The end of the year encourages a lot of looking back over the past 365 days. I enjoy end-of-the-year compilations, whether they are book lists, news stories, or family newsletters.
A few years ago, a saying was making the rounds on Pinterest and Facebook: “Don’t look back: you’re not going that way.”
Is that good advice? It can be sometimes, if looking back is keeping you from moving forward, keeping you from obedience, tempting you in any kind of wrong way, fueling your longing for something or someone you should not have, or causing you to wallow in regret instead of moving on to repentance and change.
Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
Also, when God says, “Go!” then it is not time to look back. We don’t know all the reasons Lot’s family was told not to look back. And we don’t know all the reasons Lot’s wife did look back, but she was turned to a pillar of salt for disobeying. When Jesus admonished His hearers to “Remember Lot’s wife,” the context was the coming of the kingdom of God. Just after mentioning her, Jesus said, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.”
Paul said, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
But are there times to look back? This depiction of the saying I mentioned amused me, because in context, not looking back would be a major safety hazard!
There are times God tells us to look back. Isaiah 51:1 tells us, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” It is good to look back at where the Lord found us and where He brought us from. Many times in both the Old and New Testaments, a prophet, preacher, or apostle recounted Israel’s history to them, reminding them of their unfaithfulness and His faithfulness and mercy and grace. They were told to “remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no” (Deuteronomy 8:2), “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee” (Deuteronomy 32:7), “Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth” (I Chronicles 16:12).
Also, throughout the Bible God told the people to set up memorials to mark some occurrence of His help on their behalf in the past. Those memorials were reminders of what He had done plus a testimony as people told the story behind the memorials to their children.
A couple of churches mentioned in Revelation were admonished to Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent,” (Revelation 2:5), and “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you” (3:2-3).
The Psalmist said “I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy” “Psalm 63:6-7, ESV_. By doing so “satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips” (v. 5). In Psalm 77:11-12 (ESV), he said “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.” Many times psalmists encouraged themselves by looking back and remembering how God had met their needs and faithfully dealt with them in the past.
Peter said, “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour” (I Peter 3:1-2).
So, do we look back or do we not look back? We can’t live life by catch phrases. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted,” and so on. There are times and reasons to look back: to learn from our mistakes, to humble ourselves, to remember God’s help, deliverance, and provision of the past,to encourage ourselves that God is loves us, is faithful, and powerful to take care of us now and in the future. But there are times and reasons not to look back, as I mentioned above. It depends on what we are looking at and why and what effect it has on us.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our Guide while life shall last,
And our eternal home.
~ Isaac Watts, 1719
(Revised from the archives)