Twice I got lost walking around outdoors. The first time I was camping with the Boy Scouts. We had some free time and most of the kids had taken off, but I wanted to explore the woods around the campsite. So I hiked a while but eventually realized that I couldn’t get back. I didn’t know where I was! It took a long time, but I finally arrived at the campground. Fortunately, hardly anyone was there, so I didn’t have to explain myself!
The second time occurred when I was an adult wandering in some open space in Angeles National Forest just north of Los Angeles. Just like before, I enjoyed the scenery at the expense of paying attention to my location and pretty soon, I was lost. God was gracious to me again; I roamed until I spotted my car. Mission accomplished!
Periodically looking back would have clued me in about where I was and how to return to where I’d started.
My conclusion? Look back!
But the Bible appears to disagree.
In Luke 9:62, Jesus insists that “no one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” You can’t plow straight ahead if you’re looking behind you. As Proverbs 4:25 advises, “let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.” To please the Lord, you have to look ahead.
And Genesis 19:26 records that “Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had sinned to the point that they’d exhausted God’s mercy. The Lord was about to destroy them, but He sent angels to rescue a man named Lot and his family. The angels got them out of the city, but the city must have remained in the heart of Lot’s wife. She sinned, not because she turned her head, but because her action demonstrated her deepest desire. She wanted to go back. She liked Sodom and Gomorrah and if she could have returned, she would have done so. Consequently, Jesus warns believers to “remember Lot’s wife!” Don’t cling to old sins; let them go!
The Bible’s conclusion? Don’t look back!
So which is it? Should you look back or not?
It depends. Ask a deeper question. Where are you going?
Is your aim to return eventually? Do you have unfinished business, unrealized potential, or unfulfilled commitments? If so, don’t ignore them. Look back and deal with them.
When I was camping, my ultimate end was the campground. Even though I’d drifted from it, I’d always intended to return.
The same goes with my walk in the California countryside. I sought out amazing views but my unstated goal was to get back to the car. Occasionally looking behind me would have made that easier!
And the Word supports this. As Psalm 77:11 declares, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago.” Sometimes you have to look back to remind yourself of who God is and what He can do.
The prophet Isaiah gives similar advice: “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was only one man, and I blessed him and made him many” (51:1-2). Explore your spiritual heritage. Learn from those who followed Jesus before you and see how God worked in their lives. It’ll do you some good!
But if you’re focused on God’s promises for you in Christ, then look ahead!
The Lord is in front of you, guiding your steps. According to Exodus 13:21-22, “by day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” You may not yet have arrived where you want to be, but following Christ will get you there!
The apostle Paul felt this way. As he disclosed to his “brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: 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” (Philippians 3:13-14).
So what direction is your life taking right now? Do you need to revisit an unresolved issue? If so, look behind you. Or are you dreaming about your future, trying to discern what the Lord wants for you? If so, then look forward!
Where are you going? And who is going with you?