The eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews has got to one of most inspiring passages in the Bible. It reads like a hall of fame list for the faithful among the ancients, for those who followed God past every “even though” in light of a strong enough “because”. A quote I have on my wall reads: “If you have a strong enough why, you can endure almost any how.” The men and women of Hebrews knew this well.
Take Abraham. Even though he did not know where he was going, Abraham went, because he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Even though he was way too old to have a son, he became a father, because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. Even though it seemed God was breaking his earlier promise, Abraham laid down Isaac on the altar, because reasoned that God could raise the dead.
Or consider Moses. Even though he could have enjoyed the pleasures of the court of Pharaoh, he chose to be mistreated along with the people of God, because he was looking forward to his reward. Even though he faced the Pharaoh’s anger, Moses pressed on toward freedom for his people, because he saw him who is invisible.
On and on through the lives of our ancestors, God asks the impossible, he commands the strange and nutty and sometimes seemingly unkind. Yet even though they didn’t always receive what was promised, his people of faith saw those promises and welcomed them from a distance. It was because they knew that this place was not their home-- they were looking forward to a better land, a heavenly country.
In the midst of all this, perhaps the most challenging verse to me was this: “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.”
Out of destitution and slavery, out of all our messes and hurts, and through many an “even though”, God calls us ever heavenward. Our “why”, our “because”, must be so strong that we never turn back. It is when we dwell on those places we’ve come from, just as the Israelites began to wish for the slavery of Egypt rather than the long journey through the desert, that we find ourselves turning back. We forsake what is better for what is reasonable and familiar and easy. Even now in my own life, I am having the hardest time pressing on through obedience because I keep letting my thoughts wander back to the land he’s called me out of, to the country from which I have recently come.
These heroes of our faith refused to dwell there. They laid aside any thought of their old country and pressed on toward the one God was preparing for them. And thousands of years later, what do we read about them? “God is not ashamed to be called their God” and “the world was not worthy of them.”
May we follow God in faith, whatever the odds, and may we consider his love all the reason we need to never look back.