And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luk 9:59-62)
The human mind has an instinctive inertia about it, a tendency in one way or the other, to prefer the past over the future. Sometimes this tendency is expressed as a desire to preserve tradition. The public and family traditions that we have lived with create a stabilizing influence that gives us a sense of security and connection with past generations. An annual event, such as a school or family reunion, can be a time to reminisce over that past, mentally living once again the events that have shaped our lives. At other times mental inertia may be expressed as a ‘conservative’ influence. If something has worked in the past and is working now, then we should not change it, people will say. Change carries with it a risk that the change will make things worse rather than better. It isn’t too difficult to understand this natural tendency to prefer the things of the past. An instinct for survival leads us to prefer what is known over what is unknown and since we have lived the past we consider it to be the known. The future can be daunting and intimidating simply because it is yet to be lived and thus unknown. Tradition, routine, and habits give us something firm and stable to stand on in an often changing landscape of physical existence.
Yet, as the saying goes, if you keep doing what you’re doing, you will keep getting what you’re getting. Change is often forced on us, therefore, simply because the way things have been done is not working anymore. Change can be traumatic and unsettling because of the uncertainty about result of the change, but is usually accepted when we can no longer accept things just the way they are. If we find that the way we are living is causing problems, or not solving existing problems, we will then seek some way to correct the problem. Bad habits, health problems, loss of a job, financial difficulties, and personal conflicts, are all conditions that can force a change that we had no intent to make. Unfortunately, the desire for change is often a desire to return things to a past that is perceived as having been better. The desire for change isn’t really forward looking in that case but is simply the carnal nature seeking a return to a known, stable, or familiar condition.
It is much more difficult to seek change when there is no obvious reason to change things. If life is perceived as good, stable and rewarding, people will rarely seek a major change in their lives. Of course, we all seek new experiences, new acquaintances, or perhaps even a progressive change that will make things even better. For those reasons, man will suggest new things to do or new ways of doing things, but it is usually within a limited scope. Even in those cases change may be met with resistance if the change is great or perceived, largely unknown, or altering the stability of life. That resistance is likely to be even greater if the promised improvements don’t happen quickly.
Overriding all of this is one great certainty. Things will change whether we want them to or not. Every moment of life is a change from what was to what is and then into what will be. The ‘now’ is the only thing that ever exists, yet we carry with us a memory of what was and an expectation of what will be. Living in time, the past and future do not exist as actualities, but only as a mental image. That mental imaging of the past and the future is the very mental inertia that I began with. We will constantly compare the ‘now’ with the ‘was’ and base our decisions to act so as to achieve a ‘will be’ that meets our desires.
The Bible is filled with stories of change in the conditions of life. The books of Exodus through Deuteronomy tell the story of the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt to arrival at the Promised Land. That story of the change from one place and condition to a new place and condition is filled with insights into how people react to change. Moses begins with a demand of Pharaoh to “Let my people go” and when Pharaoh refuses, God steps in and forces a change. The resultant famine, plague, destruction, and death that came on the Egyptians but not on the Israelites, was the very force needed to create a change in the conditions. It’s a good lesson to remember. When God says, “Do this,” and you refuse, conditions are likely to start getting worse and worse until you get the message and make the change.
The Israelites, freed from bondage, are faced with a different challenge. While they were free and loaded with the treasures of Egypt, there was no way of knowing how they would get from Egypt to Canaan. They had to pack everything up, get on the journey, without knowing how the journey would be accomplished. How would they get across the Red Sea? How would they make it through the desert? All of those things were unknown at the time the journey started. The message is clear, I think. When God says, “Go,” you go without worrying about how you are going to get there. This is the essence of faith. We trust God even when we don’t know how he will fulfill His promises to us. We know that He will, just not when or how. To concentrate on the uncertainties, as the carnal mind tends to do, is to replace faith with doubt and lose the promise of God that He will deliver you.
Having been delivered from bondage, one would think the Israelites had it made. Yet, human nature took over quite quickly. Almost as soon as they got to a stopping place, a place where they had to wait on God for a while, the doubt set in and the grumbling and mumbling started (Exo. 16-17). At one point some actually suggested going back to Egypt where they had fish and “leeks and garlic” and not just the free, daily banquet of food that God provided! (Num. 11). That’s a good chapter to read if you want to understand how God deals with those who complain about His blessings. They got exactly what they asked for up to the point that it killed them. The lesson they learned is one we all need to keep in mind daily. God put up with their doubts and murmurings for a time, but the point came when He said, “Enough!” The complainers died in the wilderness and never reached the Promised Land. If you wait too long, as the Epistle to the Hebrews warns, you can lose the promise altogether. God will remove the doubters and raise up a new generation that will be obedient to His commands and praise Him for His blessings. That new generation does not have the traditions of the past that create the inertia against change.
All of this understanding of God’s way is summed up in the statement of Jesus in Luke 9. The image of looking over your shoulder while plowing a field is a good way to describe the inertia of the mind against change, the holding on security of tradition and place of comfort, and the loss of opportunity. The farmer must look ahead and not back. Seeing where you have plowed doesn’t show you where you are going and doesn’t allow you to see the obstacles in your way. There are many aspects of this statement. We cannot hold onto the things of the world while seeking the greater things of the spirit. We cannot use the excuse of what others may think, or what other perceived obligations we thing we have, to avoid obedience to God’s command. All of those excuses are just ways of trying to preserve the security of the present against the uncertainty of the future. All of them show a lack of faith.
How much better it would be for all of us if we can keep this in mind at all times. Things do change. The work of the Kingdom of Heaven and of spiritual renewal is a constant process of change. If we do not seek out that leading into change by God, we will always end up in the situation of falling back and failing to enter the Kingdom. There is no resting place in this world except in Jesus. If we do not seek out God, do not seek for constant spiritual growth, do not seek for new opportunities to share the Gospel, God will create an uncomfortable situation that will force the change on us. So often people will complain about the situation they are in and never come to understand it is God’s way of getting them to move from where they are to the place He wants them to be. As the Apostle Paul found out, it is not good to kick against the pricks.
“And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” (Heb 12:5-8)
Healing from the past is another subject. But, briefly, it comes through a process of recognizing the spiritual forces that were at work on you in the past and then rejecting them. It is what we call repentance. Repentance is that turning away from one thing towards something else. To avoid holding on to the past, and to avoid having the past hold on to you, is a matter of objectively understanding what mental inertia and spiritual forces have been at work in you and then casting those aside – letting it go – and seeking a new spirit that will generate a change of heart.
The statements of Jesus on this point are clear and unequivocal. When He calls, and sets a work of God ahead of you, there is no turning back, no going back, and no looking back in longing for what was. In the same way, there can be no holding onto the failures and mistakes of what is in the past either. The promise of His kingdom lies in front, not behind. The life of faith is one lived looking forward to the future where the promises of God are waiting for us. The work we do is always moving on and plowing forward in anticipation of what God will do when we trust in Him.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. (Heb 12:1-3)