I just read Deuteronomy 8 and praise God for such practical words. The danger in my life at this moment is to forget God in the midst of a trial. It’s one of those trials that make you think about it throughout the day and then when you sleep, the first thoughts that come into your mind are the trial, and you are tempted to stress (or be passive, or bitter, or resentful, or frustrated, or ignore your responsibility in the trial, or do other things to get your mind off the trial when it will not be obedient to God in glorifying him in the trial).
I do not want to forget God. John Piper preached to me (and others) in 2005 that “we breathe God-ignoring air.” That’s one way of saying what God is saying in this chapter: “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping is commandments and rules and statutes, which I command you this day” (Deut. 8:11). I want to take care lest I forget God. I don’t want to ignore God the way I am prone to, the way our culture presses us to with its values, the way other people do (both Christian and non-Christian) by virtue of their sinful nature and being influenced by the God-ignoring culture.
I praise God that he gives us help on how to not ignore and forget him. I see 4 ways God helps us in Deuteronomy 8:11-20.
First, keep his commandments, rules, and statutes (v. 11). There is no moment of your day, no trial in your life, no situation that you are placed in, where there is not some commandment or rule or statute that God wants you to consciously and joyfully keep. As I think about it, I find it impossible to forget or ignore God while striving to consciously and joyfully keep his commands or rules or statutes in every situation. Like writing this meditation (or for you reading this), are we consciously trying to keep God’s word right now? If you are trying to keep his word (and not a watered-down copy of what God requires, but the full and massive weight of his command) with intentionality and joy, you are not forgetting God right now. I don’t see how you could. It pushes me to pray to and depend on God as I write. God is pushing me to pray for those who read that they will not forget or ignore God.
Second, remember that your state of sufficiency is not “self-sufficiency,” but “God-giving-you-the-power-to-be-in-a-state-of-sufficiency” (vv. 12-14, 17-18). God’s warning in this passage says (I paraphrase): “Don’t forget or ignore me when you have food to eat and are settled in your life and prosperous.” This state of sufficiency can be financial security, relationship stability, academic success, or even ministry effectiveness. When God gives you the power to be in a state of sufficiency, remember it is God that gives you that power so that you would remember and worship him by remembering his gracious promise. The way it is stated in the Scripture is very important, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the power to get wealth” (vv. 17-18). There are two things I see as significant in this passage, the first of which is obvious. First, without God we would not be in a state of sufficiency. Secondly, God gives us the power to be in a state of sufficiency. At least oftentimes he empowers us, as he did for the Israelites at the time of giving Deuteronomy 8. But the point here is that the problem was not that God did it and they are to remember him, but that God gave them the power and they are the ones who get the wealth with the power that God gives. Where humans sin is when we as the ones who are empowered to do it, take credit because we did indeed do it, but we act as if the power came from us and not from God. The point is not, “God gave you wealth so give him credit.” The point is, God gave you the power so that you would get the wealth, so give him the credit and treasure him explicitly and consciously more than the good things he gave you the power to get. So this point is to remember and interpret your situation as it really is, apart from God in Christ you can do nothing and do do nothing (the “do do” is not a typo).
Third, remember who God is and his redemptive works in the past (vv. 14-16). These verses remind the Israelites who God is and what he has done to redeem them. Particularly significant is the last line, God did all this and tested them “to do you good in the end” (v. 17). I encourage you to read Deuteronomy 8:14-16 to see what God did for the Israelites up to that point. I will extend this with a list of some of God’s redemptive works for all of us Christians in Christ under the New Covenant. God is the one who sent his Son to become a man, live a painful life in a fallen world, die innocently for others’ guilt, die for our guilt and sin, rise from the dead, and ascend to heaven. God sent his Spirit to indwell, empower, fill, convict, and lead his people to spread the gospel and live for Christ’s glory and to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He sent the gospel message to us who are Christians now through those who were Christians before us, whether through their friendship and words, something written down, a copy of the Bible translated and printed, a message on the radio or T.V. that hundreds or thousands of Christians work together to make possible, or many other ways to get the gospel message to our sinful and needy hearts. God gave us the church to have a community to grow with and in, to encourage us, rebuke us, support us, disciple us, learn with us, hold us accountable, and even discipline us to keep us from being deceived by sin in ourselves and Satan and the world. God is great and has done many redemptive works and shown us many facets of his glory over and over again and promises to sustain us forever. We should not forget who he is, what he has done, what he is doing, and what he will do for us, in us, and in all creation through his Son Jesus Christ.
Fourth, remember that going after other things and treasuring things more than God is suicide, and really stupid (vv. 19-20). “And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you will surely perish” (v. 19). To forget and ignore God as a habitual pattern of life and practice reveals an unregenerate and untransformed heart. To forget God and perish and face his wrath will come to all who have not bowed in glad submission to Jesus Christ. There are some in churches (more in some than others) that at one time expressed devotion to Christ only to be rooted out of their faith by sin, worldly values, riches, and desires replacing Christ-centered ones, or the trials and pressures of the living life in this fallen world. The way to avoid that is to repent of your sin and trust in Christ’s death for your sins, resurrection for your life before God. And then as a result of that faith and repentance live a life of faith and repentance that does not forget or ignore God in everyday life. The key to forgetting God after professing faith in Christ is to ignore and forget him moment after moment, trial after trial, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. This way of not forgetting God is remembering the consequences of ignoring him and indulging in sin, or remaining stuck in your sin. It is suicide. No one has ever one against God, and neither you nor I will be among the first. There will be no first. That’s one guarantee and certainty in a world of change and doubt. Going against God by staying in sin and rebellion to him and his ways is suicide. And it’s stupid. It’s stupid for at least two reasons. First, it’s suicide. Second, the pleasures, relief, rest, and satisfaction you get from ignoring God, suppressing guilt, and trying to enjoy life anyway, or just get by, is short-lived, fleeting, and leaves you in a worse situation than engaging in or continuing in the sin. It’s like drinking salt-water when you are thirsty. That’s stupid.