The frightened family packed up in the middle of the night. They could only get out with what they could carry, nothing more. The messenger gave them one stern warning: don't look back. In the bedlam and meelee surrounding them, the four of them wormed their way to the edge of the city. There were no cars to be found. There was no bus to take. This family would have to walk. Onward they trudged, fumbling and stumbling down the unlit road.
Before long, the family heard the commotion behind them. They heard the horrid screams as men, women, and children died under the fire bombs that pelted the city. When they hesitated for a moment, Dad suddenly rebuked the family, "Don't look back!" As they maneuvered through the darkness, the nameless wife and mother could stand it no more. She had to look. Most of her life had been invested in that city. Her friends were there. Her house was there. Her furnishings were there. So she dared look back. And in that one instance of regret, Lot's wife became a pillar of salt, forever frozen in time. Why? Because she craved and delighted in what she no longer had. And it cost her. It cost her two daughters. It cost her husband.
To my knowledge, that scene has never again been repeated. But how many times do we look back with remorse over what we had, not taking time to take stock and think about what we have?
Many among Israel, those who left Egypt with Moses, looked back with longing for the flesh pots of Egypt. It was symbolic of craving the sinful life. They died, wandering in a wilderness never intended for them.
Jesus said that a man, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is not a worthy disciple; he said that man is not even fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).
That is looking back with remorse. There are those who also look back with delight. Paul wrote of this in Philippians 3. He spoke of all he had before he knew the Lord. He spoke, correctly so, of his bragging rights. Then he said he would forget that which was behind and press forward. Sometimes that is incomprehensible to me. Other times I think I can grasp a little of it.
One of my friends was driving my wife and girls to the airport one day. As he turned to the right at the corner, a bag in the back seat began to totter towards one of the passengers. He looked back while he turned, grasped the bag, and tried to right it. He forgot he was turning a corner. The truck continued right; this is a mechanical law regarding steering wheels. Much to my friend's dismay, the journey was suddenly interrupted by a large tree that stood in the way of the truck. Now to be fair to the tree, it was on the sidewalk. To be fair to the sidewalk, it did not extend into the right-hand lane. It is what happens when you drive while you are looking back. That is looking back with carelessness.
I know a Christian woman who had one story to tell me each time I visited her. She was in her 60's by then. She still had a lot of physical and emotional strength; just ask her family. Yet, when it came to spiritual things, this woman could only look back. She could only tell me what she used to do some 30 years earlier. She had not done anything since then. I wanted to shout to her, "Don't look back!"
What does that have to do with missions somewhere in South America? It's kind of simple, perhaps too much so. Some of us have bragging rights. We have done well. We have seen a lot of professions of faith; we have planted some churches. We could be tempted to relax and rest on what we have done. If we are wise, we won't look back.
Others of us did not do too well, if you measured things statistically. We tried; but, based on some definition of "success," we were anything but successful. If we look back, we could be tempted to discouragement. We could succumb to those voices that accuse us of failure. If we are wise, we won't look back.
Where should we look? Wherever Jesus is! Look there. Fix your vision on him. And go where he says to go. You may not turn into a pillar of salt by looking back; but you could find yourself running into a tree. So don't look back!