There’s a trait common to most humans, and that is forgetfulness. I’m not talking about Alzheimer’s or dementia, or the phenomenon of walking into a room and then trying to remember why you went there. No, I’m referring to the “what have you done for me lately?” type of forgetfulness.
We see this in every realm of life. In the work world, an employee is sometimes regarded only as good as his or her latest day of productivity. It doesn’t matter whether the work they’ve done in the past was exemplary – if they have a day or week of poor performance, their status might suddenly move to proverbial thin ice. You’re only as good as your last day’s work.
This can go the other way, too. We receive a raise or bonus, and for a week or two we’re ecstatic. But before long, the euphoria over extra compensation wears off and workaday doldrums resume. We go back to regarding the boss with a sneer, as the mean taskmaster, because after all, “what have you done for me lately?”
We often take that same attitude with our sports teams, civic leaders, name-brand manufacturers, restaurants, even friends and loved ones.
My paternal grandfather passed away when I was about 12 years old, but I still have fond memories of the times I spent with him. Short in stature, outwardly he could come across as a crusty old guy, but inside he possessed a heart of gold. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for me – or for anyone else. But I remember a time when I fell into the “what have you done for me lately?” way of thinking.
I was at his home in Pennsylvania and had broken one of my toys. I don’t remember what the toy was, or how I had damaged it, but my grandfather – whose only fault was he failed to pass his handyman skills to me – volunteered to fix it. In my mind’s eye I still see him descending the steps into his basement, where his tools and workbench were located.
After some minutes Grandpa reemerged from the basement, with the toy. But it wasn’t repaired. He said something about not being able to fix it. Being the spoiled little boy that I was back then, I simply replied, “You can’t fix anything.” Wow! Talk about ingratitude! That’s how we respond when we’re fixated on, “what have you done for me lately?” We don’t stop to think about all the kind and gracious things that have already been done – all we care about is what we want. Now.
My grandfather didn’t say a word in response, but I remember a look of hurt in his eyes. He just turned, again went down the stairs and didn’t come back up until the toy had been restored. Then he said, in his rich Hungarian accent, “So, I can’t fix nothing?” Thankfully, his love for me was much greater than my ingratitude.
This type of attitude is unacceptable, but it’s hardly new. The other day in my Bible reading, I came across a passage that showed the ancient Israelites suffered from the same kind of thinking. God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt; parted the Red Sea to enable them to escape the pursuing Egyptian army; guided them by a cloud during the day and gave them the light of fire at night; and had miraculously provided for their everyday needs in the wilderness, including water, and daily servings of manna and quail. Even their clothing and shoes didn’t wear out. And yet, repeatedly they wondered of the Lord, “what have you done for us lately?”
Speaking about the men of Ephraim, one of the tribes of Israel, Psalm 78:9-20 says, “…they did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law. They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them…. They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the desert? When he struck the rock, water gushed out, and steams flowed abundantly. But can he also give us food? Can he supply meat for his people?’”
Sound familiar? Have you ever faced a crisis, something that seems beyond resolution, and thought, “Yes, Lord, you have come through for me in the past. Time after time. But this problem here, how are You going to solve this one?”
But it’s important – even crucial – that we continue to remind ourselves, and each other, of the wonderful things God has done in the past. We dare not forget the many incredible times when He deftly snatched victory out of the jaws of seeming defeat. As we remember those times, we must also realize that if God was faithful and all-sufficient for those times of need, why would He not be able to address our present needs, no matter how pressing.
I like the words of Asaph, concluding another of his psalms: “Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise” (Psalm 79:13). I think God delights in doing the impossible, bailing us out sometimes just in the nick of time. Because then we can know that it’s all His doing, nothing we have done. And that will indeed inspire us to praise Him – not only in this life, but forever.