All this happened so they would follow his decrees and obey his instructions. Psalm 105:45 (NLT)
Those of younger generations reading this post will have to forgive my “old man” reminiscence this morning, but reading this morning’s psalm brought back some enjoyable memories of childhood.
When I was growing up, television had four channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS). Cartoons and children’s programming were reserved primarily for Saturday mornings between 7:00 a.m. and noon. My childhood ritual was to be in the basement in front of the television somewhere around 6:30. I would endure the final half-hour of U.S. Farm Report before my weekly cartoon binge would commence.
Even in those days parents complained that a five hour smorgasbord of television would rot our brains. So, one of the networks began airing a series of short cartoons called Schoolhouse Rock which taught lessons of history, math and grammar by packaging them into catchy songs with accompanying cartoons. I loved them, as did my entire generation. I’ll never forget my 8th grade Social Science class in which one particular test was to write out the preamble of the U.S. Constitution word for word. I can still remember an entire room full of kids muttering the Schoolhouse Rock song as they wrote out the words.
Using music as a mnemonic device to remember things has been used since ancient times. In fact, psalm 105 is a ancient version of Schoolhouse Rock. It was intended as a survey of Israel’s history in musical form which people could sing and remember. The song even ends with a nice little moral, calling people to obedience in light of all God had done.
Today, I’m thankful for my childhood, for Schoolhouse Rock, and the way that music can not only entertain but also educate.
Tie them on your fingers as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Proverbs 7:3 (NLT)
In my daily vocation I often find myself helping people introduce new habits in the way they talk to customers on the phone. Most basic service skills are easy to say and do, they just require conscious effort for a time. One of the mnemonic devices I encourage with people is the simple visual reminder: Take the three service skills that are most critical for you to demonstrate and make a small checklist on the side of your computer monitor. As you’re helping the customer, you see the checklist and it reminds you to do them in the moment. It’s a variation on the the string tied around your finger that Solomon used in today’s chapter.
Over the years I’ve used the same principle with particular thoughts and verses I want to remember from our chapter-a-day journey. For example, you’ll find a small laminated card on my bathroom mirror with 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12. It reminds me each day to be quiet, productive and to be a positive example to those around me. On a 3×5 card in my leather work folio you’ll find Psalm 112 which reminds me of the kind of man I desire to be each day. I have these things memorized for the most part, but the visual cue creates an important reminder at critical moments in my day.
The verses on my mirror question my motivation as I’m shaving and getting ready in the morning. They often provides a necessary attitude adjustment before I head out into the world. I spy the card in my jotter when I pull out my folio in a client meeting. In a critical moment when I have the opportunity to be a positive influence on others, it silently reminds me to be mindful of my words and actions.
You never reach the age when simple mnemonic devices stop being useful in a million different ways. Wise King Solomon knew it as well. Tie that string around your finger. Stick that verse up where you’ll see it each day. We can all do with a little positive reminder.
God spoke to Moses: “Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them that from now on they are to make tassels on the corners of their garments and to mark each corner tassel with a blue thread. When you look at these tassels you’ll remember and keep all the commandments of God, and not get distracted by everything you feel or see that seduces you into infidelities. The tassels will signal remembrance and observance of all my commandments, to live a holy life to God. I am your God who rescued you from the land of Egypt to be your personal God. Yes, I am God, your God.”Numbers 15:37-41 (MSG)
Part of my job is to coach people to improve the customer service they deliver on the phone. Most often, the road to improvement means developing behavioral habits which have not been part of a person’s natural conversation. He or she must remember to say certain things inside their interaction with the customer.
To help people remember, I will often encourage them to use a mnemonic device – a visual aid that reminds them to say the appropriate phrase. For example, if people forget to thank customers for holding, I encourage them to put a small sticky note by the hold button on their phone with the word “thanks” written on it. When they reach over to hit the button, they see the sticky note and are reminded to thank the customer for holding.
These types of devices work. Visually seeing something that reminds us of something we’re supposed to do can help us remember. Even God knows that, and gave instructions for the people to sew tassels on their garments to remind them of God’s commands.
Small reminders can help us with much larger matters of faith, obedience, and spiritual discipline.