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Photo credit: Zhen Hu on Unsplash

Provided by CCNL (Christian Churches Network of London)

How many times in the last few days have you said: “Remind me to …” or “Oops I forgot to…” or “What did I come in this room for again….?

The precious gift of memory. We as human beings are indeed fearfully and wonderfully created by God with remarkable cognitive ability to store away information and to access that information when needed - most of the time! We have short-term memory, long-term memory, muscle memory, taste memory, smell memory, auditory memory and visual memory to name a few. Our brains’ storage capacity to remember is considered in theory to be up to 2.5 petabytes of data over a lifetime. Look up what a petabyte is. That is equivalent to three million hours of TV shows, or about the same storage as nearly 4,000 256GB iPhones. Some of our memories are treasured ones, others we would rather forget…and we do forget many thankfully. But without the ability to recall people and experiences, places and ideas, facts and feelings, it would be difficult to perform a job, form relationships or even survive on a daily basis. Amazing!

God often says throughout the Bible that he also personally remembers us. Interesting thought that he, our sovereign God and creator, has not forgotten us, even when it may sometimes feel like that in hard circumstances. How reassuring that his capacity to remember is beyond and beyond any measure we could imagine. Also amazing!

Every day, we access our memories - a wonderful tool God has given us. Throughout scripture God reminds us to use that tool in good times and in bad times. Lamentations 3 says this: “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Good memories can bring great comfort and encouragement – a gift of the Spirit in our lives. “Remembering” isn't a passive verb, for us it is an action that brings the power of Jesus into our lives. Reading this verse caused me to suddenly recall a cherished memory of a dear friend that made it a habit to sing “Great is thy faithfulness” every morning before breakfast, even in very difficult times.

So throughout the month of November, we invite you to explore this gift of memory together in prayer, especially fitting because Remembrance Day is coming.

God, our father, we pray these things:
First, we remember those who served in past wars and those in current conflicts
. Men and women who give their lives to serve in countries near and far, to keep the peace, to act in times of crisis, to step into difficult emergencies where needed. We pray for protection, for wisdom, for integrity and for courage for each one. Many who have engaged in conflicts suffer from post-traumatic stress or physical injuries because of what they have experienced. Heal them in mind, soul and body. We pray for their spouses and families and the everyday sacrifices they too make. Be with them in joy and in sorrow, in safety and in losses. Even now around the world, armed conflicts are far too common God. Raise up powerful peacemakers to speak into negotiations and decisions and to speak boldly against evil. We continue to pray especially for Ukraine – for the leaders, for the people who have stayed and for those who have left and especially for the children Lord…. for all those who are engaging on front lines. So much devastation and fear. Let us not forget them today.

We remember those who died during the pandemic over the past few years. It was a very difficult time when often families and friends could not safely gather in person to honor the life of a person who passed away. That sharing of memories, the comfort of being with kindred souls, the community of grieving that allows healing to enter in – funerals or celebrations of life are important ways to remember together and to provide some needed closure God. Today as we pray, we ask that you remind us of those we know who have lost a loved one over the last year or two…. and prompt us to connect in some way to acknowledge that we remember - to call, to send a note, to text or invite for coffee. It matters.

We remember too for those who have been impacted by Alzheimers…when memories are locked away and stolen from a person, and also from those who love them. One in ten elderly people experience this disease. As of yet, it is uncurable. We pray for these precious people who have lost this ability to recall who they are, and who we are. Thank you for those who faithfully care for them and for those who visit them, those who wait for even momentary glimpses of recognition and patiently repeat stories and memories. It is a difficult journey for all – comfort them God and give them strength. We pray for the ongoing research that is being done here and globally…may remedies soon be found.

We remember God the challenge to commit your words to our memory so that when we need to hear from you, there are more easily found. Psalm 119:11 says “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”May we hear you often planted firmly in the deep recesses of our souls and minds. These days, it seems too easy to ask Siri or Alexa, or do a word search on Bible Gateway…but one does really need to know what key words one is asking to find. Help us God to make it an ongoing spiritual discipline to meditate on scripture, to let it be imprinted on our souls. Cognitive researchers tell us that by writing our notes by hand or rewriting and reorganizing information manually and not by “cut and paste” on a computer, that it helps us to remember better because of muscle memory. Maybe keep a journal of written verses and look over them often, maybe after a sermon or when reading a book. Post them on a computer or stick on a post-it note on a bulletin board, fridge or mirror. Not as cute decoration, but as visual reminders daily. Or try reading verses out loud and visualize the meaning as well. Listen to scripture set to music. We also now have technology apps that may can also help. Consider trying out Thank you God that you have equipped us with a variety of wonderful ways to hide your words in our memory banks.

God help us remember the past carefully and thoughtfully. There is so much to learn from history, much to savor, much to warn us, much to understand - to inform not only the present, but the future as well. There is the “historical past” of events, actions, decisions that happened over hundreds of years that are recorded or passed down in books, documents, and oral history. And there is also our “personal past”, unique to each one of us, many experiences, learning and actions we or others have shared, being added to daily. Help us God with both historical and personal pasts to be so careful not to create a “reconstructionist” history in our memories that fits a current narrative or convenient truth. Sorting out what is fictional or factual is never easy…. And too often we rely on a Hollywood version of truth. The ‘good old days’ may not be as perfect as we make them out to be... and the bad, unpleasant events may be more complex than we realize or comprehend. In our personal lives, our perspectives often alter our understanding with varying details, missing information or personalities. We ask for your insight and discernment, Heavenly Father into our memories and examine with your help how they may shape or control us or others and where healing is needed. May we seek wise counselling if unresolved past painful memories haunt us.

We thank you God that you made us far more complex than even the best of machines. Just like cars need oil, gas and/or electricity to function, you made our memories to function best with fuel from being well rested. When we are asleep, it seems that we shift memory to more efficient storage regions within the brain. You even made internal warning signals for us much like the orange lights on cars’ dashboards. While pain can warn us that something is physically wrong, likewise forgetting things more often happens when we are tired, depressed, stressed, ill…or even just overwhelmed. Help us pay better attention God to those warning signals, take time to be still and listen to these amazing bodies you have created. As we age, it is often likely too that our ability to recognize faces or names declines - frustrating yes for sure - but O God, how we need your help to be patient with ourselves and/or with others. Our cognitive “hard-drives” may be getting full from a lifetime of experiences and people!

We’re also grateful that you gave us different ways to access memories. An estimated 65-70% of the population are considered visual learners, who need to see what they are learning. And as we likely only retain 20-25% of what we hear, visual assistance or cues can improve learning enormously. Help us to consider this statistic as we teach others, as we talk with our children, as we interact with fellow employees, or even converse with our partners or friends. Our senses are often mentioned in scripture, phrases like “Taste and see that the Lord is good” or making a memorial of some kind to help remember. It is also a spiritual practice Jesus modelled. He taught lessons thru stories of familiar things stimulating visual connections. He gave us the practice of Communion to experience spiritual principles and trigger memories as we participate together. The Israelites piled up stones as visual reminders for future generations of your goodness and faithfulness God. Interestingly enough, smell is the sense most tuned to memory. Consider what smells can immediately transport us to specific moments in time. Fearfully and wonderfully made.

We stand in awe of you. As it says in Psalm 77:11-13 (NIV)“ I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds. Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God?”

An addendum, two final thought-provoking hints about memory – just to make you smile!
1. Evidently, studies demonstrate that we remember better when we close our eyes. Have you ever caught yourself shutting your eyes tight as if looking through files while searching for a memory, a name, or a word. Have you ever wondered why we were encouraged to close our eyes as children when we pray? It actually physiologically allows us to focus by removing any outside distractions and access information we need. God knows we get distracted easily.
2. And it seems even taking a brief nap, maybe even in a sermon may not be all that bad after all - unless of course you are the minister. A nap can help you retain new information and studies show it might improve memory. Shhhh – don’t tell anybody we mentioned that! Try to save napping for the afternoon.