By Drew Zuverink
"When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 'choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.'
So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, 'go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future when your children ask you, 'what do these stones mean?' tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.'"
Here is the spark notes (do kids still use these?) version of what led up to this strange command. God told Israel's new leader, Joshua, that he was going to show off a little bit so that all of the Israelites would know that God's blessing was on Joshua as a leader. God said that he was going to do a mini repeat of what he did at the Red Sea by damning up the Jordan River (which was at flood levels at this stage of the year) so that all of the Israelites could walk across to the other side safely. The way that God was going to do this was as soon as the priests carrying the ark of the covenant got to the waters edge, the water upstream would just stop flowing. And that's what happened, as soon as their feet touched the waters edge the water upstream piled up into a heap. Then God had twelve men, one from each Israelite tribe, take a probably large stone (they carried it on their shoulder) from the middle of the Jordan. They would take these stones with them wherever they went in the future as a memorial to remember the day that God showed that he was with them by doing this special thing for them.
This wasn't the only time that God had the Israelites keep some sort of "souvenir" to remember specific moments of his faithfulness. Inside the ark of the covenant God had the Israelites keep the two tablets which had the Ten Commandments, the gold jar of manna, and Aaron's staff that had budded. All of those things were memorials of specific events where God did something special.
The idea of remembering is all over the Old Testament. The animal sacrifices were a daily reminder of sin and it's severity. The Sabbath was a weekly reminder of God's provision. God was constantly telling them to remember how he brought them out of slavery to Egypt. "Don't forget," he kept on saying. God told them to remember how he led them those forty years in the wilderness because when they get to the promised land and life gets easier and they start to have plenty, it could be easy to forget who led them to that place. Remember God's commands, remember who he is, remember how he has provided for you, remember the times that he has protected you, remember, remember, remember. He even commanded them to write his commands on the doorposts of their houses so that they would remember them all of the time.
God clearly wanted his people to remember him and his faithfulness often. It was very important to him and sometimes he commanded them to take some kind of a memorial with them so that they could have a special way of remembering something that he did for them. And in a special way they could tell their children the story of how God was gracious to them when their children asked about the memorial.
How does this relate to us today?
In a life or death way I'm afraid. We live in an age where our attentions are being fought for. Literally. With so much content at the tips of our fingers (cell phones, TV, internet) companies understand that they are competing with other companies to try to get our attentions. This is being referred to as, "attention economics," and it's a multibillion dollar industry. Never has there been a time where people have been so distracted on a regular basis. In fact studies have shown that our attention spans have decreased to lower levels than that of a goldfish. Perhaps that is because the average person sees between 6,000 and 10,000 advertisements each day.
You cannot choose to be removed from the war for your attention. It's not an option. You are in it. People want your attention because that's where the money is. As Christians we also understand that not only are people fighting for our attentions but the devil is as well. Sometimes Christians make the grave error of believing that the devil uses sinful things as his weapon of choice, when really he doesn't care what we think about so long as it isn't God. I believe it was Corrie Ten Boon who said that sin and busyness are equally as bad because they both do the same thing - they take your attention away from God.
In a day where more things than ever are metaphorically jumping up and down in front of us, waiving their arms and saying "look at me, look at me!" it's so important to deliberately take the time to slow down and do the work of remembering. If we don't, more than likely the specific moments of God's faithfulness will fade from our memories and we will forget about them - because, after all, who can remember things all too well after their minds have been pumped full of 10,000 advertisements per day - and that's just advertisements!
The reality is that God shows up in our lives in wonderful ways. Evidence of his faithfulness is scattered all throughout our lives but often times we forget about them. It's a tragedy really, and sometimes after we have forgotten all of the ways that God has been faithful to us in the past, we start to doubt him when things get tough. That's devastating, to him and to us.
So what can we do?
Here are some ideas, choose a couple that work for you.
Push back against the fight for our attentions. Deliberately schedule times to slow down, stop everything and remember God. I recommend the mornings, it seems to work best, but schedule a time to sit with God in the quiet and remember him each day. If we don't plan this out in our schedules, other things will take our attention and we will forget. Not just forget to spend time with God in the quiet that day, but forget about God. Maybe start by remembering his faithfulness in the biggest ways; reconciliation through Jesus' sacrifice, saving a loved one, an answered prayer that you've been praying for years etc. and just move your way down to the smaller things.
Start a faithfulness journal. At the end of each day think about how God was faithful to you that day. Journal about it. See if you can notice moments where he showed up. Remember those moments. If doing this daily is too much try it at the end of each week.
Keep souvenirs or memorials to remember specific times that God was gracious to you. This could be a book that changed your life. It could be something from a place that you visited where God's nature really helped you. It could be a verse that got you through a really hard time - make that into some kind of wall art, tattoo it onto your body (or don't no need to get mad about that). It could be all sorts of things but having something that we can see, hold, touch to help us remember specific events of God's faithfulness helps. We all struggle with spiritual amnesia, visible, touchable reminders help.
Whatever we choose to do in order to help us remember God and his many mercies can vary from person to person. We just have to be doing something. Deliberately. Regularly. Daily. Because if the Israelites needed memorials and daily reminders in order to be careful not to forget God's goodness - surely we, in the time of attention economics, need those things as well. Probably more so.
And lest this feels like a lot of work, I dare you to try it. Schedule daily quiet time to remember God daily. Start a faithfulness journal for a week. Try it and just see if it makes you happier. Test it out and see if it opens you up to a whole new appreciation of God. I bet it will, but don't take my word for it - just try it.