Detour Ahead

I used to really hate detours. You’d be all set to arrive somewhere on time, maybe even leave a little early from home just to give time for busy traffic. And then halfway to your destination, there in the road ahead was the dreaded sign: “Detour ahead.” It wasn’t too bad if it was just a jog of a couple of blocks to get around a work crew fixing a downed traffic light after a storm.

But if you weren’t aware that major road construction was scheduled for a stretch in a highway, you might end up in a long detour of several miles. And rather than travelling at 55 miles an hour on a main road, you might have to creep through nearby neighborhoods at 25 miles an hour, stopping at every corner, and zig-zagging back and forth for several miles. And all your plans to arrive early for an important meeting were shot.

Sometimes it’s not a “distance” detour, but a time detour. Even with clear highways all the way to your destination, you can end up at a railroad crossing just in time to be halted by a never-ending freight train. That’s bad enough… but have you ever waited and waited for one of those to go by, and just as you breathe a sigh of relief that the last four or five freight cars are about to cross in front of you … the engineer stops the train and starts backing up so he can drop off a car on a side rail near some factory!? So once again all your careful timing of your day was foiled.

This kind of thing used to really bother me, because I felt almost like I was being harassed by unseen forces. I assumed if my intentions were good, God would bless my schedule for the day with smooth sailing. So if those intentions were foiled, certainly it was the work of the Dark Side trying to thwart God’s blessings for me!

Then one day about 20 years ago, I learned a new praise and worship chorus. The main words proclaimed, “Rejoice, for the steps of a righteous man are ordered of God.” It is based on Psalm 37:23, which is worded in the New Living Translation this way:

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.

I thought a lot about that for a while. Of course no man or woman is totally “righteous” or “godly” in their own goodness. We all fall short of the righteousness of God. But the Bible declares that if we are humble and repentant before God, and accept Jesus as our savior and Lord, we are basically “cloaked” in the righteousness of Jesus, and God views us as righteous and godly.

So this song, which I couldn’t get out of my head, implied that my steps were “ordered” or “directed” or “mapped out” by God. As I pondered that, I realized that it didn’t say that I could map out my own steps and then insist that God had to bless them!  All along my prayers at the beginning of the day had tended to include a request that God confirm and bless my plans for the day. It never occurred to me that maybe He sometimes had other plans for me, and that those plans might have their own schedule … of which I was not aware at all!

From that time on I tried to remember to approach God at the beginning of my day with the attitude and prayer that I wanted to be on His schedule, whether it matched mine or not.  And to this day I’ve found that His schedule always works out best, even if it seems, on the surface, to include those dreaded detours. Many times those detours have actually contributed to me being right on time to bless others. And once in a while they actually have turned out to be a blessing in disguise to me.

That’s what happened on a trip last week. My husband George and I had travelled 500 miles from Georgia to Missouri so I could be part of a weekend women’s retreat. George went off to stay with the husband of one of the other women at the retreat who lived nearby. We arrived on Friday, and headed back toward home on Sunday afternoon. Sunday night we stayed at a motel in Kentucky so we could visit friends in the area.

We had planned to arrive back home in Georgia in the late afternoon on Monday. We decided to not leave early on Monday morning. George was able to work in the motel room at his computer over the Internet to do some work for his job, so we planned to leave at checkout time, 11 AM.

About 10:45 George brought a luggage cart into the room and loaded it up. As he turned to push it out the door to go to the car, I suddenly heard a siren in the distance through the closed window. At first I thought it was a police or fire siren, but it only took a moment to realize it was instead the unmistakable long wavering drone of a tornado siren.

Although we usually pay attention to the weather when we are on a trip, we’d been so busy the last few days and evenings that we’d not had the radio or TV on at all. Although it was cloudy outside, with a bit of sprinkles, it certainly didn’t look like tornado weather. George headed down to the front desk to ask if it really was a tornado siren, and indeed it was. When he returned, we flipped on the TV quickly to the Weather Channel, and got our first look at the weather map with the huge, tumultuous front that was marching across the country from Texas in the southwest up to New England in the Northeast, with driving rains, high winds, big hail, and numerous tornadoes along its path.  We were astonished. At first I suggested George go back and tell the front desk we needed an extension for an hour or so, until after the front had passed and the sirens were silent.

We still thought we’d be proceeding with our plans for the day, just arriving home an hour or so later. It didn’t occur to us to think through what might be ahead of us on the path to home, between western Kentucky and northern Georgia. In fact, if the siren had not gone off just when it did, we would likely have headed out as planned.

As we watched the details unfold on the Weather Channel (and planned what to do if we heard the roar of a tornado approaching), it finally dawned on us that God was getting our attention with that siren for a major detour that we didn’t realize we needed. After tearing up Kansas and Missouri, the front was spawning tornadoes in Kentucky. When we turned on the TV, one had very recently hit a town forty miles due west of us, and had destroyed a building and trapped a seriously injured person inside. The front was barreling across the country at 75 miles an hour, spawning more tornadoes along the way. At that point, George suggested we just hunker down for one more night at the motel. I agreed, and he went down to inform the man at the front desk.

As I watched the weather news, another tornado hit a town about 60 miles due east of us, destroying another building and trapping seven people inside.  As the day wore on, it became obvious that, if we had left just before 11 AM, we would have driven almost the whole way home right in the middle of driving rain, hail, 75 mile an hour winds, and tornados all around us. By that night the front reached our hometown in Georgia, with high winds toppling many trees that destroyed several roofs on homes throughout the city, and lightning strikes that caused numerous fires.

Instead, we headed out Tuesday morning in a calm, sunny day and had perfect driving conditions the whole way home. And praised God that it was He who was ordering our steps, not we ourselves.

This sort of surprising intervention has happened to us so many times in the past few years I’ve lost count. When it’s a matter of weather or road conditions, it’s easy to notice the circumstances, and easy to praise God for the outcome. What hasn’t been so easy for me is to see God’s hand in the timing of more complex and extended circumstances. Perhaps you might have trouble seeing it too. So let me remind myself and you that He is there directing your steps and juggling your schedule in the long hauls as well as the short ones.

In the past couple of years I’ve had numerous circumstances that have thwarted my own plans for a variety of ministry projects. I’ve had to put on hold many ideas I have had and things I have worked on because of unexpected family and personal crises. It has seemed at times that the Dark Side was “winning” some sort of battle to keep me from accomplishing all that I am capable of in the Lord by throwing up road blocks.

I have had to go back to thinking through that old praise and worship admonition to “Rejoice” … for the reality is that if I am living with Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior, my steps ARE “ordered of God.” Even the ones that seem to be stumbles. I have no way to know how my schedule for accomplishing what I think are great ideas … fits with God’s schedule for me to accomplish His truly great ideas. Perhaps sometimes my great ideas aren’t really so great, and need to be abandoned so that I can shift to a Better Idea that He has.

Perhaps what I am doing at any given moment really is part of His greater plan, but I am just expecting it to yield observable fruit almost immediately. Instead, His schedule may allow for a longer ripening period to bring the yield to the peak of perfection. And thus what seem to me at times to be unnecessary detours are actually planned parts of His route for me.

If you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and savior too, then I encourage you to remember that your steps are also “ordered of God.”  What better GPS system could we ask for?

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One Response to Detour Ahead

  1. John B Wilson says:

    Thanks, Pam! This was really something that I needed. I have a strong tendency to see the “detours” as being someone else self-centeredness and inconsideration. Like the train example you gave, why doesn’t the engineer just move a little bit more to allow for the traffic that’s been waiting to clear? There answer probably is “We have a job to do.” So, I’m suppose to lose money in my job by you making me wait for you to do yours? Or, why make the train so long to start with that it will block traffic? And there are so many other situations that I could use as an example. In other words, “Don’t get in my way! I have an important job to do!”

    But, like you, I have seen so many times when God has changed my timing and it has worked out for my own good. How many times has he changed my timing and I didn’t see that He actually saved my life or made things so much better? Like you said: “And thus what seem to me at times to be unnecessary detours are actually planned parts of His route for me.”. We must learn to listen and yield.

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