Plowing Looking Back: the Cost of Writing, Ministry, Fame, and Unpopularity
February 10, 2018
“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
I’ve been struggling. Wrestling. The Lord has given me a work, a ministry, a call. Though I cannot fully see it yet, I know it by faith and vision. So, my next step right now is to complete the rough draft of my book, and the excitement is fading into tiredness. Still not sleeping well. Been sick. And so has my child. And the Olympics started.
I realize I now have choices to make. Do I put my energy into a huge birthday party for my girl like I used to? Do I give myself permission to be a TV junkie for just this one week of the year, because it’s the Olympics, like I used to? Do I spend way too much time and energy researching 1940s hair and make-up for the big Sweetheart Swing Dance, like I used to? Well, can I at least de-stress by decluttering my kitchen and closet, like I used to?
Like I used to.
You know the verse we opened with, the one about not putting your hand to the plow and looking back? Well, the Holy Spirit keeps whispering it to me this week. Over and over and gently and sweetly, the way He does. It’s been years since I can remember reading that one, and I can’t recall the context. But it seems important to the Lord if He’s going to keep repeating it to me. So, I do what you would do. I look it up. I find it under the subtitle “The Cost of Following Jesus.” Maybe all these “like-I-used-to’s” are just a picture of me looking back. If I keep gazing back, the plow won’t go forward straight. Worse, the Lord Jesus just didn’t mess around with those three guys who did that in this passage. Three men told Him, “I’ll follow you, but first let me…” (You can fill in the blank.)
But first, let me…
Is my thought life reflecting a “but first let me” type attitude? I listed some of the more superficial things I’m realizing I have to leave behind if I’m going to keep plowing ahead. But after reading God’s Word today, I realize that deep in my soul, I have been wrestling with much more lately. I have been measuring the cost that could be to come if I keep my hands to the plow.
I wonder if that’s my delay right now. You see, I know how to plow. I know which row to complete and when to turn and work on the next. I know because I’ve sought the Lord for direction and in His kindness, He lays out the plan, steps at a time. But I’ve noticed that I’m walking the path rather slowly lately. I’m looking ahead, and I’m looking back. I’m counting the potential cost of what’s to come, and I’m slowly deciding if it’s worth the smaller costs even now.
Counting the costs.
There’s nothing glamorous about public ministry. In fact, a recent visitor at our church who is a missionary in a closed-door country told us, “Missions is a continual descent into unpopularity.” He didn’t say it to be a catchy, quotable phrase. He said it with a humility and tone that told me he has lived this deeply. This continual descent into unpopularity, pursuing our Sweet Jesus.
She Speaks, a Christian women’s writer’s conference that I attended last summer, showed me that the speaking engagements are not so glamorous—the travel, the hotels, the expectations, the time away from family. She Speaks showed me that just writing the book is only a part of the work. The rest is platform building, marketing, developing a following and developing a business. I saw firsthand the incredible amount of grace and humility required to constantly remember (and more, to remind others) that we’re gathering followers of Christ, not ourselves.
The cost of fame.
Which brings us to the cost of fame. You may think I'm ridiculous for even thinking this, but I'm fully counting the cost here. And so I just imagine that maybe, fame becomes part of this call. Now, I just got very comfortable with the call of motherhood, which is the call to unseen service. And now He calls to me out, to be seen, to do my hair, to speak, to write. What if this does bring fame? I don’t think Joanna Gaines ever thought her little “unseen” sketchbook of daydreams and a husband who believed in her would ever launch her into being a household name. I don’t think Beth Moore ever expected that her favorite place, a Bible study in an “unseen” little room, would ever launch her to a place of speaking in stadiums full of people. Or maybe they did know, in their spirits, seeing by faith and vision, what a mighty and capable God might could do with their two fish offerings.
I remember hearing Beth Moore speak one time about her transition from leading Sunday school to traveling and speaking engagements. She had to count the cost. Her family was feeling the crunch, and she knew she’d have to let a few things go. To fill God’s call, she had to let go of her favorite thing, teaching her unseen Sunday morning, the way she used to.
Emily P. Freeman wrote a powerful podcast on Fame in which she quotes Al Andrews who says, “The human soul was not made for fame.”
The truth of this hits me deeply. I can see how fame has taken the soul (and even lives) of many of my favorite “famous” people. And I see the fear in my child’s eyes when people tell her that her mommy will be famous. And she says to me later, “Mommy. We don’t want to be famous, right?” And I cannot disagree. No. We don’t want to be famous.
So I’ve just been stuck here in the field kind of pretending to walk forward, but really I’m just buying time until I decide… Is this worth it?
I finally had a brief conversation with the Holy Spirit last night about it. I wish I could remember it exactly verbatim to tell you, but I can’t. So I’ll just give you a really close version:
me: Lord, I hate the thought of my life laid out in the open, for all to see.
the Holy Spirit: Which do you hate more? The thought of losing your life or the thought of losing all these souls eternally? Because your book is the only way that many will ever hear and receive the True Gospel.
He continues: Is it worth it?
me: (a deep exhale)
Is it worth it?
How did He know I’ve been wondering that? : )
After a speechless and forceful exhale, I thought through His words. I think my first problem was not that I was counting the cost but more so, that I wasn’t realizing the potential worth of this ministry in the first place.
The Lord tells me “Thank you,” when I come to do the work on the book, “because this book is so important to Me.” It always takes me by surprise, makes me smile, and I get to it, praying along as I go. But I think if I really understood (or maybe had faith to believe) the great worth of fulfilling my call to write this book unto the Lord, then I think I could do my cost analysis without even blinking.
I think if you really understood the kingdom impact your call has, no matter how big or small, you could also do your cost analysis without a blink. Because if not Jesus, then who? Nothing compares. Nothing compares!
Lord, please help me value this message the way You do. It is, after all, the Good News of the Gospel, just rewritten according to dirty dishes, laundry, and such. If that's how you want me to share your Good News, then let me do with the readiness of the Gospel of Peace. I don't want to drag my feet anymore. What's He calling you to do to share the Good News?
Do it without blinking.
Jesus tells the “Three But-first,-let-me… Guys” that “No one who puts his hands to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Immediately after that, it says Jesus appoints 72 others. Those three were not picked. He appointed the others to be forerunners and sent them on ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where He was about to go. He sent them, saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way…”
Go your way!
Whatever the Lord is calling you to do right now, no matter how big or how small it may seem, do it with all your heart. Go your way. If only because He is worth it. He is worthy of it all. Any work done unto the Lord, whether it be to clean your toilet today or to pray for a friend or to hold a sick child or to write a song or to attack that dirty dish stack, that’s the Lord’s work. So do it all for His glory.
Jesus told the appointed 72 to tell both the people who receive them and the ones who reject them, to tell them, “The Kingdom of God has come near you.”
The Kingdom of God is near!
When I read this, my jaw dropped, because those words of Jesus have become the backbone of this book I’m working on. In one swoop, the Lord convicted me, confirmed my path, and helped me keep walking straight, following right behind Him, to till the ground for His Good News.
Let’s decide to die to self, even today in the very small things. Surrender is always more beautiful and graceful than the alternative. Today is the day to decide if you will follow Jesus no matter the cost. Settle it now. The crossroad is not the place for making the decision… that’s the place for walking out the decision you’ve already resolved to make. So if we don’t choose to follow Christ wholeheartedly now, how should we expect to when a trial or crunch comes our way?
"But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."
So actually, the crossroad is today. Not the day your life looks like a crossroads. Resolve today. This day. Who will you serve? Are you willing to be set apart for the Lord, this day?
"Now, who is willing to consecrate themselves to the Lord this day?"
-2 Chronicles 29:5
I know this is tough stuff. Trust me. I know. But if you don't decide now, when? And if not Jesus, who?
Take some time to drop a line. I'd sure love to hear what you're thinking.
Want more food for thought? Listen to Emily P. Freeman's podcast on Faithfulness, Fame and the Gift of Obscurity. It's worth every minute.