When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” Luke 15:17-18
What would you call a person who sees the road sign, clearly marking the highway leading to his destination, yet he deliberately turns off the road and begins to willfully meander in a different direction? A dawdler? A philanderer? A prodigal? Or what? Yet the reality is that lots of people take detours—not because the road is barricaded, or the path is not well marked, or even because they don’t know the right way to go. It’s simply that they don’t want to go where they know they ought to go.
Long ago there lived a man who knew exactly where he was to go but he chose to go a different direction, a self-directed detour. His name: Jonah, and lest you think that he never lived, remember Jesus Christ talked about him when He ministered here on earth.
Jonah’s destination was the great city of Nineveh, Assyria, but the detour led him west on the Mediterranean instead of northeast to Assyria. He boarded a ship, fully intending to take as long a detour as necessary to shake responsibility and reshape his personal identity. Detours, however, are not without consequences. The road or path often gets pretty rough. It’s always more difficult when you put your back towards God, family, and duty and go another direction.
You know the story! A great storm ensued, and Jonah admitted that he was the problem. He learned quickly that taking detours doesn’t eliminate problems; they compound them. Jonah’s detour resulted in unexpected calamity. He ended up being thrown into the angry waters and—whether or not you can swallow this, it’s true—he was then swallowed by a great fish until he decided that self-directed detours only result in more trouble than they are worth.
As Warren Wiersbe points out: “The main character in this book is neither the prophet nor the great fish but God, who is mentioned thirty-eight times.” It’s really the story of a man who detoured from what he knew God wanted him to do, and when confronted with difficulty, decided to change directions, do an about face, and then go God’s way.
When you take a detour—whether it is from your family, from what you know is right, or from God’s purpose and will for your life--you become a fugitive from happiness.
I’m thinking of a young woman who took a long detour. Living and traveling with a truck driver, she wandered into a convenience store at a truck stop, picked up my wife’s book Created For a Purpose and began reading it. The more she read, the more miserable she became, and when she got to the next truck stop, she called her dad and said, “Come get me. I want to come home!”
Jesus talked about a young man who did the same thing. He left home and took a detour ending up in disgrace, misery, and poverty. Jesus said the turning point was “when he came to himself!” In other words, there the reality struck home: “You have been a real fool. The detour isn’t where you really wanted to go. No matter how embarrassing or humiliating it may be, the best thing for you is to get back on the right road.” When that time comes, you change directions and head the way God wants you to go.
A final thought. You can’t always retrace your steps but you can always get to where you should go from where you are. Chance directions, friend, and it can change your life. Your wife, your parents, your God will be far more forgiving then you have any idea. Self-appointed detours are ended when you have the humility to see where you went wrong and decide to get on the right path.
Resource reading: Jonah 1.