Saturday, August 17, 2019

Letting Go, Burning the Ships, & Walking Away

"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 3:13-14

I find it so interesting that two of the most powerful (in my opinion, but then again, it is ALL powerful!) messages conveyed in the Word of God consist of a total of a mere five words and are tied for being the first and second shortest verses in the whole Bible.

"Jesus wept."  John 11:35
"Remember Lot's wife."  Luke 17:32

(Any ideas on what the two-word and three-word verses are that they are tied with?  In case you don't know, I'll reveal the answer at the very end of this post. 😉)

Knowing Jesus felt such deep compassion for His friends when He saw them weeping that He was actually moved to tears speaks untold volumes about His character.  Knowing "Jesus wept" profoundly reveals the true character of God because "God is love," (I John 4:16) and Jesus is God.

I absolutely love the two-word verse, "Jesus wept," but today I want to focus on the three-word verse, "Remember Lot's wife" because God has so often brought it to mind lately.  It seems to stay in my mind nearly all the time, as my family and I continue to minimize, downsize, simplify, and shed toxins from our lives.  SO often over the course of our minimizing journey that began in 2015 and continues to this day, I have been tempted to "look back," and the Lord has reminded me to stop and remember Lot's wife.  

We all know the story about how God called Lot and his wife and two daughters out of Sodom and Gomorrah right before He sent fire and brimstone from Heaven to destroy both cities.  The angels could not execute the plan of eradication until after Lot and his family were safe.  They were to flee quickly, and they were plainly instructed to NOT look back.  

Maybe I am looking at it all wrong, and God please forgive me if I am, but I have always felt sorry for Lot's wife.  Sadly, I think I can relate to her need to look back more than I should be able to.  I have a very strong tendency to look back.  Even in the smaller things, like when Kevin, Zach, and I have enjoyed a meal in a restaurant, I always feel this need to look back and stare longingly for just a moment at the now-empty booth where we made such happy memories only a few moments before.  I think it is some sort of hang-up and probably has a clinical name, but it is what it is. 😏

Having moved approximately 47 times (no joke) while growing up, I have more than likely done more than my fair share of looking back.  Wishing for the places we used to live, wanting things to stay the same, dealing with my innate strong aversion to change, and being overly sentimental in nature, looking back is a constant temptation for me.  

When the Lord calls us out of a situation that is detrimental to us, the enemy would like nothing better than to persuade us to be drawn right back in to the misery.  For proof, just think about the Israelites.  They were tormented beyond what they could withstand, and God graciously heard their cries and miraculously delivered them from extreme, debilitating bondage to Pharaoh and the Egyptians.  But, soon after the deliverance and at the first sign of adversity, they were tempted to go right back to the misery.  Somehow, in their minds, going back to the anguish was better because it was familiar.

It is very easy to forget the grief we have been liberated from when faced with fear of a new, unknown, unfamiliar challenge.  Looking backward seems like the easiest, most comfortable option.  But, the thing is, God never leads backward.  He is an ever forward-looking God who knows that if we look back, we will remain tethered to the past and will never walk forward into the things He has ahead for us.  

It is hard to let go of the past.  There are so many parts of it that possess the potential to hold us prisoner.  When God called Lot out of Sodom and Gomorrah and told him and his family not to look back, they were being asked to walk away from everything familiar and known to them.  Though the cities had become exceedingly wicked, still, it was home.  I can completely understand why Lot's wife felt the need to turn around and look back, but in doing so, she rendered herself incapable of ever taking another step forward.  She ended up losing her life and becoming immortalized in the form of a pillar of salt to serve as a sobering reminder to every one who would come after her, and the lesson was so profound, our Lord spoke of her all those years later.

We can't relive yesterday.  We can't go back and do anything over.  We are where we are, at this season of time and life, and nothing that has happened heretofore can be reversed.  To try to keep holding on to yesterday and all it contained is a complete waste of energy.  Looking back and wishing for what used to be or what might have been is counter-productive to enjoying life that is right in front of us.

Today, I had to walk away from some things that hurt so much, I cried.  I cried, but the tears didn't stop me from doing what I knew I had to do.  I've had many such moments over the past four years since God began dealing with us to begin our minimizing journey.  I have written a lot more about it over at our other blog, Biblical Minimalism.  You can read there about how God has led us to let go and walk away from so much that was dear to our hearts in pursuit of a higher call and a more intimate walk with Jesus.    

At first, our minimizing was mostly of a physical-possession nature, but as time has passed, God has steadily maximized our minimizing to encompass the entirety of our lives.  In a post called "The Whole-Person Pie," I talk about how Biblical Minimalism encompasses the whole person comprised of eight different parts.  

Each time God asks us to let go and breaks chains and releases us from bondage, it is a painful process.  It is not an easy task to let go of the familiar, but sometimes familiar is no longer a good place to be.  God sometimes has to allow things to reach a certain height of misery before we realize that a change needs to be made.  When we recognize that need, it takes courage to let go, burn the ship, walk away, and never look back.

After I began writing this post, Zach read the following story told by Luke Smallbone of "For King and Country" concerning the inspiration and story behind this, one of my new favorite songs.

"I read a story about an explorer going to a new land. When he arrived on the shore, he calls everybody off of the ships and said, 'Hey let's go explore this land and see what there is to be seen,'" Luke explains. "All the men were terrified of going into the unknown and he realized that even though those boats were grimy, stinky, and small, they wanted to stay on the boats because it was familiar. The next day he calls them out again and when all the sailors were on land, he gives the command to burn the ships because he said, 'We're not going to retreat. We're going to move forward in our lives."
Luke Smallbone - (read entire interview here)

When God has broken chains of addiction or delivered us out of a bondage situation or relationship, it is never His intention we ever return to such, and the reason it is important to "burn the ship" is because it removes not only the temptation, but the possibility, of ever trying to.

Hebrews 12:1,2 has become our life mission.  "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."

The chapter preceding Hebrews 12 is referred to as "The Faith Chapter" or "The Hall of Faith."  It tells of flawed, but Godly people who became stalwart heroes of the faith like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Moses, the Israelites, Rahab, and many others who fought the good fight of faith without looking back, were valiant warriors for righteousness in their generation, and in the first verse of chapter 12, they are referred to as "a great cloud of witnesses."  I think of them often, and I realize that each one of them were called upon to let go of the familiar and to step out into an audacious, daring, untested realm of faith in order to accomplish God's call upon their lives.  They had to lay aside every weight, put everything they had on the line, and lighten their load to successfully run the race God laid out before them.  When God called Abraham to leave his comfort zone, he didn't even know where he was going.  He just knew he was being asked to go.  He had no predecessor to look back upon and see a victorious outcome.  He had to walk away and not look back with nothing to hold on to except the call of God.  Each one of the life stories mentioned is remarkable and worthy of deep study and consideration.  All glory to God, I not only have them as examples, but God has endowed me with a deep spiritual heritage of my own.  My dear Papaw, who others referred to as "the walking King James," my grandma "Mimmie," my own dear parents, and others have greatly influenced my life by the way they followed Jesus with their whole hearts.  Most of all, we can all look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  It is He who has called us to follow Him, and He is the one I most long to please.

As I wrestle with letting go, burning ships, and walking away from what is besetting me and weighing me down, I often hear His still, small voice.  After another favorite song below, I am sharing some of the things He has been teaching me and reminding me about HIS own earthly journey, in hopes they will help you, too, as you seek a closer walk with Him and struggle with letting go of all that holds you back.

Walking Away - Unspoken

1.  Jesus had to walk away from His old life.  At 30 years of age, He had to let go of whatever He owned or held dear to walk the lonely path of ministry, self-denial, giving and pouring His life into the lives of others, and three years later, walking the anguished steps of the Via Dolorosa that led Him to the cross.  Surely He owned things, He felt deep love and affection for people in His life, and He felt twinges of sadness over a yearning for home and what used to be.  How do I know this?  Because He was tested in every point that we are tested, (Hebrews 4:15), but He never disobeyed His Father's will, and no matter how difficult it was, He did the right thing always.  I don't even want to think about the hopelessness that would have enveloped mankind if Jesus had looked back!

2.  Jesus had to travel light.  He let go and walked away from every hindering element.  He laid aside every weight that would so easily beset Him and loved nothing more than He loved His Father.

3.  Jesus had to shed toxic relationships and move on to those who would accept Him.  When Jesus returned to His very own hometown, the people there verbally abused Him and thought He was crazy.  Their hatred for Him was so intense, they wanted to kill Him!  Talk about toxic!  They "rose up, and thrust Him out of the city, and led Him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast Him down headlong."  Luke 4:29  No wonder He said, "A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house."  (Mark 6:4) and "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.  For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household."  (Matthew 10:34-36)  He had to make the tough decision to shed relationships with those who would deter Him from His purpose and walk away from His past and move on to a people who would receive and accept Him and His word and who would recognize who He was, what His true gifts were, and who would appreciate and honor Him.  "But He passing through the midst of them went His way, and came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days. And they were astonished at His doctrine: for His word was with power."  Luke 4:30-32

4.  Everything we lay down, let go of, and walk away from for His sake and the sake of the Gospel will bring hundredfold blessings - not only in Heaven, but in this life, also.  "And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life."  Mark 10:29-30

As you have read this post, has the Lord brought anything to your mind that you may need to let go of?  Any ships that need to be burned?  Any situation, possession, or relationship that you need to walk away from?

Today is a new day.  A fresh start.  A wonderful opportunity to purge what is toxic.  A chance to lay aside everything that is unlike Jesus and that keeps us from being like Him.

I pray you find the courage to follow Him with your whole, undivided heart.

Did you happen to think of those two verses I spoke about at the beginning?
The answer for the two-word verse is "Rejoice evermore."  I Thessalonians 5:16, and the answer for the three-word verse is "Pray without ceasing."  I Thessalonians 5:17.