What’s Keeping You Back From Going Forward?

Our family went to see Cars 3 a few weeks ago (just a tip—the AMC in North Ft. Myers has a cheap rate—about half the price of anywhere else—being frugal is a Christian virtue!).  For those who don’t have a wonderful nine year old and may not have seen the movie, the plot is something like this.  Lightning McQueen, a rising rookie in the first installment of the series in 2006, has achieved much success.  However, the more than decade that has passed since his debut has also led to McQueen getting passed by a new generation of racers.  Lightning is given one more chance to strike a win by an auto executive named Sterling.  Part of Sterling’s plan to restore McQueen to his former glory is to put him on a training regimen which involves seeing Cruz Ramirez, a new school master motivator used to train many of the modern top racers.  Ramirez, though an animated toy car, encourages the racers under her tutelage to use every experience in life to help bring them success going forward.  She has all the one liners of worldly wisdom, wit, and attitude that fully display the classic hallmarks of today’s life coaches, self-help gurus, and sadly, many pastors as well.

I give that as an introduction because someone looking at the title of the article this month may think that I’m going to give some witty one liners and succinct self-help fodder, but I assure you I am not.  When I ask the question, “what’s keeping you back from going forward?”, I’m not speaking of going forward into a new job promotion, going forward into a new relationship, or going forward into a new season of wealth or favor.  As a Christian minister, my concern is “what’s keeping you back from going forward” into a deeper relationship with God, going forward into a greater knowledge of His Word, going forward in your Christian service, and going forward into a greater lifestyle of holiness.  We are going to look at this issue by examining Numbers chapters 13 and 14 which recount to us the story of the 12 spies Moses sent out to survey the Promised Land.

You Can Be Held Back Because You Are Looking For A Backup Plan…God had long promised to give His people the land of Canaan.  As Moses and the Israelites were marching out of Egypt and towards the Promised Land, 12 hand-picked spies, one from each tribe, were sent out to do recon work.  They were gone forty days and returned back with a report declaring that, just as God had said, the land was good and flowing with milk and honey.  So far so good!  Then with one word the report of 10 of the spies turned south, that one word was “nevertheless.”  In essence they were saying, “God has told the truth about so many things, BUT…”; “God has a plan but it CAN’T work so we’ve got to go to a fallback position, let’s go find a backup plan.”…

I remember a man coming to me 15 or so years ago.  His marriage was in trouble.  As we began to talk to one another his conversation seemed to be dominated by thoughts such as “if she divorces me then I can do thus and so about such and such.”  I stopped him partway through our session together and told the precious young man that as long as he was looking for a backdoor he couldn’t be fully committed to the house.  In other words, if his heart and mind were taken over by thoughts preparing for the aftermath if things didn’t work out, then he couldn’t possibly put forth all the effort, love, affection, kindness, and commitment he should to help save his family and follow after God’s Word.

I could not guarantee the young man that even if he did give his best that his marriage would work out because there was another party involved that may or may not seek to go after God’s Word and God’s will.  However, the spies weren’t dealing with the promises of a fallen human lacking in wisdom, power, and virtue, but with the promises of the one, true, living, Almighty God!  Yet they were looking for a back door as revealed by their “nevertheless.”  Are you looking for a backup plan if this “Christian thing” doesn’t work out?  Do you believe that God has told the truth about so many things BUT…?  If you’re interested in a backup plan it’ll keep you from moving forward in life, in godliness, and in love for Christ.

You Can Be Held Back Because You Focus On The Greatness Of Your Enemies…After the word “nevertheless” the 10 spies began to tell Moses and their fellow Israelites about how great their enemies were who currently dwelt in the land.  The Canaanites were certainly big enough on their own but became even larger as the ten faithless agents used exaggeration comparing them to the Nephilim, the giants from the pre-flood world mentioned in Genesis 6:4.  As the people of God focused on the enormity of their enemies, they viewed themselves and, more importantly, the Lord as not being up to the task…

We have an adversary, the Devil, who roars around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.  The smartest and strongest man, indeed the smartest and strongest collective of men from all time, could not stand up to the wiles and warfare of Satan.  This Fallen Angel is not to be taken lightly and any Christian who does so has made a perilous decision.  That having been said, I know of believers who are looking for the Devil under every bush.  More of their prayer time is spent trying to discern the power of Satan rather than proclaiming the power of God!  A seminary professor of mine wisely instructed that “whoever has your attention has you”, and sadly for many professing believers they give more time and attention (and truth be told more credence) to the workings of the eternal Liar than the work of the eternal Lord!

C.S. Lewis had it right when he said that the two mistakes we can make with regards to the Devil are first not to take him seriously and second to take him too seriously.  Facing Satan on our own we will fail, both individually and collectively.  Facing Satan as believers in Christ empowered with the Spirit and informed by the Word we know that “if God is for us who can be against us” and that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church.”  Are you enamored by demons?  Do you look for one around every corner?  Do you focus on the Devil and the power of his work?  If you overly focus on the “greatness” of the enemy, it’ll keep you from moving forward in life, in godliness, and in love for Christ.

You Can Be Held Back Because You Lead Others Astray…The Scriptures record that 600,000 men were led out of Egyptian bondage by Moses.  This number would rise dramatically of course when you take women and children into account.  Twelve spies were sent out, ten of which came back with a faithless report.  These ten not only refused to go forward, but their words were so convincing that they led nearly the whole of the rest of their people to go astray as well. The Israelites disbelieved the Word of God, started an uprising against Moses, and would have stoned him and Aaron were it not for the Lord’s intervention…

I remember preaching a message years ago entitled “Drownings and Amputations: Seriously.”  The text came from Matthew 18 where Jesus instructs that those leading others astray (little ones are especially in view in this passage) would do well to have a millstone hung around their neck and then be hurled into the sea!  Scriptures repeatedly record that as bad as it is for an individual to rebel against God and to disbelieve His Word, it is multiple times worse for that individual to lead others away from the Lord down a road of unbelief.

When someone has influenced others in a certain direction, it becomes hard for that person to repent from falsehood, to go a different way, because even if they were convinced they were wrong and wanted to turn around, to do so would cause them to “lose face” in front of their followers.  When an individual has led others astray they are under a heavy hand of God’s judgement should they not repent.  If you lead others away from God, it’ll keep you from moving forward in life, in godliness, and in love for Christ.

You Can Be Held Back Because You Pine For The Past…The spies, and under their influence the Israelites as a whole, so disbelieved the Lord’s Promise that they yearned for their life back in Egypt.  Now their past was one of bondage, yet they said that they’d rather return to slavery where at least they knew they’d have a penance of food and a veneer of safety, than to go forward by faith into the freedom that God would provide.  The people even went so far as to pine for a replacement leader for Moses to take them back to Egypt!…

We won a GPS a year ago; well, more rightly said our sweet nine year old won a GPS.  He was so excited to get it hooked up and to see how it works.  Now I had heard of a GPS before but I had never had one personally (and certainly wouldn’t have been willing to pay the price for one!).  I didn’t know what to do with it but my wonderful wife and our precious boy had it up and going in no time.  We tried it out on the next trip that we took.  I knew one way to go but the GPS had a different idea.  The woman’s voice coming out of that machine kept telling me, “perform a u-turn whenever possible”, “perform a u-turn whenever possible”, “perform a u-turn whenever possible.”  And on and on it droned on. She (the GPS woman) is nothing if not persistent!  But I didn’t want to perform a u-turn!  I knew the way and I wanted to go forward, not backward!

The Bible (our heavenly GPS!) clearly teaches us that we are to forget the things that are behind and press forward towards the mark of the high calling of God that is in Christ Jesus.  The time we spent in the things of this world apart from the Lord is sufficient—not one more day, not one more thought, not one more word, not one more deed should be spent going down the path we were on before we were made a new creation in Christ!  For the child of God “the glory days” are always in the future, never in the past!  Whatever trouble you may have experienced in life, be encouraged, there is no earthly hurt that Heaven can’t heal.  Whatever triumphs you may have enjoyed, be encouraged, the very best that you may have known on Earth is but a down payment of what Heaven holds, merely a foretaste of glory divine!  If you pine for the past, it’ll keep you from moving forward in life, in godliness, and in love for Christ.

You Can Be Held Back Because You Stubbornly Do It Your Own Way…The ten spies were struck with a plague and died.  The unbelieving generation of the Israelites who had believed their bad report were disciplined by God and told that they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years, one year for each day that the spies had been on their reconnaissance mission.  Furthermore, not one of the Israelites more than 20 years old (except for Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who brought back a faithful report) would even see the Promised Land for they would perish in the desert.  The people heard these words of punishment and mourned greatly, not because they were sorry for their sin, but because they were sorry for the consequences.  Rather than genuinely repent and ask for forgiveness, they stubbornly decided that they would go forth towards the Promised Land despite the declaration of punishment that God had given them.  Moses warned them but they went their own way, thinking they could thwart the judgment of God.  They were soundly defeated and chased as many as 100 miles in the wrong direction!…

I was a part of the Math Team in high school.  Most of our competitions were in Tampa but some were out of state.  One such event occurred in Birmingham, Alabama.  Our team rented two cars, Crown Victorias.  I had never been in such a big and luxurious vehicle before.  Our math coach wasn’t familiar with the town and this was before the days of GPS.  He ended up going the wrong way on a one way road which quickly turned scary for us in that big city.  Our car was big, but not big enough to handle several oncoming vehicles!    Thankfully he discovered his error quickly and went about the process of correcting our course.

As silly as it may sound, there are people who persist going the wrong way on a one way.  They are so stubborn about doing it their own way that they care not the consequences.  There are many unbelievers who think they can approach Heaven any way they wish, even though Jesus says that He is THE way, THE truth, and THE life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him?  How many professing Christians think that they can live however they want and God will be okay with it?  How many professing Christians think that they will somehow grow spiritually apart from the disciplines of Scripture reading, prayer, and church faithfulness?   If you stubbornly persist in doing it your own way, it’ll keep you from moving forward in life, in godliness, and in love for Christ.