THE PURPOSE OF DETOURS
What may seem like a bad thing is really what is best for you.
BY TONY EVANS
Detours are delays. They’re rerouted paths that keep us from our original route. Detours pop up in places we hadn’t expected. When we get in our cars, we do so with a destination in mind. We plan to go somewhere.
And we typically know how we plan to get there — which highway we’re going to take, which turn to avoid rush-hour traffic, and which side streets we’re going to use to arrive at our final destination.
And even if we don’t know the way, we can type the destination address into our smartphone app, and rely on an automated voice to guide us through every turn.
Regardless if we’re following our own mental map, or the voice in our phone, sometimes we run into a detour (something that we didn’t expect). Some road block that requires us to make a U-turn, or go down a path we didn’t expect.
I don’t know about you, but I like to get to where I’m going without any detours.
In fact, when the kids were younger, and we loaded them all into the car to drive from Dallas to Baltimore to visit my parents each summer, I barely even stopped. Sometimes, I would race myself based on the last year’s time clock in order to see if I could beat my previous time.
If the kids needed to use the bathroom, I told them to wait. If they were thirsty, they had to wait. There was a method to my madness, you see. If I got the kids a drink, then we would have to stop down the road to use the bathroom. Essentially, they all buckled down at my mercy because I had a destination at which to arrive.
As you might imagine, if I won’t even stop for normal things like food and bathroom breaks, you can guess how I feel about a detour. It’s not good.
I sigh. I moan. I wonder why on earth did this have to happen to me right now.
Have you ever done something similar? Have you ever been driving down the road when all was well, only to arrive at a construction site with orange signs and arrows, and experienced your whole attitude and outlook change?
I’ve admitted that mine changed; you can admit it, too.
Detours are typically unexpected inconveniences that, without fail, cause a speed bump in your emotions. It’s either a sign you come up on, or a person who steers you elsewhere, or a police car with lights on is sitting there to let you know the road you’re traveling is no longer available. Now, because of the detour, you and I must go off the beaten path, take longer than we had wished to, and be inconvenienced in order to arrive where we had hoped to go.
Few of us like to be stalled, for any reason. Even if it’s just someone cutting us off in traffic and forcing us to slow down. But detours are necessary if any improvement is going to be made on the paths we travel. Or if any wreck is going to be cleaned up or hazard avoided. Detours are designed for our own good, regardless of how we view or feel about them. Detours are a good thing that often feel bad.
Divinely designed detours are positive interruptions intended to divert us down a better path so that we might have the opportunity to reach our destination at all.
Let me repeat that since it’s something we don’t often hear: Detours can be a good thing. They provide safety, opportunities for road improvement, and a different way to get where we had wanted to go.
If you were to sit at a detour sign and stubbornly refuse to take the diversion, you would go nowhere. You would just sit there. For days. Possibly for weeks sometimes.
Yes, a detour may take longer than you had originally planned; however, it won’t take any longer than if you were to try to push through it on the original path. That will get you nowhere.
Detours on the Road of Life
If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, you have a destination. From an eternal perspective, we know what our destiny is to be and that it involves being in God’s presence forever — worshiping Him and working for Him in our eternal state. That is our eternal destiny.
But each of us also has a time-bound destiny here on Earth. I call this our historical destiny. It’s the unique purpose you and I have been created to fulfill.
God has a plan for you. He has a plan for your life. He has a purpose for your existence. The reason why you weren’t taken to heaven the moment after you were converted is because there is a purpose on the earth; He desires you to live out your destiny. Your destiny isn’t just to go through the motions day-in and day-out. It’s a God-designed stamp on your soul that involves the use of your time, talents, and treasures for His glory and other people’s good for the advancement of His kingdom. As you fulfill your destiny, you receive the satisfaction and contentment that come from living out your calling. You receive the peace that comes from purpose.
Rarely though does God ever take people to their destiny without taking them on at least one detour, or two, or ten, or one hundred. It’s the one-in-a-million Christian who gets to go from point A to B to C and straight on to Z. Most often, God takes you from A to F to D to R to B to Q, and so on. You never know which letter He is pulling you toward next.
As people, we like to plan. We make our itineraries when we travel. We keep a log of our schedule on a calendar app. We appreciate the efficiency of moving forward steadily. We would never plan chaos and detours into our life on purpose. And, yet, that seems to be God’s modus operandi — His default mode for guiding us.
This is because it’s in our detours that we become developed for our destiny.
Part of experiencing the fullness of your destiny is in under-standing your detours. Far too often, we fail to understand our detours, and as a result, we wind up viewing them in a wrong light. When this happens, we give room for things like impatience, bitterness, regret, and doubt to grow. Rather than allowing the detours to produce the development we need, they actually set us back spiritually, thus setting us up with a need for more detours in order to grow. It can become a vicious cycle.
For example, when you were in school, you had to endure academic testing. These tests let the teacher know where you stood on the material you needed to learn. If you were unable to pass these tests, then more assignments and more tests would have to be given. Have you ever known people who “tested out” of a class or an assignment? This happened when they felt they had enough knowledge to pass the test without having to do the work. In this case, they took a test and if they scored high enough, they could skip the rest of the course.
I never “tested out” of a course, but I know people who did. Most of us have to go through the learning process — unfortunately, some of us more often than others — in order to gain mastery over what we need to know.
God isn’t going to bring your destiny to fruition until He knows you’re able to handle it spiritually, emotionally, and physically. If you can’t handle it, you will lose it rather than use it for His glory. That is why He focuses so intently on our development as He takes us to our destiny.
When you look at Scripture, it’s full of destinies being reached by detour. When God told the children of Israel He would take them to their destiny in Canaan, they had to cross the Red Sea in order to get there. However, He didn’t take them directly to the Red Sea. Rather, He took them down south and then brought them back up before He led them across the Red Sea. In fact, because they hadn’t yet developed in their level of faith that they needed in order to conquer the enemy in the Promised Land, they wound up wandering on a 40-year detour before ever reaching their destiny.
The timing and length of our detours in life are often dependent upon our personal choices and growth. God may have a short detour planned for us, but sometimes through our hard-headedness, stubbornness, or immaturity, God extends our detour.
Moses was on a detour for 40 years. He knew what God wanted him to do. God wanted Moses to deliver His people from slavery. Yet it took 40 years in the wilderness to develop Moses into the humble and trusting servant he needed to be in order to have the mindset, faith, and abilities to carry out God’s plan.
Abraham was on a 25-year detour. At one point God had told him His plan for him — that He would bless nations through Abraham and make his name great. How could Abraham have thought at that time it would be 25 years before he would have a son? The vision and the proclamation from God to Abraham were real and vivid. It would have been odd for Abraham to believe at that point that it would be nearly three decades before he would witness the literal birth of it.
When we give a plan or projection to someone, we typically do so shortly before we plan to carry it out. Yet God isn’t like us and will often give us a glimpse of our destiny long before we are prepared to actualize it, as He did when He told Abraham that there would be a 400-year detour in Egypt before they would reach their promised destination (see Genesis 15:12–16).
The greatest apostle in the New Testament, Paul, went on a three-year detour to a desert where God removed him from the front page of culture and life in order to strengthen him, teach him, and develop him for his calling.
I could go on and on with biblical examples of detours, but I think you get the picture. Detours are often a regular part of God’s plan in guiding us to our destinies.
God has a destiny for you. He has a purpose and a place He wants you to live out. But it may not happen tomorrow. You probably won’t get there by going in a straight line. Patience is the primary virtue needed in order to reach your destiny.
The following is a passage speaking on “trials,” but we can easily substitute the word affliction with detours and arrive at the same intended meaning: “And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions [detours], because we know that affliction [detours] produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint” (Romans 5:3-5).
Hope doesn’t disappoint. Detours disappoint momentarily. But when we allow them to produce hope, God promises that hope will not disappoint. And in order to arrive at an authentic hope in your spirit, accepting your detours is necessary.
Just as your muscles will not grow stronger simply by wishful thinking, the painful process of strengthening your hope comes by detours, afflictions, and trials. Show me someone with an indomitable hope, and we will see someone who has had his or her share of detours. I promise you this is true. Authentic hope is a learned trait.
Now, I don’t mean wishful thinking or an optimistic attitude. I’m referring to that level of hope that stays steady despite the storm and circumstances, which circle you in waves of chaos, testing, and pain.
There is no person in Scripture who better illustrates the principles of detours in relationship to destiny than Joseph. His life, described in Genesis 37–50, reads like a good suspense novel. It has twists and turns along the way. Not only that, it contains stories within stories within stories. If you didn’t skip ahead to the end, you may wonder how it could ever end well along the way. But it does. Moving ahead from chapter 37 up to 50, we catch the culmination of the detours and distresses when it gives us Joseph’s response to those who had served as the catalyst to his life’s chaos. We read, “But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive’” (Genesis 50:19-20, NASB).
Please notice that the phrase, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,” is an insightful inclusion in Scripture that gives us a clue as to the makeup of detours. They may oftentimes contain evil. They may oftentimes contain bad people. In fact, in our lives it can even be our own bad choices that set us on a detour. In this cosmic battle of good against bad, we can’t expect to escape without coming in close contact with that which intends our harm.
Yet what we often do is stay stuck there. We suffer under the evil of people acting badly or our own bad choices producing bitterness, cynicism, hate, and stunted growth. It’s only when we read the entire phrase — keeping in the part that Joseph included “but God meant it for good” — that we’re able to move forward, grow, trust, and reach our destiny.
Bad and good happen concurrently in order to bring you to the place God has for you. The first and greatest lesson in detours includes recognizing this reality at a level that allows you to trust God and His hand in the midst of evil, sin, and disappointment in your life.
God is greater than all of it and will use it for good when we surrender to Him through a heart of faith, hope, forgiveness, and love.
Excerpt taken from Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny by Tony Evans (B&H Publishing).
Tony Evans is a pastor, radio host of “The Alternative,” and author of the new book and Bible study, Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny, released by B&H Publishing Group. Visit DetoursBook.com to learn more.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (February 2017). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.