Put Your Hand to the Plow

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We all know what that means, right? Work hard. Accept the task. Keep going and don’t shirk your duties. Get that hand on there and don’t quit until the job’s done. Certainly, it sounds right and in line with all the other voices we hear.

But then we have what Jesus said: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”(Luke 9:62).

Wow. That’s rough. I can’t look back? I can’t see from where I’ve come? If I focus on the past, or the things behind me, I won’t be fit for the kingdom?

I am no theologian, so this might teeter on heresy, and I’m sure many Bible scholars have a better explanation than I do, but I love life lessons and this is what I’ve been thinking about.  

Every cowboy knows that when you’re on a horse, you don’t set your eyes on where the horse is taking you. He isn’t the leader, you are. He doesn’t direct the course, you do. So, rather than put your eyes on where the horse is going, you set them on where you want to go. If you want to go left, before you even touch the reins or the spurs, you look left. You fix your eyes on where you desire to be and somehow, miraculously, you communicate that simple direction through your hands, through your legs, through your seat—and the horse knows. He understands where he is supposed to go. You’ve become his eyes. And the path has purpose.

Now, I imagine it’s the same with the oxen, though I’m not a farmer. This idea of putting your hand to the plow and not looking back, I don’t think means never quit. Although that’s good too. But rather, don’t turn to concentrate on what’s behind. What you might have missed. What you might have forgotten, or even buried. You see, it isn’t necessarily bad to look back now and again. To remember. But when we look behind for any length of time, when we focus over our shoulder and away from the end goal, the oxen choose where to go. And, trust me, they’d end up back at the barn before you knew what happened.

Perhaps the farmer looks up to see the thunderclouds and worries about the storm. Or to the side to see his neighbor has outdone him once more. Or to the ground, to the soil and the minerals he lacks to grow the finest wheat. Maybe this is the idea. Maybe when his focus is askew and the row is set off course, a zig-zag missing its purpose, the field becomes unfit to plant. Not suitable for producing much fruit.

The direction has changed. He pulls off course and heads where he never intended to go.

And suddenly he’s lost his way.

The zig-zag can have many faces. Fame. Success. Regret. Doubt. Fear. All temptations to throw us off course. To tap us on the shoulder and turn our head so our potential for the kingdom heads to the barn.

Maybe putting our hands to the plow doesn’t mean we don’t quit, but that we lock our eyes front and center, with the purpose for which we were made:  “…that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

And maybe when our eyes are on Him, we leave a trail fit for the kingdom.

 

The Hunt

Photo by Antonio Castelo from Pexels

Photo by Antonio Castelo from Pexels

Now, on to the hunt … because if there are lures in life—those dangling distractions that offer a superficial allure, an attractive promise of all we need (read here)—we better remember that at the end of each lure is the kill. And if our enemy is a crouching lion waiting to devour us, we better know something about the hunt.

Predator versus prey. Have you seen it? On National Geographic, at least? How does the gazelle escape the lion? And what are the sure-fire tactics of the predator to ensure his meal?

Once again, in their most simplistic form, here are a few:

 

1. The predator knows the prey.

He knows where to go to find them. Where they eat and hang out. Where they relax and feel safe. Where and when they let their guard down. He’s studied their behavior and can predict their movements. What becomes a habit for the prey, an ordinary pathway given little heed, a rut in the mind or in the attitude, is a calculated and observable pattern by the enemy. What’s your tendency? Where does your mind easily regress? Do you avoid? Shut down? Do you become critical of others? Angry? Do you busy yourself to escape? Be wary. Know your hazards. Because the enemy knows them too.

 

2. Go for the vulnerable.

Attack the one who hasn’t yet developed his combat skills. He’s exposed, without defense. Trusting his own instincts. His own resources. He doesn’t know the signs of danger or the mark of approaching peril. He can be the newest member or the oldest. Because even the one who’s been in it so long can forget why he’s in the game. He can become comfortable in his complacency. His lethargy. His skills have dulled. His senses have blurred. He is no longer keen and sharp to the hazards before and behind him. Although he’s been around and thinks he has it all together, he’s as susceptible as the newly born.

 

3. Get him alone.

The lion knows there is safety in numbers. He knows the strength of community. The power in the multitude. When the group is watching, when it knows the weaker points in its members, each one is guarded with dedication and passion. The others surround the struggling one until the danger clears. Until he’s up on his feet and ready to move with grace and speed. But circumvent that community. Isolate the one. Keep him from the power of the herd, and he’s easy prey.

 

4. Remain in hiding until the right moment.

The predator avoids giving away his position too soon. He crouches, drawing nearer, evading the obvious until the last second. It’s a slip. A slide in. A blending in the activity. He never races in with screaming colors to send the targets fleeing. He creeps ever closer in the tall grass.

Have you ever watched a white-tailed deer grazing in an open field? You might think she swats at annoying insects with her tail, but the flicks are actually a warning signal. A white flag. She does it randomly because she’s not sure, but the message to the predator is clear: “I already see you, even though you’re at a distance. Your sneaky tactics have been found out. And I will outrun you if you go for the chase.” And the law in nature is “Don’t expend unnecessary energy.” In other words, if the chase is a wash, if it will fail in its goal, why bother? Go back to crouching and waiting until the prey is once more oblivious of the danger.

Why bother? There is no use to attack now. That's what we want to hear. That the enemy has given up the pursuit because the one he had been stalking has figured him out. He has been on guard and is surrounded by too great a fellowship.

Do we know our own vulnerabilities? Our tendencies that draw us into complacency? Oblivion? When the predator moves in, do we know it? Are we isolated? Tired? Have we lost our focus or direction? Have we decided to go it alone?

Or, are we as calculated in watching the predator as he is in watching us? Can we sense the prowl, the slide in, the blending, before the moment of launch?

Know these things. Know who you are and where you belong. Understand the tools and power you’ve been given. And know the strength and purpose of those in your life.

Because without it, the odds are for the predator.

 

The Al-lure

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I spent several afternoons on vacation watching the fishermen on a pier in Naples, Florida. I’m not into fishing, or boxing, yet both seem to take up space in my novels. Besides the wisdom from a questionable man who boasted of wrestling a 30-foot shark up the side of the 40-foot pier, here’s what I have learned about lures.

*Novice warning: This is NOT a fishing lesson, as I know absolutely nothing about fishing. However, after being on this journey for half a century, I know a little bit about lures

Here is my simplified version:

1. Lures are shiny. They are attractive and get our attention. The lighting enhances their features, and their dance beckons the onlooker. Some flit and flop and become loud in our heads. Others wait patiently, quietly, remaining an unobtrusive, ever-present appeal, anticipating the very moment our defenses are down.  

2. Lures are chosen with great care to catch just the right fish. One lure might draw you in. A different one me. You might need a minnow. I may need a worm. The avid fisherman knows exactly which one. And the careful choice will incorporate just the right shape and size and color to be the most effective in the right moment.

3. Re-casting again and again allows the lure to be placed both in front and behind the eye of the beholder. Forward and back, glamorizing what’s ahead and also what’s behind. How we relish in and dream of the “what could be’s,” the possibilities and prospects of the unknown, while we repaint and redecorate the “what has been” until it gleams brighter than ever and calls us back to the ghosts of our past. Ah, those were the days. If only …

4. Lures masquerade as something we truly need. In fact, we question whether we can live without them. Believe me, that fish does NOT need a mouthful of plastic gunk with a hidden death hook. Yet, he goes for it, time and time again. Why? Because it LOOKS like just what he needs. It mimics the true thing. The real nourishment that will satisfy all of his hunger.

5. And lastly, lures in life are crafted and used by the wrong hands. So, never would you see the Fish Hatchery Executive Manager—the one sworn to fish birth and growth and all good things fishy—never would you see him at the end of the pier trying to snatch his little ones. No, you see the fisherman, whose desire is to catch, kill, and eat. That’s his job. That’s his determination. How many fish do you know that have been caught at the end of a line to find the reality of all their dreams come true? And yet, so often we trust it. We believe the lie. Biting “hook, line, and sinker” (pun intended) into the lure that will lead to death.

"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

Now, possibly not in fishing, but certainly in life, the Master Fisherman—the True Fisher of Men—needs no lures or hooks. His gentle voice and scarred hands are enough. No lies or empty promises. In fact, if you see them, you can be sure He is not holding the pole.

He is the real thing. Not the fabrication. Only He can truly meet the craving in our hearts and the longing in our soul.

I pray today you find Jesus, the Master Fisherman, to be everything you need.

 

Tell me what you think. I'd love to hear your comments:

Through the Eyes of a Child

Slow my heartbeat, Lord, today… until I have seen You with child eyes.

Slow my heartbeat, Lord, today… until I have seen You with child eyes.

Three times in my life I have had a vision of heaven. All three times, my eyes took in the scene around me as if I were a child. A child with unrestrained, abandoned faith. Nothing between me and Jesus. No agenda. No shame or guilt. No need to prove myself or be anything but me.  

On one occasion, I was in a meadow of tall grass. The warm breeze bent the blades and the bright sun bathed me in shifting light through the leaves of a sprawling oak. I lay on my back, gazing upward. Though I did not see the Lord’s face, I felt His presence. He was there. Close. An uncontained joy bubbled up in my heart like the giddiness of a child. So full, I nearly burst with it. As a little girl would in a field of grass, I encircled my arms about me and kicked my legs in complete abandon.

Then, enraptured with that joy, I asked Him, “What can I do for you now?”

I do not remember an answer… because the moment was not for the question. But for the joy of being with Him.

Ahh, but to live, not just through a glimpse, but my everyday through the eyes of that child. The one that is in me still, in all of us, hungry for more of Him. To throw off the burdens, the temptations, the things that wear us down and pause in our pressured pursuit of naught. To see life… to see Him… with reckless abandon.

I recently came across a quote from G.K. Chesterton that resonated with my heart. He was speaking on the joy of a child and the joy of our God…

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gone tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

My prayer today is that I would see the treasures around me… those that are new, and those that have grown too common for me to care. That I would see them, not as a sinner grown old, but with the appetite, the devotion, the reckless abandon of a child. To ask-- not with another task to check off or rung to climb-- but with the pure delight of being with Him. “Oh Lord, what can I do for you now?”

Slow my heartbeat, Lord, today… until I have seen You with child eyes.

“…Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” Luke 10:21