Reviewing the paths that many of our lives have taken, you could probably summarize them by saying, “You can’t get there from here. You have to go somewhere else first.”
Looking at my own life, it seems a lot like a traveler whose GPS has gone haywire. Born overseas while my father was serving in the U.S. Army, I spent most of my childhood in New Jersey. My college years took me first to Texas, and then Ohio. My career as a journalist also followed a somewhat erratic path, beginning in Ohio, followed by a brief sojourn in Pennsylvania, back to Ohio, then Texas, and finally, Tennessee.
If plotted on a map, this would resemble an extremely crooked stick. And my spiritual pilgrimage has been just as “crooked” as my life’s path. But from the God’s point of view, I believe it looks pretty much like a straight path, proceeding exactly as He planned.
Martin Luther said, “God can draw straight lines with crooked sticks.” Indeed He does. There are myriad examples we could choose from, but among those that come to my mind are two of the world’s greatest mass evangelists, Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. During the 1880s, Sunday compiled a reasonably successful eight-year major league baseball career; for most of that time he wouldn’t have been voted “most likely to become known as a winner of souls for God.”
But then the Lord got a hold of him. Several years after committing his life to Jesus Christ, Sunday left baseball and began a career as a itinerant evangelist, long before the advent of electronic sound systems. His much-celebrated career spanned about four decades, touching countless lives.
Graham was considered Sunday’s successor, although well into his young adulthood such an idea never crossed his mind. In fact, the story is told that when Graham was about 12 years old, a group of Christian businessmen gathered at the farm of his father, William Franklin Graham, to pray for God to “raise up a man who would take the Gospel to all the world and turn people in far places to Christ.”
Upon hearing of the men who had assembled, young Graham reportedly said, “I wonder what those fanatics are doing here.” And yet, as a young man he had a life-changing encounter with Jesus and he became one of “those fanatics.” During his lifetime Graham spoke the saving message of Christ to millions around the globe – in person, over the radio and on TV.
The Bible, in its unvarnished candor, presents dozens of examples of “crooked sticks” the Lord has used to accomplish grand things. One of them was Jacob (later renamed Israel), who despite being a schemer and a conniver became patriarch for the nation of people named after him. Jonah, a petulant prophet, was called to preach to people in the pagan city of Nineveh. However, he chose instead to flee and found his means of transportation shifting from a ship to a huge fish. In time, the Ninevites did get the message from the reluctant evangelist and a citywide revival resulted.
King David, described as “a man after God’s own heart” in the Scriptures, had more than his share of sinful detours. Yet he has been intimately identified with the Jews through the centuries, and from his pen we have a wonderful collection of writings in the Psalms. His son, Solomon, started his reign as king in a most humble manner, and his wisdom was unparalleled. He contributed much to the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, but his path became more crooked as time went on and he failed to finish particularly well.
In the New Testament we meet a number of other “crooked sticks. There’s Simon, whom Jesus renamed Peter; despite his impulsive nature he became a pillar of the early Church, even writing two of the Bible’s epistles. Matthew, who had betrayed his fellow Jews as a tax collector, also was selected to be one of Christ’s unlikely disciples. What we know most about Matthew’s life after becoming a follower of Jesus is that God chose him to be the author of one of the four gospels.
And we can’t overlook Saul, the zealous Pharisee and persecutor of followers of Jesus, fully convinced that what he was doing was right. After his Damascus road encounter with the Lord, however, Saul was given a new name, Paul, and spent the remainder of his life proclaiming Christ to anyone who would listen, despite many hardships. All amazing stories of how God through the centuries has used some very curious, crooked-path people to accomplish His purposes.
Personal experience, along with learning the faith stories of many other people, have taught me the course God has for us is rarely a direct one. Maybe that’s why Proverbs 3:5-6 admonishes us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Have you ever found yourself wondering why your life has taken an unexpected detour? Maybe more than a few? They’re often God’s way of saying, “Don’t try to figure it out. The course I’ve put you on will take you exactly where I want you to go.”
The key for us, as crooked, broken people trying to find our way through lives of uncertainty, is simply to trust rather than wearing ourselves out trying to comprehend what the Lord is doing or why He’s taking us where He chooses. As we’re promised in another passage from Proverbs, "I will guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble" (Proverbs 4:11-12). He knows the way.