"Onward Christian soldiers,
marching as to war
with the Cross of Jesus
going on before."
A simple beautiful hymn written by Sabine Baring Gould in 1865 for children to sing as
they marched across the bridge on their way to the Parish where they would engage in
religious studies, giving them the ability to struggle against the sin and wickedness of
the day. Equipped to move onwards!
I too want to sing this hymn as I march forward, as I keep my eyes fixed on Christ as I pursue Him, His ways and His Kingdom. OH how my spirit jumped at the word “Forward.” Because yes - I want to keep moving forward. I never want God’s word to become stale and the desire to know Him to be blunted, but I know in my heart that I have to fight to stay in that place of closeness, of hearing and being nourished by Christ Himself. I can listen to sermons, and there is a smorgasbord out there to teach you, motivate you and feed you all day long. I can go to church three times on a Sunday, attend bible studies and conferences to my heart’s content but none will satisfy that deep need for fellowship with God. The sermons will for a time be exciting and challenging to my mind, church will meet the need for fellowship with others but only at the feet of Christ will I find the water that lives, the joy that strengthens and the encounter that separates me from the world and reveals God’s Kingdom. Only as I press into Him will I move forward. It was the wonderful, inspiring evangelist Smith Wigglesworth who saw the lame walk, the blind see and the dead raised who wrote this, “Always advancing, there is only one way for you between Calvary and glory, and it is forward. It is everyday forward. It is no day back. It is advancement with God. It is co-operation with Him in the Spirit.”
Jesus put it this way.
No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.
Wow ! That caught my attention. And then I began to unpack what he is saying. In the context of Luke 9: 57-62 the Lord is calling us to be single-minded, committed to following Him and not allowing ourselves to be distracted and drawn back into the things of the word. Forward is in the direction of God’s Kingdom, understanding that life is all about Him and His kingdom, not partly devoted to His ways but thoroughly committed. Once born again there is only advancement, no going back. He chose to use the example of the plow because he lived in an agricultural age and his audience would have understood the metaphor. When plowing a man kept his hands on the plow and looked and walked forward. To let go or look back would cause the plow to till crooked furrows and this would spoil the harvest. The Lord would have us bear much, much fruit! So – there can be no crooked plowing! No looking back! The Apostle Paul on the other hand speaks about our lives as a race. Just as an athlete gives his all to running and not only finishing his race, he commits to winning it and
gaining the prize. He wants to do the very best that he can.
1 Corinthians 9:24
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Paul is not talking about competition here but rather the effort and dedication required
to run this race. Again in Hebrews 12: 1 he exhorts believers to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and to run with perseverance, the race marked out for us.
Again the emphasis is on pressing on, pushing through and not being drawn to the
left or right…….. Forward and on! The Lord says, “I will make your path straight.” It sounds so wonderful, so exciting and my whole being says yes! But I know that in myself I cannot do this. For a short spell yes but I know how easily the world trips me up, unsteadies my pace and at times the temptation to let go and look back is very real. This race is full of up hills and the road is not smooth, but praise God I am not asked to do this alone and in my own strength. This is a journey, a race in which God Himself not only equips me, but runs the race with me. For it is in Him who gives me strength that I am able to do all things. I remember so clearly a time when I was studying and I had one module to go and I would be finished, but that one module was so dry, so boring and I could not see the point of it. It would have been so easy to just say, “Enough.” And my friend pulled me up reminding me this was the last lap, it was like the steep hill at the end of the cycle race, the Cape Argus, held in Cape Town. That hill was called Suikerbossie, Sugar Bush and was a long and arduous uphill slog to anyone on a bicycle. And so, I was told to “Push and press on, there was no way back.” In God there is only plan A and it is always Forwards!
So practically how do we move forward, how do we pull ourselves out of that place of dryness and no motivation and even fear? Let us always remember that God has given us the promised gift of the Holy Spirit and it is because of this gift that we are able to live in obedience to God and to live our lives empowered by the Him. It is not in ourselves. And I know that I have learned to ask. I ask the Lord to stir me, I ask Him to fill me, I ask for more of His Holy Spirit. I ask that I may love Him more and obey Him more readily. Shamelessly I ask and am never afraid to ask. The Lord pours out what we need and expects us to ask.
What was a shadow of inhabiting the promised land in the Old Testament is now fulfilled in the New Testament as we are filled with the Holy Spirit becoming part of God’s glorious Kingdom. May we therefore never neglect the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the Living God who comes to dwell within and does not leave us as orphans. He is the Counselor, He will lead us into all truth, He will tell us all that He hears from God the Father, revealing all that we need to know. He will comfort us and strengthen us. He will magnify Jesus so that we can see and understand clearly the glory of our Savior. He will speak to us and guide us directing our feet. He is the One who empowers us to serve, to seek the Kingdom, to be witnesses of all that Jesus has done for us, to share the truth of the gospel that has so radically and drastically changed our lives. We are offered more help than we could ever dream of, for we are empowered by the One who parted the Red Sea, closed the mouths of lions, cleansed the lepers, gave sight to the blind and raised Jesus from the dead.
Like most things in life, we have choice, and we are required to make a decision. We are not robots but free men and women, as were the Israelites when God said to them; "See I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways and to keep his commandments, then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess." A familiar passage from Deuteronomy . Today our Lord again asks us again to choose and as the Israelites chose life, we too, in Christ choose life, however our life is made possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. A life of prosperity, of great abundance in a foreign land, a land of milk and honey. It is as citizens of God’s Kingdom that we are blessed, given a freedom to thrive without worldly constraints. To overcome the giants and be a living, active part of a Kingdom more real than the one into which we were initially born.
We move Forward in Faith believing all that God has said in His word. Forward in Faith,
trusting the Holy Spirit to meet our needs for understanding, empowering us to run, not
only to run but to win. In faith we receive all that we need from God to live this life and
whenever we feel that we lack we may ask knowing that God will give to us all and
more than we need to fulfill His calling.
In the final pages, in the last chapter of God’s Holy word, the testimony of our Lord
Jesus Christ, it is written:
“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come !” And let him who hears say, “Come !”
Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” COME !!