship, and to engender appreciation.