Dear blog reader. This is my last post in the English language. Thank you for taking part in thoughts that I have shared. Since I will go back to and live in Sweden, my blog posts will from now on be in Swedish… and there are translation programs 🙂
‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’* How many understand that saying of Jesus now? Very few people in Europe today have seen anyone putting their hands on a plough and using an animal to pull it over the fields. Even fewer might have an idea of what happens when you look back while ploughing.
I learned the same principle, but in some sense in reverse, when my grandfather taught me to row a boat. The person rowing does not see where she is going, because we don’t have eyes in the back of our heads. (I know we sometimes ask God why he didn’t give us that as an additional option.) It is still possible to go in a fairly straight line in the direction to which our back is turned. My grandfather said: ‘Make the front of the boat point at where you are going. Then fix your eyes on a spot in the distance from where you are coming. Keep your eyes on that spot while you row, and the boat will go in the direction you set it to go.’
The ploughman will do the same, but he will fix his eyes on something in front of him. The furrow will be nice and straight – unless he allows himself to be distracted by looking at something behind him. Turning the head makes the hands follow. The animal will perceive that as a signal to change direction. The furrow will be crooked.
The question I put to myself, during these last weeks of living in Germany and being the Territorial Commander, is, should I take Jesus literally and not look back, or should I (figuratively speaking, in case you wonder) row to Sweden and look back while I’m going forward? I think I will do both.
The context of Jesus’ saying is important. Jesus had said to a man, ‘Follow me’. The answer was not “No”, but “Lord, let me first go and…” Another man took the initiative himself to ask Jesus if he could follow him, …“But, let me first go back and…”.
The basic principle is this. If we want to be part of what God wants to achieve here on earth, that must be our first priority. All our other needs and opportunities are also important, but they should not be our first love, not our first priority. If God is calling you to follow him to do his mission in the world, be careful about what you think should happen first. Is that next step God’s way of preparing you for ministry or is it your excuse to delay things?
The theme of seeking God’s Kingdom first has stayed with me since I came here three years ago. It is a fundamental principle in all that Jesus is doing. It is also something that God often reminds me of. When we first seek the Kingdom of God and seek righteousness as a gift from him, we shall have what we need both spiritually and materially. He is interested in our well-being, but our well-being starts with trusting God.
I can’t try trusting him for a year, and then give up on him if I don’t get what I want. Putting my hand on the plough, or for that matter, getting into the boat with Jesus, is meant to be a life-long relationship. Trust in him should be the foundation in bad times as well as in good times.
As I (figuratively speaking again) sit in my boat and go forward in life, I also look back at three years where I was fully in the plan of God and in his love. You, the people of The Salvation Army in Germany, Lithuania and Poland, and I have enjoyed serving together with Jesus. The annual themes during this time have inspired me and helped us to focus on who we are and what we do: Call people to Jesus. Grow in Jesus. Act like Jesus.
If someone looks at this from outside the church, focusing on Jesus might look like living in a religious bubble. But it is the reverse. The more I learn about Jesus, the more it becomes evident that God has identified with all aspects of human life through the life of Jesus.
Being rooted in our Jesus-identity is very important when working together with people from different backgrounds and of different nationalities. The Jesus-identity also gives the right perspective to our Salvation Army identity. The history, structure and purpose of our movement should always be that we are servants of the Good News about Jesus and not managers of activities.
I have always enjoyed visiting corps and social centres. These are the places where words become flesh, through actions. I have also loved working with the lovely friends and gifted professional colleagues in the Cabinet and at Headquarters. We have been one in spirit and purpose and have always known that our mission is to make God’s mission happen in the local context.
Going forward by looking back means that I will make good use of my experience in this Territory when I continue as a corps officer in Sweden.
My hand has been on the plough, on God’s calling for my life, and it will remain there. I have not looked back, in the sense that there was never another alternative for my life’s ambitions than being an officer. I am aware that I have made mistakes, but as far as I am aware of it, I have apologised to people and received forgiveness from them and from God. That’s why I have loved every appointment I’ve had, every place I’ve lived in and all the people I have served alongside.
The key words in Jesus’ message at the beginning are to be “fit for service in the kingdom of God”. Jesus is my ‘keep-fit instructor’. I am not fit for service because of my own achievements. It is all due to the reality of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I recommend you to set your hand on the plough and spend your life sowing and growing God’s Kingdom here on earth. Do this first.
This text has been published in die Heilsarmee Magazin #6/2019