Put Your Hand to the Plow and Look Back…but Also Don’t Look Back

 

One of the more disheartening experiences is when you try frequently but see little to no progress. This is true no matter what you are referring to. Let’s take reading for example. You pick out a book (or maybe a textbook) and you try to read it. But you only read a few screen flips of the book on your phone, or maybe a page from the paper copy. The next day you try again. But life is so filled with responsibilities that you only finish another page. After a few days you see your book mark in almost the same spot and that feeling of defeat gnaws at you.

It’s right about this point that we usually put the book down.

But if we plod along and and keep reading a page a day, eventually we will finish the book. And then another one. And then another one. It might not be speed reading, but it is reading. And if we were to stop at some point and look back at our reading list, we’d see progress.

So we need to commit to our tasks, even when we don’t see big changes. But after a time of plodding along we can be encouraged (hopefully) by stopping and looking back to see the progress.

There is value in looking back.

But it occurred that this is a good practice for more than just writing or reading. It’s a good practice for the Christian life. We put our hand to the plow of following the Lord, and we take off after Him. After a while, take a look back and see how far He has brought you. Being able to see how the faithfulness of God in your life over a long span of time is a reminder that we can trust Him.

Don’t believe me? Let’s try something. Look at yourself today and pick a fruit of the Spirit. Would other people describe you as a loving or kind or patient person? If you are like the rest of us, you are probably struggling to answer that question. It’s a tough question to answer. After all, how loving is enough to be recognized by that trait? It can be difficult in the present to see our progress. But try looking at yourself 5 years ago. How loving or patient or kind were you back then? Now compare that to the present. Any difference?

We can see the work of God in our lives a little more clearly if we look back a few years. Remember that your standard is the fruit of the Spirit. It is not to be “better than you used to be.” But if you can look back and keep from making “progress” the standard, you will be encouraged by the many ways you see God’s work in your life. So put your hand to the plow and remember to look back.

But wait, didn’t someone tell us not to put our hand to the plow and look back? Did we all just become heretics?

The Wrong Way to Look Back

Jesus tells us to put our hand to the plows and not look back. Does this mean Jesus wants us to forget everything that has happened in our lives? I doubt it. Let’s think about what He is communicating in this verse.

In the context of Luke 9:57-62, Jesus is speaking to those who would be His followers. Each has offered an excuse to delay following Him. Jesus is addressing excuse-making and reluctance in His statement. The picture is that of a farmer who is about to plow a field, but then looks longingly backward before he even begins. Is he second guessing his plans? Is he coming up with an excuse to put off the task at hand? Jesus is telling His would-be followers that following Him cannot be delayed. You cannot wait follow Him. You must immediately follow Him.

The takeaway for us is that we need to be fully committed to the following Jesus. He has given us a commission to carry out. Don’t delay in following Jesus. Don’t be halfway engaged in your church, in the ministry, or in the great commission. Purpose today to set aside any distraction from your life with Christ.

The Right Way to Look Back

But “looking back” can refer to both of the above situations. The Bible forbids a reluctance or delay in following the Lord. However, the Bible encourages believers to remember what God has done in their lives. That kind of looking back is the good king of looking back.  Paul has this in mind in 1 Timothy 4:15 when he urges Timothy to work at the ministry. He says “take pains with these things,” basically commit and give serious effort. He then gives a reason, “so that your progress will be evident to all.” Paul is saying that eventually Timothy would begin to see progress in his own life if he were to devote himself fully to the ministry God had given him. This kind of looking back is not at all connected to regretting or doubting following Jesus. This kind of looking back is more like looking to see how far Jesus has brought us.

I find Galatians 5 helpful for this reason. The twin lists of the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit are like a report card. I can read the lists and fill out my grades anytime. And while this practice might be disheartening at times, it is often just as encouraging when I see the ways God has worked in my life.

Slow Sanctification

Looking back to see what God has done can be very encouraging and can demonstrate the power of God. We get to see how He has been working to change us more into the image of his Son. Want to be encouraged today? Here are a few ideas to help you see God’s work in your life.

Look back a few miles

Do you remember the person you were when God saved you? What were you like? What did you like? What did you hate? What did you spend your time? Now compare that to who you are today. See any differences? I hope you do! Don’t get prideful of course, any change is due to the grace of God and the Spirit who indwells you. But will you praise God for the progress?

Look back a few feet

What about last year? When you think of how God has worked in your life, what was your temper like last year? Your greed? Your lust? Your jealousy, envy, and all the rest? Your obedience to your parents? How does the “you” of today stack up against the “you” of last year? Do you see the progress of the Word and the Spirit are working in your life? Will you praise God for this?

Set Your Mind in the Right Direction

Colossians 3:1-2 are some of my favorite verses. We are to be seeking the right things. What are those things? They are the “things above.” Too often we set our hearts on the world and not on the Word.

If you find yourself today overcome with despair the state of your walk with God, try adjusting your gaze. Take an inventory of where you started, where you were a year ago, and where you are today. Remember that God has promised to complete the work He started. See the progress. Trust the Lord. Get up every day and purpose to humble yourself before the Lord (James 4) and in due time, He will lift you up.

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