When Going Backward Is Forward Progress

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Go up to Bethel.  (Genesis 35:1)

Perhaps you read that title and felt a stirring of disagreement; you may have recalled that the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi that he was “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,” and that he would continue to “press on toward the goal” (Philippians 3:13-14). That certainly sounds like forward progress will not be made by going back. But when we look more closely at that passage from Philippians, we realize that Paul was speaking about the times when he fell short of God’s best for His life.

So . . . when is going back actually forward progress? It is progress any time we go back to an encounter with God. Often God sends us back to the place we first encountered Him.

When God told Jacob, “Go up to Bethel,” He was sending Jacob back to the place where he first encountered God. In the 28th chapter of Genesis we learn that Bethel was the place where God first visited Jacob. You will remember Jacob’s dream, in which he saw a ladder reaching up from earth into heaven and the angels ascending and descending on it. This of course, was a forecasting of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who would reverse the curse of sin on mankind and once again unite heaven and earth. And there at Bethel, Jacob made his first vow of commitment to God.

What was good for Jacob is also good for us. We too need to revisit that place when we first encountered God. If you grew up in a Christian home and can’t remember a time without Jesus, think of a time when you were a bit older and made your vow of commitment to Him. Going back is forward progress when we are going back to our first, true love. Returning to the roots of our redemption is a return to our Redeemer—and that beloved, is always forward progress.

We can all find ourselves in a rut of religion. We grow up and show up for service without ever really connecting at a heart level with our God. We are simply busy being busy with the challenges of daily living. So, the call of God to “Go back to Bethel,” is a call for all of us to heed today, because we have all experienced a faith that falters and uttered vows that vanished.

  • Let us go back to where we first found forgiveness.
  • Let us go back to where we first found acceptance.
  • Let us go back to where we first found rest.
  • Let us go back to where we first found true love.

Going back is always forward progress when we are going back to the One who has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!


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