Looking Back to Move Forward
By Terry Nightingale
Pastor, Southern River Church of Christ
Canning Vale WA, Australia
Imagine listening to a long speech in a hot, dry, dusty wilderness in a place where you may not feel entirely safe. That sets the scene for the beginning of Deuteronomy, and it is where God wanted the children of Israel to look back and recall some painful memories and some home truths.
It was not their comfort zone.
The wonderful stories of God’s salvation, provision and faithfulness are about to be recounted, but they will be mixed with the hard realities of their parents’ sins, their leaders’ shortcomings, and their own failures. The grown-up children will need to face these if they are to enter into God’s promises. And they will face them in the place where they are most dependent on God for his provision and protection: the open wilderness - where an enemy might attack at any moment.
God sometimes chooses the wilderness to do his greatest work in us.
And sometimes the desert of dependence is the only place on the planet where we find the courage to truly face our disappointments and failures.
In Deuteronomy 1:2-3, we read:
‘Normally, it takes only eleven days to travel from Mount Sinai to Kadesh-barnea, going by way of Mount Seir. But forty years after the Israelites left Egypt, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses addressed the people of Israel, telling them everything the Lord had commanded him to say’ (NLT).
The hardest truth that the Israelites must face is distilled and focused into these two verses. What should have taken days ended up costing many years. The failure by some to be faithful to God and obedient to his Word resulted in a long and difficult journey for all.
Interestingly, Moses’ speech comes shortly after an unusual period of success described in verse four. Moses and the Israelite soldiers had just won two battles and defeated two kings.
In my own life, I have found that the biggest temptation in life is the one to believe that any success I might experience is due directly to my own cleverness, wisdom or righteousness. In those times, I need a reminder of the grace of God. I need to walk back out of the comfort zone and return to the place of dependence - the very place where Moses led the Israelites to hear his confronting message.
God is in charge and he calls the shots. Our modern world often tells us to forget the past and simply move on. The past is the past it declares; you can’t change it, so it’s onwards and upwards. But God has a habit of calling his people to stop and remember. He wants us to remember his Word and his faithfulness, but he may also want us to revisit a dark place with new eyes before moving on.
It may be the place of our own failure, or we may feel we are victims on the raw end of the failures of others. It may be that life has not granted us the success we dreamed of. As the Israelites stood ready to hear Moses’ first sermon, they were about to hear of their parents’ sins, their leaders’ disastrous choices and their own lack of faith. But there is hope – a lot of it. Sometimes looking back, with the Holy Spirit’s help, can provide the very key we need to move forward with God.
This is an excerpt from the Introduction of Looking Back to Move Forward: embracing setbacks for greater fruitfulness, my first book with Kharis Publishing.