In the days between Christmas and the New Year most of us pause, if even for a moment, to look back. But the Bible sometimes seems purposely schizophrenic when it comes to looking backward. So what’s a follower of Jesus to do? Look back or not look back?
Jesus plainly said, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62, NASB95) Which makes perfect sense if you know anything at all about plowing a field, looking back is the last thing you want to do if you want straight lines. Or consider Lot’s wife. She was dramatically turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back with sorrow and longing at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:26). There’s also the example of the Hebrew’s as their hearts turned back to Egypt while they wandered in the wilderness.“We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic,” (Numbers 11:5, NASB95) So they grumbled and complained. That’s a problem with looking back, we sometimes only see what we want to see.
But that’s not the whole story. Over and over again there are also markers that encourage followers to remember God’s grace. To look back as it were. Jesus instituted one himself. He instructed us to come to the table of communion “In remembrance of Me” Luke 22:19. A reminder of Jesus’ historical sacrifice and what it means to us individually. The Last Supper also connects with the Passover which is filled with encouragements to recall God’s grace of deliverance. And consider the memorial stones God instructed Joshua to assemble after they crossed the Jordan. All of these invite us to look back in some way.
Should we look back or shouldn’t we look back? Both. We want to avoid looking back with longing for the “good old days” which weren’t necessarily that great. The wilderness Hebrews demonstrated our built-in filters to remember the good stuff and ignore the bad (or sometimes the other way around). They fondly recalled the food of Egypt but failed to recall its cost in broken bodies and oppressed souls. We should, however, pause once in awhile to see, remember, and praise the hand of God in our steps. I’ve learned that we may not notice His guidance at the time but can glimpse it when we look back at our journey of faith.
So, yes. Take time to pause and look back with clear eyes. Not looking for how straight your lines are or longing for something discarded in days gone by but for the markers of God’s grace in your life. Look for the places you’ve grown in Him, the storms He’s guided you through, the dark places you’ve avoided or survived, the instances when He pulled you back from your wanderings, the slow steady progress towards a heaven planted desire, and the miracles you may not have noticed at the time and those you did see. Look back and praise God. All of these confirm Jesus’ promise to never leave us or forsake us. Something we may only see clearly when we pause, even if only for a moment, and look back.