God’s directions to the first three patriarchs are interesting in their stark differences. To Abraham, God said, “Go.” To Isaac, God said, “Stay.” To Jacob, the command was “Go back” (Genesis 31:3). The reality is that, at different moments in our lives and in different circumstances, each of us may find our journeys moving us in directions that are remarkably diverse. Going somewhere new has the attractive draw of shedding the past and beginning some new adventure. Who of us at times does not wish that we could make a clean break from the pain, trouble, and mistakes of the past and have a fresh start?
Paul certainly focused on the faith of Abraham as a paradigm for believers, but few models fit every situation. “Go” also can represent escape, avoidance of responsibility, and refusal to accept the consequences of our actions. “Go” can overlook the need for repentance and forgiveness. “Go” sometimes is equivalent to “run away,” and that is why any single metaphor for our spiritual journeys must be weighed carefully. On occasion, staying put may be a much more demanding expression of discipleship than going. Facing tough situations, dealing with the consequences of our bad decisions, or handling the shattered fragments of poor choices often means that staying is a much more important expression of discipleship than going. I have known far too many pastors and other committed disciples who have felt “the call” to move to another place of service simply because escape seemed far easier than trying to deal with their own failures, their damaged relationships, or the frustrating obstacles to their own personal agendas.
Jacob’s commission to “go back” may come closer to the change of direction we often need, and it is a close associate to repentance. If every spiritual journey is going straight ahead to new destinations, we will leave in our wakes the bitter memories of our failures, the uncomfortable consequences of our mistakes, and the shattered fragments of our integrity. We want Jesus to “pay it all” in dealing with our sins, but we cannot fully escape the times when God calls us to “go back” and seek forgiveness, to return and seek restoration, to face the music and reclaim a humbled spirit. "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matt. 5:23-24, NASB).
Our journeys will be as diverse as our personalities. They will carry us as far as God’s purposes, but they will not release us from the demand for integrity. If we are to be disciples of Jesus, we cannot run and hide from our past. We cannot escape to some idyllic future. We cannot shake off the sin that weighs us down without seeking repentance and forgiveness. In some ways we all will need a journey within, a journey back, and a journey beyond. At times our journeys will take on aspects of those of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God grant us the wisdom to know which of those is the journey of this present moment.