Remembering God When Things are Good

Remembering God When Things are Good

Deuteronomy 8:10-20

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you” (Deut 8:10).

Easier said than done, I think.

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Some of my trail friends eating dinner in the rain under a tarp in 2016.  Because wilderness.

I speak as one with authority, because today’s Scripture is preparing the Israelites to go from the wilderness into civilized life… and if you know me at all, you know I’ve spent my fair share of time in the wilderness.  As a backpacker, I’ve made my bed in a sleeping bag under a tarp.  I’ve packed up and walked and designated a new plot of land as “home” each night.  I haven’t survived on manna, but I have lived on the food I could carry:  dry goods and simple meals where “add boiling water” is the bulk of the recipe.

In the wilderness you learn to ration… or you go hungry.  Then sometimes you do ration and you still go hungry.  You’re hungry for something besides granola bars and dry ramen noodles.  You’re thirsty for something besides plain lukewarm water.

All this hunger and thirst and rationing leads a person to daydream about leaving the wilderness.

Which is a funny thing about backpacking.  When I get to go on a hiking trip, I look forward to it for months.  And then, when I’m actually out in the wilderness… after about day 2 all I can think about are my creature comforts back home.

I’m not totally convinced, but I think it’s possible that the main reason I like backpacking is the glorious moment when I step off the trail and into a climate-controlled vehicle… the triumphant ride back to civilized life… the feeling of that first shower… the bite of that cheeseburger I was dreaming of while I was walking through paradise.

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you” (Deut 8:10).

Praising God is an easy assignment in those first moments after the wilderness, when I appreciate the simple things like I never have before.  Those first bites of real food have me praising God from whom all blessings (and ice cold Coca-Cola) flow.  I can’t even help it.

But oh – how quickly it fades.

Usually by the time I get home and get a good nap and take a second shower (it always takes two to get completely clean)… by the time I wake up in my own home with air conditioning and indoor plumbing… by the time about 24 hours have passed… the novelty has worn off again.  I stop praising God for every gift and start going through my routine.

That’s life.  And not just for a backpacker – for all of us.  When we’re in the metaphorical wilderness we’re desperately daydreaming for whatever it is we need:  money, forgiveness, healing, recovery, a job, a passing grade, whatever.  When we arrive on the other side we’re all “PRAISE JESUS,” because we made it!  But after life returns to normal…

…we might stop praising God and start going through our routines.  That’s why the Israelites get this intentional reminder as they’re about to leave the wilderness.

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the LORD you God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day” (Deut 8:10-11).

It’s easy to forget God after the wilderness.

We need to remember – to remember God as the source of all we’re given, to praise God even when we’re back home and life is comfortable and normal.  And the trick to that remembering is something we’ll do intentionally this week:

Giving thanks.

Every day we have a thousand reasons to be thankful… but they don’t shine out so clearly if we’ve been out of the wilderness for a while.  So I tried this experiment:  I imagined that I had just been backpacking yesterday, had just gotten off the trail and come back to everyday life.   Then I went over my day again thinking about all I might have to be thankful for.

From that perspective, the list seemed to write itself:

  • I woke up in a bed
  • The heat was on
  • I went to the bathroom using a toilet and washed my hands afterward with running water
  • I put in my contacts with guaranteed clean hands
  • I poured myself a glass of water from the Brita filter
  • I read my Bible while sitting at a table and in a chair
  • I did some yoga on an actual floor in my climate-controlled living room
  • I took a hot shower…

Do you get the picture?  We have so very much to be thankful for, every day…  But when I’ve eaten and I’m satisfied, I stop being so thankful.  I forget.

Even if you’re not a backpacker, I bet you can try this same trick.  Think back over the events of the past day.  Open yourself to see every single blessing.  What do you have to be thankful for?

I bet you’ll find the list goes on and on and on.

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the LORD you God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day” (Deut 8:10-11).

I started spending my summers backpacking when I was in college and working for Wilderness Trail for the first time.  June, July, and August I’d pretty much live out of my pack – all my worldly possessions in 5,000 cubic inches.  I’d come back to school and have a room, and a car, and a shower, and a cafeteria.  And I liked college, but you know what?

It didn’t even compare to how great those summers were on the trail, when I had so little and yet so much.  If I was making lists and comparing side by side, you’d think that surely I’d have so much more to be thankful in the comfort of my dorm room in Atlanta, GA than I would at some campsite long the Appalachian Trail in southwest Virginia.  But life on the trail is sweetly simple, simple enough that I never forgot that it all came from God, that I couldn’t make it through a single day without God’s help.

I have this suspicion that remembering God has less to do with how we are or are not blessed… and much more to do with how we are or are not thankful.

The Israelites, after all, come into a “Promised Land” that is – in my opinion – pretty bleak.  Parts of it are green and lush (Galilee, I’m looking at you) but much of it is brown and kind of desolate.  And yet this is the good land, the land that allows them to eat and be satisfied until they might not even remember God at all.

No, it’s not so much about whether you’re in the wilderness or a big city, the promised land or the Appalachian Trail.  Remembering God is a state of mind.

Let’s be in that state this week.  Open your eyes to all God has given you.  Say “thank you” a thousand times a day, as though you just came out of the wilderness and it’s all new again.  And on Thursday, when you eat and are satisfied… don’t forget.

It’s all God’s.  Every bit.

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