Looking Back

Luke 9:57-62
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

I think we can all agree that we never do our best work when we are coping with distractions. Distractions dilute our focus; they keep us from thinking clearly and decisively. Distractions also lead to poor and half-hearted outcomes. They cause us to settle for something less or, worse, to redo work we didn’t do correctly the first time.

It’s unlikely our children’s homework assignments will be better when completed with the television on. And a farmer plowing a field cannot plow straight rows while looking backward. He must focus on some objective ahead to plow straight furrows. If you want to solve a complex problem, you need to focus completely on that problem in order to consider all the potential solutions.

While it is true that reflection on the past can be beneficial and instructive, a life lived looking in the rear view mirror is mostly wasted. Dwelling on the past, whether it be on our successes or failures, keeps us stuck. Constantly celebrating what once was or grieving over what might have been keeps us from being who we need to be today and can squander our potential for who we can become.

Jesus gave this simple instruction to those who want to be His disciples: follow me. The implication?….keep your focus on me and you will benefit the Kingdom of heaven.

The Apostle Paul illustrated this same principle from his own experience.

Philippians 3:7-14
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ
9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,
14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s conclusion was that all the pursuits which he had considered priorities before surrendering his life to Jesus and choosing to follow Him were wasted pursuits; not because they were trivial, but because they were misdirected. Once Paul became a follower of Jesus everything in his life was filtered through the lens of his relationship with his Heavenly Father. The work he did, the people he trusted, the decisions he made, the places he traveled, were all influenced by that relationship.
We, too, benefit by allowing our relationship with Jesus to influence every aspect of our lives. And one thing Jesus emphasized was that we cannot become slaves to our past. We may have regrets and we may have to learn to live with the consequences of our past; but we don’t have to live under its control. Jesus died for us so that we might have life and the life He offers is abundant; full and worthwhile.

I was recently remembering and reflecting on my past with Kathy. Mercifully, we have enjoyed a life with few regrets and an abundance of joy. It’s not been perfect, but we both concluded there was nothing we would go back to change. That would only be beneficial if we could carry back the wisdom of the present into those circumstances. Since it’s impossible to actually relive the past, it does us little good to become mired in the “what might have beens” of our lives.

Followers of Jesus truly believe that He can take every circumstance of life, no matter how messed up, tragic or misguided and use it for our good. We can rarely figure out how He could possibly do that with our messes, but somehow He does.

My encouragement to you is to keep moving forward in your relationship with Christ. He will guide you and help you if you will invite Him into your unique circumstances. Then an occasional glance in the rear view mirror can actually become a joyful and rewarding experience.

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