“How shall we sing the Lord's song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!”
There are seasons of life when I've had heightened clarity about God and my life in view of Him. I experienced this during a period of intense grief. I needed God to be God; I needed God to be right when He promised that there would be a far better day coming. During this season, heaven felt more real than this life. I saw my need to be delivered from this world's darkness as dire. So, my view of the salvation I have in Christ grew correspondingly. A couple of months into grief, I remember praying that I would always remember God that well, that I would not lose the clarity that I had gained.
These verses in Psalm 137 were written while the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon and very likely were written by someone who witnessed the ruin of glorious Jerusalem. How would the Israelites remember their God without the city where God chose to manifest His glory among His people? Can you feel his anguish and grief?
This was a moment of clarity for the Psalmist to see God’s glory and presence as utterly important to existence. With this very remembrance of what Jerusalem meant to him, the Psalmist would be able to praise God despite his captivity. The desire of the Psalmist’s heart was for a spirit of remembrance that would abide just as the skills of his right hand abide when working or the use of his tongue abides when talking.
What could you never imagine your mind or hands forgetting to be able to do? For me, it's writing. I could hardly imagine forgetting the skill of constructing words and phrases into thoughts and theses. The joy that God has given us in Christ is the same as our dearest skills—as integral to who we are as what we daily do.
While already true, we can also note that the Psalmist has a tone of admonition about not forgetting: “Let my right hand forget its skill…if I do not remember you.” Echoing the Psalmist, I pray: Lord, may I forget how to form sentences if I become someone who forgets You—who forgets what Your glory and presence mean to me as my highest joy.
Simply put, one way to not forget is to cultivate a practice of remembering. Remember who God has been to you, how He has saved you, and how He has made you sing His song. Our human need has always been dire; the Psalmist knew how dire was his need to remember God after Jerusalem was ruined and he found himself in a land that did not serve Yahweh as the one and only God.
In our need, God has always been faithful—not only in our individual lives, but also throughout history. He is writing His story of holy glory through this world. Whatever our circumstances today, we can know the joy of having a spirit of remembrance about His evident presence. We can recall His enduring glory by remembering how we have experienced our salvation in our times of most heightened clarity. The joy it brought, it still brings.