George Santayana, the American thinker and poet is famous for his statement “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Essentially, we need to learn from what has gone before. This needn’t be a negative thing concerning learning from our mistakes.  It can be a very powerful, positive way of finding great encouragement.

The Psalms are full of examples of the writer reflecting on what God has done for him or his people in the past and using it as a way to find courage for the present and hope for the future. Some memorable ones are Psalm 27 (“The Lord is my light and salvation – whom shall I fear”) or 89 (“I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever”).   And few people are unfamiliar with Psalm 23, a great statement of confidence, based on what we have learnt of God’s compassion and care, that he watches over us in every situation of our lives.

But not all reflective psalms have a happy ending. Psalm 44 is a good example.  Read it through and note the pattern it follows. The writer begins (verses 1-8) by remembering the stories which have been passed onto him about the amazing things God has done for his nation in the past. If you know the old version of the Book of Common Prayer you may recognize some of these words from the Litany!

But his reflection on the past soon brings his mind to the present (verses 9-16).  Now his nation’s army is not doing so well. The enemy seems to have the upper hand. Where is God in all this?  And this leads to confusion in his mind.  Why is all this happening to God’s people, even though they have not been unfaithful?  The psalm ends up in an almost despairing rant against God.  “Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?”   (verse 24).

Most psalms seem to end on an upbeat note but this one still asks the question, why? It reminds us, perhaps, of the poignant words of Jesus on the cross which we shall be heard on Good Friday, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  The agony of an apparently unanswered cry for help (almost certainly quoted from Psalm 22).

So no neat ending to this Psalm. And in a way that’s reassuring. Most of us have at some time felt like shouting out loud to God when we were desperate for him to act but he appeared to be inactive. It is the very fact that we know from past experience that God isn’t uncaring that we can ask the question or even get angry when he appears not to hear. After all, as the writer notes in the final verse, God’s love is unfailing.

Some things you might like to do.

Write down some examples of how your experiences in the past have helped you to face the future.  To jog your memory perhaps find a photo album, or a picture file on your phone or tablet, of an event or time spent with people you love.  Thank God for what the event meant to you.  Pray for the people involved.

Are there stories you know from God being at work in the world in the past that encourage you to believe that he is able to work in new ways in your life or the life of the church in the future?

Find out about someone whose experience of trusting in God’s love and power enabled them to make a difference to the people around him or her (eg William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale, William Booth, Gladys Aylward …).  Thank God for them and ask for similar faith and courage as you try to live for him.

Use the chorus of the famous hymn (sing it if you dare!) to stimulate a moment of reflection, perhaps at bedtime this evening:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God has done!

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Does reflecting on some aspect of your life or the world make you feel angry with God? Are you able to tell him how you feel?