Looking back… What’s your motivation?

looking backAs I pondered today’s reading from Genesis 19, verse 26 settled quite firmly into my thoughts, particularly as I remembered Jesus’ exhortation:

But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
-Genesis 19:26 [ESV]

“Remember Lot’s wife.” -Luke 17:32 [ESV]

What did Lot’s wife do that was so bad that she would become a pillar of salt? (Can’t you just picture her turning into little particles, scattering in the wind?) Scripture doesn’t tell us why she looked back, saying only that she did so as she fled Sodom with her husband, Lot, and their two daughters. We do know that it took some serious persuading for them to flee, and that Lot pleaded not to go too far.

The angel said to Lot that he could do nothing until Lot was safely in Zoar, the plain city that was to be spared at Lot’s request. As Lot arrived in Zoar, the Lord rained down sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. But Lot’s wife was behind him, and she looked back. Did she intentionally lag behind, reluctant to leave her home? Or did she stop short of the safety of Zoar and turn to watch triumphantly as the Lord destroyed Sodom?

Only God knows what was in her heart when she turned to look back but, whatever motivated her action, it certainly caused her destruction.

Looking back… The beginning of a new year often is the impetus for me to look back on the previous year. Perhaps this is an annual practice for you, too. It’s not a bad one–in fact, it can be quite instructive. But there are two emotions that can really trip me up:

  • Pride. I can look back and be quite pleased with my accomplishments, allowing my ego to get puffed up. This can cause me to hold on to success as though it defines me, giving my life purpose. But what happens when God wants to lead me to something new? Am I willing to release that success, those accomplishments, and venture into uncharted territory?
  • Regret. I can look back and regret what I left behind or what I feel was lost. Perhaps I did allow God to lead me into something new, but it required leaving other things behind. Finding that I am in a place of uncertainty, am I longing for what was safe and familiar, not quite trusting that God will be faithful?

“On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”  -Luke 17:31-33 [ESV]

But when I consider the context of Jesus’ admonition to remember Lot’s wife, I can rest assured that when my practice of looking back is motivated by the desire to see how God has been at work in my life the previous year…focusing on and celebrating his goodness and his faithfulness towards me…then I can rest assured that my life is secure and that I am safe in the place of refuge God has made for me!

 

Joseph’s Bones

And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt… Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.”  -Exodus 13:18b-19

In her Advent devotional Lighted Windows, Margaret Silf suggests that the Israelites carried the bones of Joseph because “he was their dreamer, the symbol of their God-dream.” She goes on to encourage us to carry our dreams with us, too, because it gives us the energy we need to continue our journey. Ministry is hard work. Indeed, it is joyful work…but hard, nonetheless. When we get tired, it’s easy to lose our way, to forget why we began this journey in the first place. Our vision becomes cloudy and the Voice that called us seems so distant now.

Advent is a notoriously busy season for anyone in ministry.  For those serving on the staff of their church, there is a church to decorate, extra worship services to plan, Christmas celebrations to attend, and visits to the homebound and the sick. For those in ministry outside the church walls (i.e., all Christians!), there are angel trees to coordinate to provide gifts for the poor, Christmas banquets to feed the hungry, coats and blankets to collect to give some measure of warmth to the homeless. Add to all of that the decorating of our homes, the gifts we purchase and/or make, the extra baking for cookie exchanges… Suddenly we find ourselves tired and confused, wondering why we began this journey in the first place.

That’s when it’s time to take out Joseph’s bones.

Create space for some quiet reflection. Remember the times when God unmistakably touched your life, when he called you to this particular ministry path–whether it is in the church, in the home, in the community, or in the marketplace. Remember when you knew beyond a doubt that God was leading you purposefully. Margaret Silf refers to this place of remembering as “a sacred space and a still center in all our confusion,” and she encourages us to return to it regularly for replenishment.

God’s voice is still there, even in the midst of the busyness of this Advent season. We just need to remember the sound of that Voice in our ears, then wait quietly and listen patiently once again.

advent