Have you ever had those days where you wake up and have a compulsion within you to do something of eternal worth? Something that will last? Something that somehow changes things forever? The wayward teenager tags this need for immortality into cement or steel with spray paint leaving messages like “I Was Here.” (I can remember vividly dangling from a basketball back board [because I was the smallest and easiest to lift] across from the police station with a spray paint can in my hand, three kids urgently and simultaneously rasping out what to spray, a gleam in my eye, a decision made, and then a message left that was far more nocuous than my example here. Man, I was messed up.) Athletes win their way to glory. Artists try to create something unique that can garner the attention and respect of peers and plebeians. Some businessmen try to buy their way and missionaries try to serve their way into fulfilling this need we all have for purpose, for weight, for eternity.
The conversation follows. I’ve had it with myself and with others many times. You know the one I’m talking about because I’m sure you’ve had it before too. You are doubting the value of your work or someone close to you is. You smile, offer a cup of tea, or coffee and go about reassuring yourself and/or them of the great contribution and purpose of your efforts, and life while inside you fear the worst. It’s all for nothing. Like King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes late in his life while reflecting on all he had experienced, “God has set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom it.” and he sums up everything with the repeated refrain throughout the text, “Everything is meaningless.”
Well, King Solomon may have been the wisest man to ever live, but he was not wisdom incarnate. Jesus, now Jesus was that. In Luke 9:62 Jesus said, “One who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is of no use in the kingdom of God.” I thought this seemed awfully harsh when I first read it years ago. Considering the man he is talking to is saying, “I want to follow you, but let me first go say goodbye to my family.” (paraphrase by me) I mean what’s wrong with that? But then one day I was having this conversation with myself again. You know the one. Suddenly God brought those words into my heart and spoke them so clearly that my doubt dissipated like darkness in the light. “One who puts their hand to the plow and looks back…” Suddenly I realized I had missed the point. From then on, albeit somewhat out of context, that verse means something different to me.
I come from a long line of farmers. My dad was a farmer’s son who brags to this day that he could back up a tractor better than his dad at age 8. My dad’s dad was a farmer and I remember crawling up onto his lap when he sat for a spell up on the old, weathered, rusted out combine that stood (and stands to this day) where he last parked it beside the dilapidated barn. There I would dream with him of when he used to use it on the prairies we now rent out to others’ to farm. My dad’s dad’s dad who I never met home-steaded the old farm in 1904 and was the first to lay claim in that county. I have a picture of him standing proudly at the doorway to a mud shack he built. My dad’s dad’s dad’s dad was a farmer in Germany and my dad’s mom’s dad’s dad was a farmer for a small family farm in Denmark before he came to America and settled in North Dakota too. The point is – farming runs in my blood.
In that moment that God spoke to my heart I suddenly realized that if you are trying to plow a field, the old fashioned way with an ox pulling ahead, and you are looking back surely you are doing so to evaluate whether the ruts you are digging into the ground are straight, and deep and adequate. To make sure you are doing it “right.” But you see, if you do that then who is watching the front? Who is steering? What will happen? Think about it… When I was in cross country running and track (all conference, and awarded “most valuable runner” in 9th grade before my life imploded thank you very much) I learned quickly that looking to the side to see where others were only slowed me down and inevitably led me to involuntarily veer in the direction of my eyes. You lose valuable time doing that and even a slight bit alters your race. I quickly learned that my best was what I was after, and that I had to pour myself out whether I was in first or last place. My only regret would come in not having given my all. In the same way, when you look back as you plow, inevitably the plow veers and when you turn back to face forward – to face what is…you find yourself off course; the ruts meant for planting disturbed and sloppy.
It is human nature to try to look to see if we are making a difference. If what we are giving matters at all. Even if we are “right.” It’s not a bad desire. It is meant in part to motivate us towards something good, and to help us to reset our trajectory when we get off course. However, ultimately, our purpose; our worth cannot rest in any of this. If it does then our gift of our lives poured out will not be a gift at all – it will be a means to “get” our need met, our insecurity assuaged. No. we want to live from faith not fear. To give from fullness not emptiness. If I trust. Really trust in God. That He is enough. That my life is in His hands. That my future is in His hands. That my worth is defined by who He says I Am and what He did for me not what I can do for Him. That my need is met in Him and that God has good plans for me I cannot even begin to imagine. Well, if I believe that – suddenly my every move takes on a new quality and every breath is eternal. My words are eternal. My voice weaves eternity into the air with every song. I can feel it.
I have learned to say it this way: what happens after obedience is none of my affair. Who can measure a wake? Only God knows the chain of events that unfolds behind us as we walk through life. Our goal needs only to be to honor what we feel God has called us to regardless of all the rest. To truly give it our all. We are not in charge of the harvest, but we must plow and we will plant.
Solomon, well, he was a pretty smart guy…he said it this way. “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” Don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t get bogged down with yesterday. TODAY is a day meant for eternity. It’s the only one we have. TODAY do what you feel called to. Do something of eternal value and don’t worry about the outcome. Give to give not to get. And while you’re at it give it your best. The ultimate outcome is already secured for you in Christ. It will be okay. You are free to live from your heart. As Paul says, “Let us run the race that is before us and never give up!”