March 19, 2009
“The Progress of Back-steps”

I was walking through a hospital recently, pretending to know where I was going. When I came to a dead end and the wall in front of me didn’t open I knew I had missed something. I retraced my steps and came to a corridor that goes right and left. I had gone right when I should have gone left. (There is not meant to be any kind of political statement or inference in that whatsoever!)
It was one of those moments when you’re glad no one else knows what you were thinking or doing, because right at that point there were signs…BIG SIGNS!…telling me which direction I was to head in if I wanted a certain department in the hospital. Being your typical male, I hadn’t seen the signs because I had already made up my mind which way I was going. It was only in taking a few steps back…okay, a whole lot of steps back…that I saw the right way!
I think about that in relation to our spiritual journeys. We’re so focused on progress and moving forward that we often miss the value of back-steps. In fact, I believe there is a fallacy that is being lived out in numerous spiritual journeys today that says “If it doesn’t move me forward it must not be of God. If it isn’t a success story something’s wrong!”
But there are times when we have to step back to make progress. When you read 1 Corinthians you find numerous examples of the church in Corinth moving forward only to have to back-up. In chapter 3 of that New Testament book there’s the concern of people becoming drawn to different leaders. It was the first century spiritual equivalent to high school “letter jackets”. (By the way, I still have my varsity letter jacket hanging in my closet from Ironton High School; Ironton, Ohio…”Go Fighting Tigers!”) Each group thought they were making progress. There were the “Apollos-ites”, who thought Apollos was “the cat’s meow.” And then there was “Paul’s Pack”, who liked to identify themselves with the apostle who was known all over. To this Paul writes “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.” (1 Corinthians 3:2)
Time to back up the journey!
Paul let’s them know that they haven’t arrived, and in thinking they’ve arrived they REALLY haven’t arrived. The Corinthians need to back up a little bit and realize where they took a wrong turn. They need to realize that they missed some signs, some key teachings, some messages from the Lord.
How easy it is to confuse forward movement as always being progress, as always being the next step in the journey God is leading us in.
When we get into life situations that are difficult and perplexing and we seem clueless as to what should be our next step, back-steps bring us to a point that we’ve already visited but missed the meaning in. It brings us back to a place that seemed insignificant when we were first there, but in returning to it we see that it was huge!
Those back-steps retrace conversations, events, and decisions. They back us up to the point where we realize we made a bad choice that has had consequences. Or the back-steps bring us back to a point where we can see the whole forest instead of the most immediate tree in front of us. We can see the re-run of how the hand of God was apparent, even though we missed the original occurrence.
Progress sometimes can only happen by taking a few steps back. Call it “spiritual moonwalking” if you’d like, as long as you get back to where you can better see the hand of God.

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