I learned to drive when finding your way around still involved maps—ones that were printed on paper with different size dots to represent population, and different width lines to represent what kind of road it was. To get from place to place, you would locate where you were and where you wanted to go and, most of the time, map out the shortest distance.
This worked well until you came to one of those big orange triangular signs that said “Detour.” Typically, you would be directed off the road with a sign or two and then left to your own resources to find your way back. The objective was to get back to the main road as soon as possible so you could continue your journey. On occasion, getting back to the main road seemed impossible, and you had to find a new way to get to your destination.
Personally, my life recently took a detour (with a cancer diagnosis). Not only am I now on a different road, I am headed for a new and different destination. To be honest, my wife, Robin, and I aren’t sure we know what the new destination will be. This detour is not simply a short-lived excursion, it is a brand-new road.
Sometimes God takes our lives on a detour, at least from the plans we have laid out and from the destinations we were headed toward. And trying to get back to the old road, the former route, is to miss what God wants to do in our life. As one author puts it, the detour has become the new road.
What do we make of this? Is God playing a mean trick on us, or has he changed his mind about his purpose for our lives? As I have thought (and prayed) about this, I have come to a new understanding and appreciation for what God might be doing when he interrupts our personal road maps and seeks to take us to a new destination.
Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that many of God’s choicest servants, men and women, experienced some incredible detours. Consider Abraham, who was told to leave his home land and go to a place God would show him (eventually). Ruth, a young bride-turned-widow, also journeyed to a foreign land. Peter, Andrew, James, and John left the family fishing business to wander with Jesus, and the Apostle Paul detoured from persecuting the church to being the planter of churches.
These are just a few of the dozens of examples we could mention. Let me suggest a few possibilities for what God might be up to in the detours of life:
1. You detoured when you trusted Jesus. The truth of the gospel is that we were enemies of God until he intervened and offered us salvation through Jesus. In our old life, we charted our own destination, and it was leading us to separation from God. Our repentance—doing an “about face”—represents the first and most important detour as a disciple of Jesus.
2. Your detour may last for many years before you see the benefit. Joseph was enjoying his time as the favorite son of a wealthy father. Then his brothers threw him in a pit and left him for dead. He was sold into slavery to a foreign king and later thrown into prison, even though he did nothing wrong. Quite a life-changing detour! But after decades and several more detours, Joseph’s position in the foreign land was used by God to meet the need of his people in a time of severe famine. You may not see the benefit or the blessing of a detour for many years to come.
3. Your detour may have a Kingdom impact. Saul, who became the Apostle Paul, may have had the most dramatic detour recorded. From hunting down and wanting to kill followers of Jesus, he became the greatest missionary ever, planting churches all over the known world. Only in heaven will we know how many people came to be followers of Jesus because of Paul’s ministry. This was certainly not his original life’s ambition. Yet you and I have heard the gospel because of Paul’s dramatic detour.
4. Your detour may be for the blessing of others. Consider Abram. He was a herder of livestock. God told him to leave home and set out for a place that God would show him. Not only would God bless Abram, “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3). Abram’s detour resulted in all the nations of the earth being blessed.
So, don’t get in a hurry to get back to your original route. Allow what seems like a detour to be the new route of obedience for your life.
Van Kicklighter is IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Planting Team.