Saturday, March 17, 2012

Unraveling Our Rows-Us at the Plow

     "Gaze straight ahead, Sarah, gaze straight ahead."  It's mom's alto voice offering me her very best err only ( since she's had WAY more tickets than I) wisdom for driving.  We all remember--my four sisters and I--how mom would say this phrase over and over, like a 45 skipping, as we passed any other vehicle. A lot of good it did us--we all managed to back into one towering tree at the foot of our driveway so many times, mom finally had it cut down.  But it turns out, it may have been the best advice for life anyone has ever given me. Jesus once said something similar. "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62) 
     It's a passage I've read, thought I understood, and read again--maybe fifty times.  I always felt it was the verse that sort of targeted the "Lot's Wives" of the world--those people who are rescued from their sinful selves and yet they look back. With a harlot's heart, I've longed for what might have been, what used to be.  I've been one of those gals. Yeah, more than once.  But, recently, I was listening to this missionary from Australia and he expressed something further, something more than that longing for what might have been.  Looking back can also be the longing for what is.  "How," he asked, "can you plow a straight row if you are looking back?" 
     Not a bad question, and I know from experience, you can't.  Gaze straight ahead, Sarah . . . Mom always told me to look straight because if I stared at the tractor trailer in the oncoming lane, I'd inevitably veer towards it.  A veerer.  That's a good word for me, maybe for all humans. Veer comes from virer.  A French word from the 16th century, it means to turn.  Turners.  The veering kind.  I wonder, when God molded the heart of man, did he think  I will give them the ability to turn, to change course, to choose, to go to the left, to go to the right.  I'll give them head-eyes to see physical things, and heart-eyes to see spiritual things, the eyes that will allow them to long for things and people and ME.
     And I see myself, hands hoisted on worn wood handles, eyes tunneled straight ahead, plowing.  The words of Hebrews 12:2 vibrate in my heart, "keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith . . ."  My eyes are fixed, and I'm plowing this row.  Not just any row.  It's my row, the row God chose for me when he placed my soul in the womb of a Jesus loving hippie thirty-five years ago.  He knew then, chose for me then, the place, the position of this row.  Knew my row would have four biological sisters and a passel full of spiritual sisters that keep me tethered to sanity, knew my row would have a dad who thinks hard on life, a mom who has the Jesus-Spirit, and eventually a husband who would mirror God's heart to me. He knew my row would get filthy when two tumbling, bumbling, boys started littering it with their giggles, their footballs and wiggling worms.  He knew.  And he knew I'd get bogged down in the thick of loving and living.  He knew I'd start looking at all the living loves in my row and forget The Pioneer, The Perfecter. Knew I'd forget the gazing straight ahead.  Yeah, I'm the veering kind. 
     When a wheel turns over and over in the same place (veers completely, repeatedly) we call it spinning our wheels. And is it possible that just by loving the blessings more than The Blesser, we plowers can plow ourselves into a rut?  Never blatant sin.  Never adultery or murder or drugs.  Just loving creation more than The Creator.  (Shhh. It's called idolatry, but I don't like to think of myself as that.)
     Just the other day I had to drive The Marshmallow--Jeff's white F150--onto a lawn and turn it around.  I'm careful with that old tank.  It's always had a grudge against me, that truck, it insisted on getting stuck.  Naturally, the wheels started to spin on the wet grass and red clay, and my cheeks, sensing their predicament grew as red as that spattering mud.  See I've gotten that dadgum Marshmallow stuck more than once, and we've had to dig out with a shovel and stick a board under the wheel to get traction again.  So, I knew better than to get myself spun into a hole I couldn't get out of.  I put her in park and hailed down the first camouflage-hat-Justin-Roper-boot wearing guy in a four wheel drive truck I saw. 
     It's in our (the row-plowers, follower of Jesus) nature, we can tend to spin our wheels sometimes, and we don't even realize we're doing it.  We fall in love with a man and forget The Man.  We begin a career, make a decent salary, and forget The Provider.  We get busy with life and forget The Alpha and The Omega-Beginning and End.  We become absorbed in causes, in needs and forget that apart from ME you can do nothing.  We want a fancier home, and we forget we Aren't Home. We look at our neighbors row and covet.  We see sites along the way and start creating our own agenda. (Come now, let's be honest.  We plan for our retirements, our vacations, our income tax refunds based on our personal goals, and forget that Jesus gave us clear direction--The Great Commission.) We start deciding why we are here, where our row will go.  We do that. We veer. We do.
     Sometimes, though, we are like those people Paul talked about in Romans when he said, "For although they knew God (And I do know Him, don't I?  I've known Him since I was a gangly girl and he held a heart broken by divorce, when I was a tender teen and  He held a heart broken by a red-haired boy, when later He provided for husband and I because the money envelope we kept in my hand-me-down bureau was empty,when He healed though we thought death had come to take my physical body.  Yes, I have known this God.) they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened.  (And I have been senseless, haven't I?  Forgotten it was God who provides and not my husband, not the toil of our hands, but the God who gave us hands.  Forgotten it is God whose children these boys really belong to, and mine is just the honored position of steward.  And who built this house we live in . . . really?  Jeff and I for fourteen and sixteen hour days?  Or The Sustaining God that strengthened the arms and feet and sent help along the way?)  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings . . . They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen."  (Romans 1:21-24) 
     They exchanged the truth of God.  I am the way, the truth . . .  Yes, I spin sometimes because I forget that the things I see along the plowing journey--the people, the contents of a full life--are all merely images, reflections of the truth of God, but the truth?  The Truth?  That is God and God alone.  And this idea of gazing straight ahead takes on real meaning.
     "Let your eyes look directly in front of you and let your gaze look straight before you.  Make the path for your feet level, so that all your ways may be established.  Do not turn to the right or to the left; turn yourself away from evil." (Proverbs 4:25-27)
     Look directly in front of you.  That word look?  It means to consider, to see, to rest one's hope in.  It isn't a mere taking in, it's a stopping, a gazing at something long enough to attach a sense of trust or hope in the reality of a thing.  And for a follower of Jesus, we don't get the luxury of attaching reality to anything but the face of our God.  We do get to love, we do get to enjoy, we do get to embrace all the beauty that fills our rows, but our hope, our reality?  God.  Just God.  And that guy that put his hand to the plow and looked back that Luke talks about?  Luke used a Greek word that means to look at long enough to know by experience.  If we choose to experience the created and know it better than The Creator, we're not well suited for the Kingdom of God because we'll be strangers in the place that was truly our home all along.
    To plow straight, we need to look at God long enough to know Him by experience.  We need to know Him more than the other loves in our livesLove the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, you strength  . . . (Mark 12:30)  And how can we love Him if we don't know Him by experience, and how can we know Him by experience if first we don't gaze.  Gaze straight ahead, my friends, straight ahead at The Pioneer, The Perfecter of our faith.

Pray with Me:
Truth, My Reality, unravel my row.  Father, draw me to your face.  Teach me to hunger for You above all else.  Straighten my row for your name's sake.  I love you.

Listen with Me: