I am a sentimental person. I cherish memories from years gone by. I look back at pictures of my children when they were just tiny babies, and I’m usually smiling and biting back tears at the same time. How did they grow up so fast? Where did the time go? It breaks my heart to know that I will never hold them in my arms as infants or toddlers again, but I smile because of the beautiful young women they have become today. It’s definitely bittersweet.
Many of us reflect on days gone by with warm hearts longing for sweet family members who have since passed on. We look back longingly on days from our youth when we felt like we could take on the world, and our only care in the world was how high we could swing before the swing set legs began to lift off the ground. There are many reasons to look back at sweet memories, and cherish those precious moments.
But, there are some things that just need to be left in the past. If we spend too much time in the past, it can not only be discouraging, but it can hinder our future. That’s especially true when it comes to our spiritual lives. I can look back at times when I wasn’t a Christian, and if I dwell on those mistakes from my past, I can start to re-live the guilt and shame. If I spend too much time looking back, I can be so consumed with the past that I fail to see what God is trying to do with my future.
I think we can all be hindered to an extent if we are not willing to plunge forward without looking back. I don’t enjoy sharing many parts of my testimony because I despise the sins of my past. But, I choose to share the story because it demonstrates God’s mercy and grace in my life, and what He can do in the lives of others. I certainly don’t look back longingly to my past life and all my failures. I choose to look ahead to all the adventures with Christ I have not yet experienced.
There are examples in the Bible about not looking back. If we look at Genesis 19, we can see a very specific case where looking back rendered a disastrous outcome. When the angels of the Lord came to rescue Lot and his family from the destruction that would soon come upon Sodom and Gomorrah because of God's punishment for their sin; the angels told Lot and his family to not look back.
Genesis 19:15-17 & 26 NIV
5 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”
16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
When I first studied this passage, I began to think about what a harsh punishment that would be for just looking back at a city. I would hate to be turned into a pillar of salt! But, as I continued to study the passage I realized, first of all, Lot’s wife disobeyed. She was told not to look back, but she did so willingly. I still don’t believe God’s punishment was based entirely upon her just looking back at the city, but I feel that it was the way she looked back. I think she must have looked back longingly at the city.
Though we know that Sodom and Gomorrah was overcome with sin and evil, I wonder if Lot’s wife looked back thinking of the home where she raised her children? Or, maybe she longed for the comfort of being in a place where she was comfortable and familiar with everyone around her. Leaving would mean starting all over in a brand new area, building a new home, and making new friends and new memories. I’m sure she didn’t long for the sin of the city, but she had grown comfortable there.
Ouch! This is where it starts to hit home. Do we find ourselves looking back at our old sinful lifestyles because of what we hate to leave behind? Do we hate to leave behind friends who are bad influences in our lives? Do we hate to leave the comfort of the familiar? When we come to Christ and surrender our lives to Him, the old man is gone. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says we become a brand new creation. If we put the brand new, clean creation back into the same old sinful environment we will continue to be comfortable with sin.
If we are going to move into the future God has for us, we have to take hold of His hand and follow His leading. Don’t look back at what the enemy would tell you, you are missing out on. If the enemy of our souls can get us to look longingly back to our sinful past, or sinful influences from our past, he has accomplished his goal. He wants us to miss all that God has for us. He wants us to become immobile like Lot’s wife. We are as useless as a pillar of salt if we are stuck in the past.
If we continue to look back, we will never realize the power and anointing God has for us in our present or future. There’s nothing in my past I would ever trade for what God has given me, or done in me. Nothing can compare to all the wonderful things He has done and is doing. God has so much more to offer you than this world could ever give. Joy, lasting peace, and eternal life with Jesus is worth more than anything your past could ever offer you. Press forward, and leave your past behind. You don't belong there anymore. You are a new creation, and God wants to use you in miraculous ways. Don't Look Back!
When I was attending the Christian Book Association Conference in Nashville a few weeks ago, I had an experience that inspired the direction for this blog. The conference was held in the Gaylord Opryland Resort. It was quite crowded on the main conference floors, but up in the media areas of the hotel, it was pretty quiet. In fact, it seemed that I was the only one there!
I was scheduled for an interview with Donna Feyen from “More Than A Review.” I was a little early, so I was taking my time and walking at a leisurely pace. I happened to notice a man softly playing the grand piano at the far end of the media mezzanine. As I got closer I decided to pause and listen for a little while. He played so beautifully, and I kept my distance not wanting to disturb him in this private moment. I just soaked it all in, and quietly prayed for God to be with me, and help me during my interview.
After a few moments, I continued on to the room where my interview was to be held. Donna Feyen was amazing, and it was a really fun interview. When it was over and I came back through the area, the man was no longer playing the piano. I really never gave him a second thought. Until…
Later that night, I was looking through the conference magazine, and I noticed that Michael W. Smith was also attending the conference. He was there to do a book signing for his new book. Suddenly the lights went on! I was standing on that mezzanine listening to Michael W. Smith playing the piano! How could I not have known it was him? Why didn’t I recognize him? Maybe I should have paid more attention. My mind was just not open to the possibility that it could be Michael W. Smith!
Maybe it was because I wasn’t expecting to see him there. It wasn’t a normal every day occurrence to just walk up on Michael W. Smith playing the piano. Since I wasn’t looking for him, and didn’t expect him to be there, it was as if he was out of context to me in that moment. I’m sure you have experiences of your own where you may have overlooked someone, or something because it just didn’t seem to fit the situation. We all do it.
As I reflected on this impromptu secret concert, it made me think of other things we tend to take out of context. One in particular is God’s Holy Word—The Bible. Maybe you have seen people who pick and choose a verse here, or a verse there and use it in the wrong context. They might pick a sentence here or there, and make it fit their own view, even though their view is wrong.
Context is the key to good Biblical interpretation. Sometimes it helps to think of the Bible as a series of letters written between different people that we are to read and learn from. This is especially the case when we are reading the Epistles—or letters—of the New Testament. Rather than being addressed to us, the readers, individually, each letter has an intended audience, and a certain cultural, temporal, and geographical context in which it is set.
For instance, let’s look at a verse that is so often taken out of context. Paul wrote to Timothy: "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent" (1 Timothy 2:11-12).
If we look at the whole picture including who the letter was intended for, the cultural norms at the time of writing, and the geographical context (the church of Ephesus) we can see this was not meant to apply to every instance of women in ministry. Paul encourages the women to learn. This was not common in the traditional Jewish culture. In fact women were very restricted in religious education.
So, why would Paul have women to study and learn at all, if he never intended for them to teach? Paul commends women for their leadership in house churches, so he is not making a contradictory blanket statement here about women teaching or leading in the churches. Instead, he is addressing the issue of certain women who were being disruptive and domineering in the worship services at Ephesus.
In Romans 16:1–6, Paul sends greetings to many friends and fellow workers in the faith. He mentions many women who have been involved in leadership and service to his apostolic work, including Junia, who is listed as an apostle. In Philippians 4:2–3, Paul references two women who have contended by his side for the cause of the gospel, an obvious testament to their work and leadership within the church.
These Scriptures attest to the fact that 1 Timothy 2:9–15 should not be interpreted as a universal rule for all women to be silent in the church nor does it imply that women should be exempt from teaching or having authority. This interpretation would be in direct conflict with the close context of 1 and 2 Timothy, as well as other writings of Paul, and the testimony about women in leadership in the early church in the book of Acts.
There are many other instances, and Scriptures I could share that are commonly taken out of context. It’s important to study the Word of God. We have to go all in, and see who the passages are speaking to, the cultural norms and customs of the time period, and the geographical context. It's as simple as who, when, and where.
It’s so easy to take things out of context, if we don’t pay attention. Study God’s Word, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to teach you. He will do it.
2 Timothy 2:15
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
Donna Sparks is an International Speaker and Evangelist. She is the Author of Beauty From Ashes: My Story of Grace, and, No Limits: Embracing the Miraculous.