The Other Way
by Jason Overman
It’s been a busy summer of traveling. Road trips over the last three months have taken me, and the family, on ministry adventures to Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Illinois, Missouri, and North Dakota. It was fun and rewarding, but put more miles in our old Pontiac than I care to count.
A constant companion on these trips has been the handy Maps app on my cellphone. When it comes to navigating Houston traffic, or the fastest route to Jamestown, North Dakota, it’s indispensible — an amazing feat of human ingenuity. How did I ever live without it?
“You have a five-minute delay,” the woman intoned as we beat a path south toward home through the tangle of Kansas City highways. “This is still your fastest route.” I saw a squat red line appear on the navigation map, breaking a long thread of blue. Sure enough, the cars began to slow to a standstill.
True to her word, five minutes later we were back at full speed. Amazing!
“Rerouting.” Oops. I zoned out and missed our exit. “Rerouting.” The woman said that a lot, for some reason. OK, I admit that some of the time it was my own fault, but most of the time she wouldn’t even let me take an exit to get gas. It’s annoying. “Rerouting. Rerouting.” OK! OK! How do I turn her off?
The convenience is undeniable. Who doesn’t want to get to their destination by the fastest route possible? If you miss a turn, you want to know. Nobody wants to get lost and wander around and have to stop to ask for directions.
I suppose if there were an app for relationships, career, or even life itself, it would be a huge seller. Imagine navigating those roadways with computer- like accuracy and detail. Google is probably building that app right now.
Of course, while traffic and travel can be directed by an app, life can’t, and we shouldn’t want it to. That journey is much too intricate and important to leave to the exactitude of the fastest and most convenient route. Like Robert Frost’s famous poem tells, when two roads diverge in a wood, taking the one less travelled can make all the difference.
My handy Maps app has had me thinking about the ease and expediency of the broad way — the main way, the ways of man — and that narrow way that is God’s way — the way of Jesus, narrow only in that it is less about our control than His.
The prophet Isaiah’s revealing and familiar words come to mind:
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8, 9).
God’s ways are higher, better, but not easier — certainly not faster. Our human nature, with its limited perceptibility, will seek to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, magnify security and eliminate threat, detour, and obstacles. God’s ways are different — not so pat.
Of Isaiah 55:8, 9, Bible theologian Albert Barnes commented insightfully:
[God] has plans for accomplishing his purposes which are different from ours, and he secures our own welfare by schemes that cross our own. . . . He leads us in a path which we had not intended; and secures our ultimate happiness in modes which are contrary to all our designs and desires.
These thoughts, ways of God, this providential leading “in a path which we had not intended,” dramatically recalls the children of Israel just after their miraculous Exodus from Pharaoh’s bondage:
When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea (Exodus 13:17, 18).
Israel’s promised end would not be reached by the main road or rerouting to the shortest route. They weren’t ready. God had another way in mind, a roundabout way. A couple days turned into forty years. Paradoxically, the Israelites wandered in the desert, even as their Sovereign led them.
We don’t usually think of wandering as being led, but this is God’s patient, farsighted ways. Like Abraham who followed God’s call and “went without knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8), the life of faith isn’t a straight line from point a to point b. That way has no growth or wisdom, no testing or preparation. Life’s twists and turns are often unanticipated and inexplicable, but God goes with us, leading us in His slow, meandering ways toward that destination He has in mind for us. When we arrive, we’re a people ready to receive it.
In a simple but loaded sentence, the missionary to the Gentiles, Paul, tells the church in Corinth that we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). That’s a far cry from a handy Maps app that has charted the fastest course and laid it out in the finest detail. This is the other way, and it turns out to be the only way to our true destination. If this journey of faith is marked by uncertain days and unexpected pains, it also provides joyful discovery and real transformation along the way because in our wanderings, Jesus wanders with us, leading the way.
After a summer of road trips, I thank the Lord for keeping us safe and sound. He was our constant companion too. We’ve not yet begun to see or understand all His thoughts and ways in these travels, but we will. God in Christ makes all things beautiful in His time. And that means we have all the time we need.
Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation.