I find this statement from Jesus about not looking back kind of perplexing and frankly a little disturbing but I have recently come to see it in a new light. An encouraging one at that.
“I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9: 61,62
Years ago I was Elk hunting up in Paradise Valley south of Livingston MT. It had been a long weekend of early mornings and very long hikes, unsuccessful unfortunately, so no, this is not really a hunting story. Driving home in my ’77 Chevy short box with my hunting partner Dale, it felt good to be on the road sitting in a soft seat and moving at a pace faster than a trudge up a mountain in the snow.
We got past Livingston and onto the Interstate heading home and the fatigue started to set in. I knew I was tired but I didn’t realize I was also sleepy. I remember this well because it scared the snot out of me. As we cruised along I saw on the other side of the highway a Big ‘ol Kenworth coming down the road and as he passed I looked in my side mirror to get a last look at what I apparently thought was a real pretty truck.
Problem is, apparently I forgot to look back up from the mirror. Next thing I know Dale is yelling Dan! And I looked up to see that I was starting to drift off the road. I had fallen asleep and didn’t even see it coming. I quickly regained my wits and corrected course but I was embarrassed and stammered; “Oh, Sorry, I was just looking at that truck in the mirror.” But, as I came to the realization that I had fallen asleep and if I had been alone I may not have waken’ up—l was suddenly wide awake. That was probably 30 years ago now and whenever I start feeling sleepy while driving I still remember that experience and I pull over as soon as I can to walk around or take a nap.
An interesting statement: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9 I used to always say, if you’re looking back while your plowing your rows will be crooked. But this seems to be much more serious than that. It’s not just a matter of doing a good job of plowing, it’s a matter of life or death. Jesus was essentially telling this guy; ‘I’m sorry but if you’re not going forward, looking ahead and not letting those who are not also coming along hinder you— then you may as well just behind stay with them. You are not following me.’
He looked back and it cost him his chance to follow Jesus, to know him, to find the eternal life he was offering to those who did choose to leave all behind and follow. Looking in the rear view mirror cost him his soul—Just as looking in the mirror that day at the pretty Kenworth Truck, a truck that reminded me of my father—nearly cost me my life
I was obsessed with trucks because my dad was a truck driver, as was one of my stepfathers—I had been raised by truck drivers. So I was looking back, lulled into sleep by shiny things and visions of the past. This man was standing there, eye to eye with Jesus, yet he was looking back at his father who was beckoning; “Son, stay here, take care of me, secure your inheritance, you can catch up with this Jesus fellow later.” If not literally then certainly this was the man’s thoughts.
I believe that’s the point Jesus was trying to make and why he was so adamant as to even have scripture record this on the heels of two other like encounters—you are either following me or you’re not, there is no turning back, there is no putting it off until later— this is the day of your salvation, this is the day I am calling you.
Praying about this I saw in my mind’s eye the things in my life that keep threatening to discourage me from following; things I did, said, or thought recently or even yesterday and thought; I am so unworthy of following. You all know the feeling; “Lord how can you love me, how can you use me when I am such a miserable sinner, when I keep getting lulled back into or deceived by the same old tricks. It wasn’t so much a picture as a feeling at this point, a feeling of frustration and doubt and I thought— here’s why people let go of the plow.
Frustration, shame, weariness of the battle, the pain of serving people you love and seeing them hurt, even being hurt by them— ‘I deserve this, who am I that I should be able to boldly follow the Lord, it would be so much easier to just turn back, let go and plop down in the dirt, have a beer or 6, and just give up and give in.’ And then I saw the picture, I don’t think it was a vision, it’s just the way my mind works, I think in pictures, I even see words as I think them. I thought about this section of scripture and I saw myself holding a great sword in my hand, I turned around and looked straight at these things which were yapping at me from behind, raised that sword and brought it crashing down shattering all these lies into oblivion.
I don’t have to worry about the failures of yesterday, I don’t have to pine away for the easy life of not having to have any discipline or responsibilities to anyone who’s not giving me something in return. I don’t have to worry that tomorrow the Lord may grow weary of me and cast me aside— today I can stand firmly and securely in the Kingdom of God knowing, that I am worthy because he is worthy—that as long as I choose this day to keep moving forward, to follow him and even keep wrestling that plow through the briar patches he seems to lead me through, I will be used by him and I will be victorious in my own life.
Every day is a new day and every day is a day that the Lord has made. Who wants to go back, who wants to be stuck in the past, the only ones who aren’t moving forward are the dead. Unless of course you’re a zombie and then you just move real slow and lose body parts on the way. That sword works really well on zombies too by the way, take of their heads and they stop chasing you.
But seriously, that’s what you need to do, keep moving forward and when that zombie hand of temptation, frustration, shame and fear reaches out to snag you— cut ‘em down. Take a sword to the things of the past that keep threatening to destroy your today. Crucify the flesh—don’t let yesterday’s failures ruin your today.
Clear the table and start fresh.
Don’t let anything stop you from following Jesus, he won’t stop you, he just asks that your heart be in it. The sure sign that it is, that your heart is in it,
is the very pain that your failures and doubts can cause you.
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. Heb 10:35,36