I think we have a tendency, generally speaking, to remember personal sleights, offenses, and mistreatment far longer and with deeper antipathy than we remember the kindnesses done to/for us through the years. It seems endemic to our nature to “hold on” to past wrongs done to us. Even after we have “forgiven” some abuse in the past, we still often conjure up resentment, mistrust, and bitterness whenever reminded of such outrages leveled against us. This is often codified in the false statement, “Well, I’ve forgiven him, but I’ll never forget what he did.”
We are great “forgetters”, however, when it comes to the undeserved kindnesses and grace that has been granted to us from others. Oh, we are very thankful at the moment of the boon afforded us at the moment of its extension. But the rapidity of the fading of the remembrance of that benefit is sometimes startling.
Such was the case in 1 Samuel 23. In this chapter, David is on the lam from his father-in-law, King Saul. Saul has become insanely jealous toward David because he senses the hearts of the people are going over to him. The crowds would chant, “Saul has slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands” after a military victory. When coupled with Samuel’s pronouncement that God had torn away the kingdom from Saul, and given it to his neighbor who “is better than you” (1 Sam. 15:26-28), Saul recognizes David is the threat to his reign and to the future reign of his progeny, Jonathan. And so, Saul is out to kill David.
While David is fleeing the constant schemes of Saul to capture and kill him, it comes to David’s attention that the city of Keilah is under a series of attacks from the Philistines who are robbing the threshing floors of the Keilahites (23: 1). David was incensed over this. His natural reaction was to rush to the defense of his countrymen. But, as a wise and spiritual man, he sought counsel from the Lord asking, “Should I go up to Keilah and attack the Philistines?” When the Lord said yes, he should go up, David’s men demurred saying they were already fearful about the trouble they were having with Saul. How much more trouble would they be in by facing the Philistine army? So, David inquires of the Lord again just to be sure and the Lord affirms that he will give the Philistines over to David (23:2-4).
So, David and his men went up to Keilah and delivered the city in a great victory. But Saul was never far behind David. It came to Saul’s knowledge that David had taken up residence in Keilah. He saw in this a perfect opportunity to capture and kill David because he was now “shut up” in a city rather than roaming the countryside.
When David learned of Saul’s plan, he again goes to the Lord and he asks if the men of Keilah will surrender David to Saul. The Lord’s answer was, “Yes, they will surrender you up.” Wait! What? This is the city that so recently was delivered from the oppression and attack of the Philistines by the hand of David and his men by voluntarily coming to their aid. They are now going to throw David and his men under the bus at the threat of Saul coming? Yep! You see, it wasn’t about what David had done for them, it was about what David had done for them lately or what he could do for them in the future. As soon as trouble appeared on the horizon, they quickly forgot the kindness David had extended to them.
Sadly, this seems to be our fallen human nature. The good done to/for us is soon forgotten and the only question is, “What can you do for me moving forward?” I see this over and over again in an infantile, adolescent kind of Christianity. Infants and adolescents are not often mindful of all the good done for them. In the case of infants, they do not yet have the faculties. In the case of adolescents, all they can think about is the “no” you are giving to them in this circumstance while disregarding all the “yeses” of the past (a generalization, but apt I think). But I see this in adults too. It is often more hidden and clandestine, yet it exists. I’ve been in ministry for 40 years now, and I cannot count the times that the church has poured out love, money, help, and concern toward some in the time of their need only to see them abandon the church a few months or a few years later. I have often said that it seems the ones for whom you do the most are often the ones who will abandon you the quickest.
In the human realm, this is disturbing. In relation to God, this is treasonous. How often Christians are like this toward God! As long as the good comes, the blessings flow, and life is copacetic, we are all in. But let hard times come, let tragedy strike, let finances fade, and comforts cease, and many will soon forget the lifetime of God’s unmeasured blessings and bemoan and complain to God that “this is not fair”. Or they will say, “Where are you, God, when I need you?” The years of God’s goodness begin to melt away in the presence of the inferno now raging. When this happens, we are virtually saying to God, “It is not what you’ve done for me, but what have you done for me lately?”
In contemplating this idea this morning, in my prayer time I spent a moment thanking God for his innumerable kindnesses to me in my life, but especially in the 45 years I have been a believer. I said, “Lord, if I never receive one more good thing from your hand in my life, I will thank you and remember all you have done for me.”
I don’t want to be that guy that is always asking, “God, what have you done for me lately?” You?