Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on eagles’ wings. They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. -Isaiah 40:30-31
No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. – Luke 9:62
When I was a teacher, my most discouraging days often found me remarking, “I spend my life trying to sell an infinitely expensive product to an uninterested audience.” Day in and day out, I’d pour out my life’s blood desperate that these children of God should know his life-changing love. Day after day, it seemed that it made no difference.
Following Jesus can be like that. In the first flush of conversion, you take on the world, vowing to convert a nation or end human trafficking or just (just?) raise holy children. But the life of a Christian isn’t a life of grand gestures, riveting speeches or joyful martyrdoms; it’s a life of little things adding up to something marvelous.
The trouble is, those little things are exhausting.
Most of us imagine we could be martyred, but getting out of bed 5 minutes early to pray just feels like too much. We could preach to a raging sultan, just not to our coworkers. We could forgive our murderers but not the guy who cuts us off in traffic.
So we look back. We have chosen the Cross and we look back at the broad, easy road we left behind. We miss lazy Sunday mornings or guilt-free hookups or gossip or a career uncomplicated by ethics and we wonder: what if? Would it really be so bad? Just this once?
That’s how the Devil gets us: by chipping away at us, reminding us what we could have without Jesus, pointing out just how weary we are and how easy it would be to go back for just one night.
Jesus tells us that looking back means we’re not fit for the kingdom. But every one of us looks back. Maybe we don’t go back, but we look back. We wonder. We’re unfaithful, even if only in our daydreams.
But God is faithful. And he doesn’t expect you to be perfectly dedicated. He expects you to let him sustain you.
Isaiah’s promise here isn’t that we’ll never be tired. If there’s one thing I know about following Jesus, it’s that living for the Lord can be downright exhausting. But there’s a difference between the fatigue of a meaningless life and the fatigue of a hard day’s work. You find both in Christians. But in the former it’s because we’re fighting it all on our own; in the latter, we’re trusting in God.
Maybe if you’ve been tempted recently to give in, to stop fighting for patience or purity or faith, it’s because you’ve been trying to push the plow on your own, forgetting that (if you’ll excused the slightly mixed metaphor) the yoke of Christ is a double yoke, with him pulling beside you. Our strength is renewed not because he bears the whole burden but because he leads and accompanies us. The more we hope in him, the less we’re tempted to look back because we’re not running from what’s behind any more but moving towards the promise he holds out of joy and love and the peace that passes all understanding.
The trouble I had when I was a teacher—the trouble I still have now—is that I’d get so caught up in the soil I was plowing that I forgot about the fruit that field would bear far down the road. And in bending to examine how far I’d come or how successful I’d been or how hard it all was, I’d take my eyes off the goal of loving Christ and being his. Today, let’s put our hands to the plow once more, fix our eyes on him, and begin again.