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Last Saturday, my husband and I piled the dogs in the car took a day-trip up the coast to Mendicino. This is a beautiful seaside area on the rugged California coast, where there are all sorts of neat things. You have dramatic ocean waves crashing into rocky mountainous coast, you have the scenic forest of redwood trees and a rambling river, you have a quaint little seaside community with fun shops and assorted things to do. The only problem is that this beautiful area is a four-hour drive from our house. And there is a section about an hour into the drive where the freeway narrows to two lanes but the traffic needs three or four lanes to support it. That area is usually pretty backed up for about from 30 minutes or so, and driving that stretch of road can be frustrating and unpleasant.
We had an experience last Saturday that would make a great scene for a National Lampoon comedy movie. Traffic started backing up as we approached Santa Rosa. It was not intolerable, it was still moving, but it was only moving about half of the posted speed. After this had been going on for a while, My husband decided to try that "bypass" trick where you exit the freeway but stay on the off ramp and it eventually becomes an entrance to the freeway again, and you pass a bunch of cars that are all backed up on the freeway. But the exit he choose to do that on did not become an entrance, it was a highway that veered off to some unknown destination. So he took the first exit, which said it would bring us back to the freeway we just left. It did, only it put us on the freeway going the wrong direction and the first exit was not for five miles!
That meant Ed was going to have to backtrack through that same slow five- mile stretch of road again, which would add an additional ten frustrating minutes to his drive -- traffic backup that he had already suffered through once. (I can sympathize with him, because it really is no fun to drive in slow heavy traffic. So I was careful not to make any comments to him that might make him feel bad about his attempt to avoid traffic or get him even more frustrated.) Hey, those things happen. Sometimes our little shortcuts do not work out so well.
But Ed decided that instead of getting on the freeway and going through that 30 mile and hour traffic again, he would take city streets back to the start of his unfortunate detour. I am not sure I understand the logic of that, since city streets rarely let you go faster than the freeway was already moving, and they also have a bunch of traffic lights where you have to stop. But Ed was driving, so I decided to keep my mouth shut and my observations to myself.
At first it did not seem too bad. There was not much traffic and it was moving at about 40 miles per hour. But after the first mile, we saw a "lane closed sign" and traffic started to back up. We thought it was some short construction thing, but it turned out to be much more serious than that. Apparently it was the area's annual local fair, or some similar type of big celebration. People were trying to park for that.
The main road was closed as part of that celebration and were forced to make a left turn onto some little street that twisted all over the place. And as soon as we made the turn, we found ourselves crawling along in bumper to bumper traffic. People on foot (e.g., those who were walking) were passing us as we sat in our cars stuck in traffic. The cars in front of us were not moving and we were stuck in the middle of it. And the other direction was backed up solid too, and the road narrow, so we did not even have the option of turning around and backtracking to the freeway. The detour was not laid out well and took us through a shopping center, where we had to keep stopping every ten feet for so for pedestrians. And the ultimate insult (added to the injury of the excruciatingly slow and congested traffic) was that the freeway was next to us and we could see the cars buzzing by at a solid 30 to 40 miles per hour. They were moving so much faster than we were! For a while Ed was so miserable he wanted to forget the trip to Mendicino and just go back home.
After an hour of this local street congestion, we finally go back to the point where we started the detour from. Ed hopped back on the freeway and it soon began moving along at about 55 miles per hour. If he had just stayed on the freeway in the first place, he would have reached the spot where the traffic congestion cleared up in a matter of minutes. So all that extra hour of frustration was totally unnecessary. And I thought to myself that this was the type of scene you would probably see in a National Lampoon movie about family vacations. It seemed humorous to me, but I wasn't the one driving. I decided not to share that insight with Ed.
Then the Lord spoke to me and said that so many of His children take similar "shortcuts" and "detours" in their lives. We have a goal in mind, and God's plan seems to be getting us there so much more slowly than we would like. So we decide to take a shortcut to speed things up. Only the shortcut doesn't get us there any faster. In fact, the shortcut seems to move us the wrong direction and we end up loosing ground instead of gaining it.
Have you ever had an experience like that? Many believers have.
Maybe you are looking for a breakthrough in your career and you ask God to help you with this. But His idea of help is to drudge up some old past issues that effect how you relate to others. And God make you struggle with these issues, but you don't see the progress you desire in your career.
I had a friend in that position. He decided to take things into this own hands. He applied for various promotions and transfers, even though God had told him not to. He finally got a promotion, but his interpersonal skills were a bit too weak for that position. He got into all sorts of conflicts with co-workers and found himself in situations that he could not handle. He was finally demoted, took a salary cut, and put back in his old position on probationary status. And his end state was worse than before he applied for that promotion.
Perhaps something similar has happened to you in some area of your life, and you find yourself asking -- "What happened?" What happened is that you tried to take a shortcut instead of doing things God's way, and it backfired on you. You see, God doesn't usually want to bypass problem areas of your life, He wants to fix them!
Crash diets are a great example of the type of shortcuts we often try to take. The medical profession has released all sorts of studies that say that the best way to safely loose weight is slowly, loosing about two pounds a week. They recommend you should do that by eating balanced and nutritious, and cutting calories and fat and by increasing exercise. But many people who are looking to loose 20 pounds or more say that this is too slow for them, so may look for faster alternatives. They look for the pill or crash diet that will let them take off 10 pounds the first week. And the crash diet may seem to work well at first. But most of them are not nutritious, cutting important food groups, and people get sick on them. People develop health problems on them, and they start craving the omitted food group to the point where they end up binging. And eventually it comes time to stop eating according to the crash diet plan. This is where most people gain back all they loose and more besides. Their diet short-cut looked attractive at first, but it did not lead them to the desired goal. In fact, it moved them in the wrong direction.
That is what shortcuts usually do when we don't really know the path we are traveling on. They often end up setting us back instead of letting us get ahead. We don't want to take shortcuts on God's path, because they are not going to work out well for us.
God has a desired goal for our lives, which is to mold us to image of His Son, Jesus. Romans 8:29 tells us, "He also predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of His Son." God wants to transform our character and make us more like Jesus. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord." God does this by having His spirit work in our lives, but we have to cooperate with Him in the process. Titus 3:5 tells us, "according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit..." We are to be renewed by Holy Spirit's work in our lives. Our very natures are changed.
This does not happen instantly and we must learn to be patient. God takes His time and sometimes the process will seem too slow for us. We must be careful that we don't start looking for a shortcut to get us to our goal "faster." Spiritual shortcuts will not work. Romans 12:2 tells us, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." There is no shortcut for that. Any detours you take to "get there faster" will just cause you to back track and have to cover some of the same ground again.