Looking Back to Look Forward

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. 

2 Corinthians 3:18-4:1 NLT

This time of year always grips me with stress and fear. Not necessarily due to the busyness of the holiday season, (although that is certainly there) but because of all the unknowns looming in the year ahead. As disciples of Jesus, however, we are called to allow tomorrow to inform the decisions of today, but return to the urgent business of the living present, in the moment. In other words, we are wise about the future but we do not live there.

In C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters if you are not familiar, a devil writes his nephew a letter to encourage him on how lure men away from God. Regarding the future he says:

[God’s] ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him. But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future — haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth — ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by so doing we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other — dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see. We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.

c.s. Lewis, Screwtape Letters

Personally, my year has been chock-full of grief and stretching; some for my good and some seemingly pointless. Those close to me have had their share of burdens, and I’m willing to bet that you also have. Be assured: He knows the pain and wrestling over the most honest and raw prayers that keep us up at night. Only He can see the knees bent on cold early morning ground and the tears that fall secretly. I wish it were not only the struggles that bow our heads, but also that praise would elicit just as much desire for you. Whatever the cause or result of sorrow, we must look to Him who holds it all together, who remains crowned and on the throne.

I know there are some sisters out there who are weary and burdened. I want to encourage you today, that you are not alone, you are seen, you are loved by the King of Heaven. But don’t take my word for it; see the evidence for yourself. 

In Exodus, God promises Moses that he will be allowed to see God’s back, but not his face. We can see him looking back, but he does not allow us to see him coming.

The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”

Exodus 33:19-23

I love this verse because it just reminds me that God can always be seen in everything, even if we can’t understand or comprehend it when it first happens. The Bible consistently exhorts believers to look back and remember.

Then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 

Deuteronomy 6:12


Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,

Isaiah 46:9

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

Psalm 77:11

For myself, He has seen fit to allow me an incredible amount of growing and stretching this year. This year I have come to deeply understand and appreciate how very deep the chasm between the Word of God and my own earthly life.

He has taught me to pray correctly. And has led me to apply the things I am learning. He has led me to holy sorrow and repentance by revealing my sins to me and then forgiving me on the spot.

He showed me that I am a being designed to be thankful all the time as a result of my nature, not because of favorable circumstances.

He has given me a renewed enthusiasm for quiet time in the morning for prayer and to linger over scripture. He has provided me in my quiet times, ample space to analyze, question, wonder, confess, wrestle, cry, laugh, praise and sing.

Reflection

Think back (or make a list, whichever is more helpful!) contemplate God’s faithfulness to you over the past year.

  • How has He shown up for you?
  • What prayers has He answered?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What do you know now about God that you did not know 12 months ago?

And so we find that we must look back in order to look forward; anticipate the coming year, not with dread but with awe and reverence, owning that there is still so much more to learn and puzzle over as we are sanctified. Do not forget. In Jesus’s name we are able to confidently march into the future with heads and banners held high on behalf of the lamb of God. 

Called to Encourage

Yesterday my close friend and I gathered in my living room amidst toys, empty juice boxes, and unfolded (but clean!) laundry. We buzzed with excitement despite the mess as we shared what God has been teaching us this week through Scripture, prayer, and everyday life. Hopes lifted up, tears shed, hearts humbled in prayer. Like that, an hour and a half flew by and it was time for her to leave, even though we could have kept going for hours. After I closed the door behind her,  reality hit once again. My circumstances hadn’t changed one iota, but my outlook was re-energized and refocused.

But be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.

Ephesians 5:18 – 21

God has recently put a strong desire on my heart for committed fellowship. And it’s no coincidence how God brings people into your path because it turns out, I’m not the only one feeling this way. He had stirred up a desire in some of my closest friends in Christ who are also faithfully seeking after God’s will. 

Having received this confirmation, I immediately set to work creating a manifesto for the group. In my vision, these sisters would be privileged and committed in the Spirit to sharing, encouraging, rebuking, and praying for one another. An accountability group, of sorts.

Now, I know that this may sound a little extreme. Like something only people with serious addictions have. To be honest, it’s not that far off the mark; technically we believers do have serious addictions to rebelling against God. The need for commitment to community and fellowship is written all over the Bible:

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

James 5:16

Fellowship and accountability is not only portrayed as wise, it is for safety, it is for love, and it is for the good of the whole community. We realize that life happens and circumstances change so this won’t last forever. However, in our desire to remain faithful to the very end we will do what it takes to stay vigilant in faith and not stumble.

This is what I imagine Heaven will be like – an eternal meeting of souls that love Jesus, overflowing with hope and uncontained zeal for his Word. While Heaven is going to be an indescribable experience, we luckily have the chance to enjoy a taste of it here on Earth.

Reflection

  • Read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
  • What would it look like to start an accountability group within your circle?

Put it into practice

Feeling challenged to gather some pals and start doing the same thing? Please download the Accountability Group Manifesto below and make it your own, as the Spirit leads. And then tell me in the comments how it goes!

Who is this King of glory?

Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, The LORD, might in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, That the King of glory may come in.

Psalm 24:8-9 NLT

Take a little extra break here, fudge on the speed limit there. Tell a white lie to get out of a commitment. Look the other way when a Sister or Brother should really be confronted.  Serve the Lord or serve myself? Decisions, decisions.

This is hardly an exhaustive list of all the ways in which I choose my ways over God’s ways throughout the day. And what a laundry list it can become depending on how closely I keep track (assuming I don’t fudge on that too!)

One thing is for certain, I can pretend that my sins (read: disobedience) just float off into the atmosphere never to be dealt with again, like a lost balloon. Unfortunately, lost balloons have to come down sometime, and thus it is with sin. As a semi-mature believer I know two things right off the bat: 1. God desires obedience…  2. So that I will live the best life possible as I was designed to do.  (Joshua 1:8; Luke 11:28)

From simple experience, I already understand that when I decide to walk away and follow my own path, I start to go down a slow downward spiral, causing separation and isolation from Him. Not to mention from my fellow believers and loved ones. I know that when my heart isn’t in it, Bible reading becomes like a chore and I have no interest in the things of the Spirit. God promises to reveal himself to us when we seek him, but it is a conscious effort that requires our decision to do so. While He makes it possible for us to seek and find him, he does not force himself onto our agendas. Instead, he desires our first step of faith.

Whoever would draw near God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6

And so my life is a see-saw of constant conversion. Several times a week, sometimes even several times a day, I have to first identify whom I will serve, and then confess it. “Who is this King of glory?” Who is it that I am effectively worshipping with my words, actions, attitude? Is it the Lord, or is it myself? 

Then as though that weren’t difficult enough to rip my natural impulses away from the comfortable easy route, I must proclaim him as my Lord again. Because if I don’t make an obvious effort to turn back to him, who’s to say that I ever repented at all?  He is the Lord, strong enough to handle my wounds, uncertainties, sins, prayers, questions. He is the Lord, mighty in battle – who battles on my behalf. 

And here’s the best news: No matter what circumstances you may have that caused you to push him out of your heart, however temporarily, for whatever reason, He is faithful to return and restore the brokenness. 

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Psalm 51:17

He won’t force his way into your love, but he will enter in where invited. Why? Because He loves us more than we can imagine but he also respects our decisions like a good Father (Revelation 3:20).

So dear friend, if you happen to be far from the Lord at this moment, consider this the push you have been waiting for to return to your Lord, your King of glory. He is always good and always faithful.

“Choose today whom you will serve… But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

Reflect

  • In what area do you struggle with obedience?
  • What keeps you from repentance?
  • Read Joshua 24:14-15. What would it look like to obey in the particular area the Holy Spirit has brought to mind?

Pray

Spend some time reading and meditating over Psalm 51. God loves to hear from you. Bring it to him in prayer, trusting that he will not reject your heart as you seek his way.