by Ron Bennett
As we ponder a variety of landscapes that God takes us through in the Christian life, we consider the detour. Can you identify with hitting a detour in your spiritual journey?
The dictionary defines a detour this way: to turn aside; a roundabout way, a deviation from a direct way; a route used when the direct or regular route is closed; a circuitous way.
Life detours are those sudden changes in direction, route, or plans that we do not initiate. Our plans are suddenly changed, altered by something or someone outside of our control. If we had planned on the new direction or path, it would not be a detour. A detour is a deviation of our original plan. Our plans usually are built around the shortest, fastest route possible while detours seem to be a delay in reaching our destination.
When confronted with a detour in life, several emotions seem to emerge: anxiety, impatience, frustration, disappointment, and even confusion. Unable to make progress toward our goals, we may feel that we are wasting time, no longer in control, and very unsure of the future.
Gaining a new perspective on detours usually happens in hindsight, but at the time they are just uncomfortable. That is why it is good to reflect on those detour times in our lives and ask how God showed up. It seems that there are several insights we can gain from discovering God in the detours. God takes us on detours when . . .
1. The bridge or road we are about to cross is unsafe. He reroutes us in order to protect us and avoid problems or harm. When the road ahead is unsafe it is too dangerous to proceed. Detours are necessary for our safety.
Detour: Bridge out!
The I-35W Mississippi River Bridge was an eight-lane, steel truss arched bridge carrying Interstate 35W traffic across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota. During the evening rush hour it suddenly collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145. There are many families that would have welcomed a sign: “Detour—Bridge unsafe.”
Our God does not always tell us that the road ahead is unsafe. Instead he graciously puts up the roadblock (detour), and asks us to trust Him without explanation. I am convinced that many of the detours we experience in life will one day make perfect sense and produce a humble response of gratitude.
2. He wants us to see and experience a life scenic view we would not have seen or chosen on our own initiative. We are living life on the freeway. Traveling 70 mph on four-lane roads, driving so fast we hardly have time to turn our heads and look out the window to steal a look at the countryside. We are focused on just getting there—wherever that is. And once we get there we get back on the interstate and do it all over again. We observe little and learn less. We only see the landscape around us from the vantage point of carefully and colorlessly planned freeway rest stops.
Jesus took a detour in John 4 when traveling to Galilee from Jerusalem. The cultural freeway to get from Judea to Galilee was via the Jordan River interstate. To get there through Samaria was slow, dangerous, and politically incorrect. But John says that, “Jesus had to go through Samaria.” After reading the rest of the story we know the reason he took this off road route was to encounter an outcast lady in an out of the way city, giving his disciples (then and now) a countercultural view from the side of the freeway.
Detours cause us to slow down and look around. Detours, when we can get over our impatience, can open up vistas that we would never see from the freeway. We will often meet people who are lost, in pain, and lonely. People we would never encounter along our freeway. Along the detour we discover the hand of God in the beauty of nature’s simplicity or experience the kindness of a friend that showed up unexpected and unannounced.
3. We are headed in the right direction, but we are not yet ready to get to our destination. We are not able to handle or appreciate it. We need more time to mature; more time to get equipped or developed. Sometimes the delay of the detour is for the sake of others . . . they are not yet ready for our presence or contribution.
Moses experienced a 40 year detour in the desert after killing the Egyptian. It took those 40 years for the people of Israel to cry out for God’s help and at least some of that time, for Moses to learn how to live in the desert and listen to God.
Paul was another leader who experienced detours. After his conversion, he immediately began to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus in Damascus, resulting in a death threat that prompted the believers to sneak Paul out of town. The details are sketchy, but Paul spent the following three years in the desert of Arabia. He then took a trip to Jerusalem where he was cautiously introduced to the other apostles. Once again his boldness in proclaiming the Gospel got him into physical danger. This time the disciples send him off to Tarsus, his home town, where he stays for another 14 years in obscurity. Eventually Barnabas gets Paul from Tarsus and brings him to Antioch where there is a great moving of the Spirit of God. Hardly the straight line road Paul had envisioned in those early days in Damascus.
There are several other possible reasons why Paul had a 14 year detour from sharing Christ with the world. It could have been for his development and maturity. It could have also been for the development of the church that was under the influence of Peter in Acts 10-11. What is clear is that Paul was eager to engage in his calling, but God put him on a circuitous path for several years. I can only imagine the struggle that the aggressive Paul had adjusting to being put in reserve rather than on the frontlines.
Detours can cause us to slow down and to wait for God’s timing. God’s clock doesn’t seem to run as fast as ours. I think that is why one of the most repeated phrases in the Psalms is “wait on the Lord”. Isaiah’s admonition was, “They that wait on the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).
4. We are not headed in the right direction. We pick a destination that God knows is not in our best interest or his best plan, but he allows us to start moving and then redirects us. It is easier to direct a moving car than one that is stalled. We can often become paralyzed with over analysis and the fear of making a mistake. We may need to start moving and if we are not stubbornly ridged and refuse to listen, God can direct us with divine detours.
An example is found in Acts when Paul was looking for direction on his second missionary journey. Luke tells us that Paul tried to go into western Asia but “the Lord prevented him.” Having hit the detour Paul waited and adjusted as the Holy Spirit opened new doors into Greece. Paul was a man in motion but allowed God to open and close doors along the way.
Soon after obtaining my degree in Aerospace Engineering, I was working for Boeing Aircraft in Seattle, Washington,. During the previous five years, God had brought several people into my life to disciple me and equip me with the vision and skills to disciple others. I had a passion to carry out my part of the Great Commission in the marketplace. All the pieces seemed to fit and have the touch of God behind them.
Back then it was not a surprise to receive an invitation from the Secretary of Defense offering me a full-ride fellowship to study oriental geography in SE Asia . . . it was known as the draft and the destination was VietNam. What was a surprise was that my letter of appeal was denied even though I was doing critical work with a defense contractor.
I felt as if a massive landslide had just blocked my path. At first I was surprise, then confused, and later even angry. Eventually I made peace with reality and considered this a temporary (three year) detour that would eventually put me back on my original path and my life would go on much as I had envisioned it. However, I never returned to my engineering career. After my military service I sensed a call to full-time mission work and joined the staff of The Navigators.
Some 45 years later I realized that detour was God’s way of redirecting my life to a path I could not have envisioned earlier and probably would not have chosen. Fulltime mission work was not an option on my list of careers to pursue. It took a detour to change my heart and prepare me for a new life calling. Proverbs 3:5-6 was my detour promise. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight (right).”
5. He wants to test and prove our willingness to follow his leadership by developing our trust and faith in his goodness. He knows that there is coming a time along our journey when it will be very important for us to respond and obey quickly so he wants us to be ready. Much of my early military training was designed to teach me to follow commands quickly and completely. Military leaders know that in combat that ability will save lives.
Faith in Christ puts us under new leadership . . . His. We are used to following our own desires and doing what we want when we want it. It can come as a shock when we discover that salvation has brought us under the lordship and leadership of the Savior of the cross.
God used a cloud to lead Israel in their initial journey on the desert. When it moved, they moved. When it stopped, they stopped. If the cloud rested for a day or a week or a month, they stayed put. There is no hint in Scripture that God gave them an explanation of why it stopped or started. They needed to learn to simply trust and follow.
Under the new covenant we are given the Holy Spirit as our “cloud.” Paul says in Romans 8:14, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God they are the sons of God.” Learning to recognize and respond to the voice of God is part of our spiritual development. Detours are one of the ways God teaches us to follow.
6. Our sin has altered our path. Sin always has consequences, even after forgiveness. These consequences appear as roadblocks altering out course and creating a detour. Sin may even eliminate the original destination so that it is no longer an option. The minimum consequence is a detour for road repair and for healing to take place.
When the children of Israel disobeyed God and chose not to enter the Promised Land, God put them on a 40 year detour. It was obvious from the spy’s report that the inhabitants of the Promised Land had heard of Israel and were duly frightened. But as a consequence for disobedience, the current generation was not permitted to enter. It took 40 more years of training before a new generation would be allowed to pursue the original destination.
Through divinely appointed detours we discover God is our faithful Guide. We also can learn to:
- Persevere, keep going, not quit or retreat.
- Wait on the Lord, not doubting His promises, learning to believe in the dark what God has shown in the light, learning to follow without explanation.
- Enjoy the new scenery that comes with the detour, trusting that God has a better picture than we can see at the moment.
When considering the detours in your spiritual journey, keep in mind this enduring promise: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV).