As I drove to work the other morning, I couldn’t help but get frustrated at the road work happening in our neighborhood. Big, orange “Detour” signs regaled the road, signaling to drivers that they would need to take an alternative route. I turned right, onto a suburban street I did not recognize, hoping the detour would not make me late for work. My traveling, time-table, and safety was now in the hands of the construction workers who had mapped out the orange detour route, and I hoped that they had done their job successfully!
My initial frustration, however, soon turned to curiosity, as I found my car weaving its way through streets I had not known existed. When did that school get there? I questioned, as my car approached an elementary building bustling with parents dropping off their kids. This was the not the first time I had been re-routed very near to our home, being forced to discover the suburban treasures (nature included) hidden amongst the tree-lined streets.
It so happened that the construction workers did perform their jobs with excellence because I successfully made my way out of the detour and to work on time.
This is one very literal example of a life detour, but what about others we experience?
The unexpected loss of a child. Health that has made a turn for the worst. The sudden dismantling of a friendship. The unfortunate destruction of personal property after a violent storm. The crumbling of a particular set of plans that seemed so sure, so guaranteed.
Detours come in many different shapes and sizes, but all of them share one thing in common: We didn’t see them coming. They catch us off-guard, leaving us frustrated, confused, curious, even heart-broken. We question why things had to happen this way, at this time. The ultimate temptation is to become discouraged, even angry at God, as we experience our faith being rocked.
As I read in Exodus this morning, it became clear that the Israelites went through a similar experience during the time when God called them out from slavery in Egypt. I’m going to skip from verse to verse so you can grasp the full picture of the story:
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea… (Exodus 13:17-18)
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night… (13:21)
“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” And they did so… (14:4)
When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly… (14:10)
And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent…” (14:13-14)
And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea… (14:22-23)
Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses… (14:30-31)
“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode…” (15:13)
God took the Israelites on a detour of their own, as is made clear by the first passage: “God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.” I wonder if the people were thinking, Where is God leading us? This route seems kind of roundabout…wouldn’t it be easier to go through Philistia? If they reacted in any way like I did on my drive to work, they were probably frustrated, confused, and even discouraged because the way did not seem clear.
From this account, we can glean five particular reasons to trust God in the detours of our lives:
1. The way God leads us may not make sense to us, but he has his reasons for each and every detour.
I absolutely love how the Bible records God’s thoughts about the detour he provided for the Israelites: “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” His people most certainly did not perceive his reasons, just as we often do not hear the mind of God as we move throughout our days (Isaiah 55:9). But rest assured, God, in his divine sovereignty and wisdom, has a reason for the detours he instates upon our lives. And because we know that God is good, we can therefore trust that his every reason for these detours is equally good.
2. Detours purpose to showcase God’s glory, both to our enemies and for the sake of our own faith.
When shifts in our plans occur, how quickly do we complain and grumble? For me, quickly. It doesn’t take long before I am confounded and unsure about the purpose of changed plans or unexpected suffering. But God makes it absolutely clear that he purposes to reveal his great power and glory through these detours. This illustration might seem a stretch, but consider the construction worker who strategically placed the orange “Detour” signs beside the roads: When I got back on my normal route, he was glorified in my mind as I thought, He did his job well!
How much more will we (and our Enemy) know our mighty God’s power when he is ultimately victorious at the coming of Christ? At the Day, we will proclaim, “Every detour was worth it!” and we will glorify our God in the ultimate sense when we worship him for eternity. For now, we can choose to extol his name in the midst of the detours of life because we know that his glory will be revealed, and we can also bear witness to a world without hope by trusting his ways and praising his wisdom.
3. When a detour feels threatening or confusing, we can trust that God is indeed safeguarding us.
Exodus 14 mentions twice that God erected walls of water around the Israelites, as they made their way through the Red Sea on dry ground. And when God repeats himself, we should pay attention because he is trying to tell us something of great importance! What do these walls of water mean, for them and for us?
They indicate that God’s presence and protection go with us, even while enduring seasons of detours. How can we know this to be true, especially when we feel left alone to fend for ourselves and God seems distant?
Answer: the cross of Christ. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, bore our sins upon himself at Calvary and, as a result, was justly rejected by the holy God, who turned his face away from his Son’s suffering. And all of this so that we would never know God’s rejection or abandonment; for when we trust Jesus’ work on the cross for our righteousness, we are identifying with him, and God clothes us in his perfection. When he looks at us, he sees Christ!
Because Jesus was rejected, we will never be. More than that, in this life we are promised the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit and the protection of Christ as our soul’s everlasting Advocate. God is indeed safeguarding his children, giving them his peace that surpasses understanding, nourishment of truth from his Word, and freedom from fear and doubt through the gospel.
4. Detours cause us to see God’s character more clearly.
Just as I discovered many previously unknown treasures on my driving detour — the school, trees, neighborhoods, and all — so God uses the detours of our lives to teach us about himself. How would we know that God is our Eternal Comfort, unless he places us in an uncomfortable position? How would we proclaim with praises that Christ is our Tender Shepherd unless he exposes us to threatening dangers and suffering? How would we extol our Righteous Judge unless he unveils through our exposing circumstances what the cross accomplished for our sake? Detours foster intimacy with Christ, making them all worth it.
5. God uses detours to make firm our hope and, ultimately, to plant us in the heavenly places with Christ.
The bright orange signs that led me on my detours were not in vain; they actually helped me to know the way through the construction. Through your present detour — be it sickness or pain or changed plans — God is molding you as clay in his intentional, compassionate hands to look more like his Son. Indeed, detours exercise our faith and test our hope.
For those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ, we will emerge from life’s detours as gold refined by fire. We will finally be home: “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.”
And in the ultimate sense, as believers are glorified with Christ in eternity, we will realize that life on earth was one big detour: a purposed adventure written by the Great Storyteller, for the intent of calling us to salvation and preparing us for paradise with the Author and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus, and the great God of our every detour and our forever eternity.