When I read Isabella Alden's 19th century novels about the "Chautauqua Girls," one in the series absorbs me in a special way. "Ruth Erskine's Crosses" features one of the four young girls whose visits to Chautauqua set in motion lives lived for Christ. Heroine Ruth struggles with the reality of a sanctified life, mostly due to her refusal to heed the gentle, warning voice of the Lord. Now, "Pansy" (Alden's pen name) has a way of digging around in the reader's heart and asking uncomfortable questions that linger long after the book closes. That's probably why about a week ago, as I reading about Ruth's dilemma, I felt the Lord whispering that verse about anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks back isn’t worthy of Him. I filed it under “Wuh?” and asked Him to enlighten me. Yesterday, an old Chas Stanley message came to me about how God won’t give you any further direction until you act on the last one He told you—and that “hand to the plow” phrase echoed. I was willing to listen but confused. Was there something I was looking back on, hanging onto and making myself unworthy of Him? I started asking Him to show me what He was talking about…and this morning, He did.
Gently but firmly, the Holy Spirit pointed out what I was looking back on, what I was holding on to that made it awkward (if not impossible) to put my hand fully to the plow—my ultra-fulfilling past as a Christian wife and mother. This past week would have been my 40th wedding anniversary; I still mourn the wrenching death of my marriage and wish I could re-enter that season I always refer to (usually with tears in my eyes) as the happiest time of my life. I know now He’s telling me I must let go of that in order to take hold of His plow and start putting down some serious furrows in my corner of His field. And stop looking back.
I got that “air sucked out of the room” feeling that presages His presence in a very distinct way. Again I heard, “Put your hand to the plow, daughter, and don’t look back…” A slideshow of images started flipping through my mind’s eye and His choice of object lessons was interesting: Lot’s wife, the prophet Samuel, and Dicken’s Miss Havisham.
Mrs. Lot: a wife being mercifully led to a new place of peace and safety who couldn’t help looking back towards her former “beautiful” life. Her longing backwards glance transformed her into a pillar of salt—bitter, immobile, useless except as a warning about the dangers of not moving on, not yearning for a past that’s busily being consumed by God.
Samuel: God rebuked Samuel when the old prophet kept weeping over King Saul’s dethroning. “Now the LORD said to Samuel, ‘You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem.’” God told me my apron-clad married life had become my Saul. Saul, God's chosen king, was rejected because of his disobedience and Samuel, who had a vested interest in him because he had anointed him, kept clinging to that glorious moment. Because of my ex-husband’s disobedience, my happy Christian lady married-with-kids life is no more. Like Samuel, hanging onto my dead hopes and memories is threatening to destroy my present joy in Him and my future harvest in His field. Trying to return to a place God has departed is dangerous and foolish, just as surely as Saul’s murderous javelins threatened David’s life when the shepherd boy kept trying to sing peace within that disgraced palace. It’s over. Leave already. And shut the door behind you. God’s got something else for you to do.
Charles Dicken’s Miss Havisham: This pathetic character from Great Expectations unexpectedly loomed up, entombed in her wedding finery, cobwebbed and crippled by her reaction to betrayal, unable to do anything but sink deeper into herself and mourn for what could never be and, in actuality, never was. Another vivid object lesson.
So, I’m filing my flask with oil and going to Bethlehem to discover what God has anointed for me. From His birth, Jesus took no thought of His former “happy life” in Heaven, but put His hand to the plow of humility and discomfort, suffering all kinds of indignities and trials in order to bring me to God. “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your soul. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light,” He says. I’m asking Him to help me drop what’s in my hand, grab the plow, stop looking back, and work in whatever field He’s laid out for me.
“Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.” Hosea 10:12