"...forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." [Php 3:13-14].
All throughout the holy Bible, we are instructed again and again not to look back, but to keep moving forward in our spiritual journey.
In the above-referenced verses of Scripture, Saint Paul teaches us to forget what is behind and to strain toward what is ahead.
Christ also issued the same instructions to us when He taught as follows: "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God." [Lk 9:62].
Also, let us not forgot the angels’ instructions to Lot, his wife, and his two daughters, as they fled from Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of God’s wrath: "Flee for your lives! Don’t look back..." [Ge 19:17]. Unfortunately, Lot’s wife ignored this warning, let curiosity get the best of her, looked back, and was instantly turned into a pillar of salt.
What a price to pay for looking back! But I do not believe that Lot’s wife is the only one who has had to pay that price. In many ways, we all suffer consequences whenever we stop in the middle of our journey in Christ in order to ‘look back.’
Looking back is often a Satanic trap - a trap which I have fallen into time and time again. I have my traps, and you have yours, but they are traps just the same. What Satan uses to cause me to stumble may be completely different than the trap which he sets for you. His goal, of course, is to hinder us in our spiritual journey, and causing us to look back is one of his favorite weapons.
Sometimes, when I grow bored, I make the mistake of going on the Internet in order to Google people in my past, people whom I haven’t seen for 20 or 30 years. I even Google little boys and girls who sat with me in kindergarten class at my old parochial school.
Perhaps you’re thinking, "Well, what’s wrong with taking a little stroll down Memory Lane in order to see what the people in your past have been up to?" Remember what I wrote earlier: you have your traps, and I have mine. Satan doesn’t have in mind for me a pleasant stroll down Memory Lane. He has entrapment and ensnarement in mind. When he sees me turn on the computer in order to ‘Google the past,’ he knows that I’m his, and the taste of inevitable victory grows sweet in his mouth.
As I stroll down Memory Lane with the evil one close at hand, he takes the time to ‘show me the sights’ and whispers in my ear: "Look at so and so! She’s written a book. This one has a Ph.D! That one worked as an intern in the White House! Wow! So and so has become a lawyer! Check this out! This one has opened up his own business and has become quite wealthy! So and so graduated the same year as you, yet she looks ten years younger. Look at the beautiful home of your old friend!"
After listening to my miserable tour guide for an hour or more, the evil one then moves in for the kill: "What have you done compared to these? Why, you’re nothing but a low-achieving loser!" At that point, I completely crumple up and fall into a pit, plow and all, where it’s very easy for me to remain in a depressed state until my beloved Shepherd rises from His throne and comes to my rescue once more.
When the evil one cannot get me to walk with him down Memory Lane in this way, he simply finds another way. Did you ever walk past the department in a store in which televisions are sold? Sometimes you’ll see 20 or 30 televisions on at the same time, all showing different pictures. Satan loves to set multiple television sets up in my mind so that I find myself thinking of 20 or 30 different unpleasant memories at the same time! He gleefully hits the remote control, turns up the volume, and then turns to study my reaction. What appears before me on these particular screens are old resentments, bitter memories, and past offenses which people have committed against me. As I stare into these screens, I find myself dwelling on and re-living these painful moments all over again, and what this does to my spirit is beyond devastating.
Another favorite trap which Satan loves to use is what I call the Good Old Days Trap. We all go through times in our lives when the dark storm clouds gather, and we find ourselves walking in a gloomy, miserable, and lonely valley where absolutely nothing is going right. Perhaps we’re unemployed, bogged down with the responsibility of raising children, growing older, in poor health, or a lonely housewife. In our discouraged and despondent state, Satan loves to come before us with his screen, film projector, and microphone in order to play back for us the ‘good old days.’
"Lonely son of God, look! There you are in the days when you had a great paying job! Look at the clothes you were wearing and the car you were able to afford back then! Remember the vacations you used to take? Remember all of the girlfriends you used to have when metabolism was your friend and you still had hair?
Lonely housewife, check out this slide! Do you remember this? Here you are, gathered together with all of your co-workers enjoying drinks and good times at the office Christmas party in the days when you were at the peak of your promising career! Such camaraderie! Such hopes for the future! See how happy you looked then, surrounded by all of your friends? Why did you flush it all down the toilet in order to get married and raise a family? What have you done with your life?
Remember how good life was when you were young and single and could come and go when you pleased? Remember when you had energy, stamina, and unbelievable creativity? Remember how popular you were in college or high school? Now, nobody gives you the time of day! What happened? Where did you go wrong? Surely, you must have taken a wrong path somewhere to end up where you are today, and where you are today is nowhere!"
I could go on and on, brothers and sisters, but I’m sure that by now, you get my point. Maybe your traps are past mistakes, sins, or wrong choices that you have made. Instead of moving forward in your spiritual journey, you find yourself stopping and wondering what your life would have been like if only you had made a different choice or taken a different path.
The problem with dwelling on the past and looking back is that it keeps us from focusing on the present. There are things which our Heavenly Father wants to teach us and cultivate in us in our present circumstances. If we’re focusing on the past, we won’t be open to what those lessons are. When we are not open to what God is trying to accomplish in the present, we become hindered in our journey and stop moving forward.
This happened to the people of Israel over and over again when they traveled in the wilderness on their way to the promised land. Instead of moving forward, trusting and believing in God, they kept looking back to the ‘good old days’ in Egypt. "Why did we ever leave Egypt? There, we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but Moses has brought us out into this miserable desert to starve this entire assembly to death." [Ex 16:3]. Because they insisted on constantly looking back, they were unable to focus on what God was trying to teach them in the present. In the end, this tragedy delayed their entrance into the promised land.
Looking back is a trap, brothers and sisters. It’s an age old trap that we must continually guard ourselves against. The Apostle Paul taught that we are to "forget what is behind, strain toward what is ahead, and press on toward the goal in order to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ." [Php 3:13-14].
In my own life, I have found that the best way for me to combat the temptation to look back and re-live the past is to spend much time with our Father in prayer. Prayer does for me what nothing else can. When I spend time with the One Whom I love, he takes my heart and mind away from this world with all of its ‘TV screens’ and distorted views and sets them once more on things above, where Christ is seated at His right hand. His Spirit gets my spirit back ‘on line.’
I feel His love for me as I pray and pour out my heart to Him. I see myself through His eyes, and not man’s eyes. His love for me becomes my confidence and assurance, and I find myself being lifted out of the pit, plow and all, once more. He sets me aright, and I am able to move forward in my journey once again.
I also find that time spent in His Word helps me as well, for it causes me to see things from God’s perspective, and not the world’s.
Whenever I put my hand to the plow and look back, I inevitably end up stumbling and falling into a pit. It happens every single time.
Only eternity will reveal how many more things I could have accomplished for my Loved One if I had not wasted such precious time licking wounds in a miserable pit, a pit that I fell into because I decided to stop in my journey in order to look back.
Long ago, our Lord Jesus Christ approached a man and said, "Follow me." The man’s response was, "Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first, let me go back..." He wanted to go back in order to say good-by to his family and to wrap up his affairs.
Likewise, Christ is calling us to follow Him and to move forward. But, like the man mentioned in the Bible, we say, "Wait, Jesus. Let us stop. Let me go back, back to the past, if only for a few, brief moments."
Jesus’ response to the man mentioned in the Bible is His response to us as well: "No, my child. No. He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is unfit for service in the Kingdom of God."
Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, let us press on toward the goal to win the prize for which our Beloved Father in Heaven is calling us heavenward in Christ.
For a child of God, there can be no looking back. In our spiritual journey it is not possible to move forward and backward at the same time. We are called to move forward, always forward.
Long ago, in the days when Jesus still walked the earth, He issued the following warning to His disciples: "Remember Lot’s wife!" [Lk 17:32].
His warning to them is meant for us all, for He knows the pits and snares and traps that await us should we choose to ignore His words.
Therefore, let us remember Lot’s wife, we who are dearly beloved of God...
...and let us remember her very, very well.
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