Facing Forward

“And another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.’ 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 9:62).

Being raised in the suburbs, I didn’t quite get the significance of what Jesus said to this man. But then my father told me a story that made it clear.

Dad grew up on a farm in west Texas, where the area farmers prided themselves on plowing good, straight rows. In fact, Dad’s older brother enjoyed the reputation of plowing the straightest rows in the community. When the time came for Dad to learn how to plow, his father insisted that he keep his eyes focused straight ahead. “If you look back,” he warned, “the rows will be crooked.”

Ah, I get it. You can’t steer a forward-moving tractor straight if you’re looking backwards. You might even run into something. (If you’re not a farmer, try it the next time you mow the lawn; you’ll get the picture.) And even though the plows of first-century Palestine were powered by animals instead of tractors, the principle was the same. No matter how badly the farmer wants to look back and admire the freshly tilled furrows of earth, he has to keep his eyes forward if he wants good results.

The application? Christian discipleship demands constant, undivided attention. There are plenty of things that can distract us, not least of which is the past. The old life of sin that we left behind constantly beckons us to return. We may let ourselves dwell hopelessly on mistakes made along the way. We may even think too much on past successes. All of these things add up to looking back. And to look back means taking our eyes off the task in front of us.

There’s no harm in reflecting on the past; we learn from our defeats and gain encouragement from our victories. But let’s always face forward, focusing our attention, preparation, and energy on what is before us. Let us “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

And while we’re on the subject, remember: Facing forward is important, but so is moving forward. That’s when a plow does what it was designed to do; and that’s when disciples do what we were called to do. Let’s get to it. “But one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13,14).