I’m convinced there are two roadmaps God uses when He decides to do something great with a life.
There’s the direct path that sees results quickly, and there is the detour. We love the direct path, but God usually likes to take us on the detour, because that’s where He teaches lessons that can’t be learned any other place. The detour is usually where God sends his students to school to teach them how much they don’t know. I’ve been enrolled for 15 years, and I’m still a few credits short.
There’s a trend with most of the people God used greatly in the Bible. Almost every time God showed up to give them the plan they responded back with some form of “I can’t do it.” Their excuses were because they came from a small family or lacked the ability, but no matter the reason, it seems like God consistently chose to use people who doubted themselves. I didn’t.
When I started pastoring, I was convinced I would accomplish all of my goals by 30. My whole life I was told how talented I was, and I believed it. I was never dumb enough to say it out loud, but God was lucky to have me on his team. With my ability and his help we were going to accomplish great things, or so I thought. I cringe now when I think about how arrogant I was. I started pastoring when I was 24 years old; which only furthered my arrogance. I remember telling my dad all the things I would accomplish quickly. He told me, “Jason, don’t get in a hurry, pastoring is hard.” Without thinking, I responded, “I’m sure it is for some guys dad, but I know what I’m doing.”
The truth is, my pride should have disqualified me from ministry on day one, but God was gracious. He knew some time on the detour would teach me the lessons I needed to learn. My detour was a street named failure.
3 1/2 years into pastoring I had shrunk the church in half. We had a few small successes, but almost every idea I had failed. I couldn’t understand it. Frustration and doubt we’re taking over. Like rubbing alcohol to a cut, God was having to get the infection out, and it stung. Finally, one day I met a friend for lunch. We talked about the church and things we were frustrated about, and I said to him, “I think I broke the church. I’m serious I think I broke it, and I don’t know how to fix it.” That may have been the first time in my life I had used the phrase “I don’t know how.” I was starting to learn the lesson God was teaching.
A few days later I walked into our auditorium and spent some time praying in the altar. I can take you to the exact spot I was sitting, I’ll never forget my prayer that day. I had prayed obligatory prayers before about “needing God’s help” and I knew at some level I did, but for the first time in my life, distraught and humbled, I said to God, “God, I don’t know what I’m doing, and if you don’t help me I’m not going to make it.” That was the first day of the rest of my life.
I can’t prove it, but I think the reason God’s plan for Joseph included slavery and prison was because he was a cocky 17-year-old kid who couldn’t wait for his family to bow down to him. But after 22 years when his family showed back up he wept and said, “It was God.”
Moses was convinced he knew how to save the people, so he murdered an Egyptian soldier. He spent the next 40 years on a desert detour, and finally, when God showed up and told him it was time to deliver the people, Moses said “I can’t.”
King David said about God, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.”
That’s what detours do to you. They humble you. They break your spirit. That must be why God uses them so effectively, and I’m glad He does.