PRINCIPLE: “When you're stopped in your tracks, remember the roundhouse.”
I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Among my many fond memories are the times we drove past an old roundhouse. A roundhouse was a large round building that was built at the end of a section of railroad tracks. When a train had reached the end of its tracks, the end of its journey, it would go into the roundhouse where the tracks would pivot and turn the engine around. Then it could go back in the opposite direction. For some reason, I was fascinated by the concept. But little did I realize that this roundhouse would eventually become a symbol for my Christian life.
Turning around means to repent, to get in the roundhouse and change directions. While we most often think of repentance as seeking forgiveness – which is one of its meanings – it's important to remember that at heart it means to change direction. Think about the message of John the Baptist (Mt. 3:1-2 CEV): “Years later, John the Baptist started preaching in the desert of Judea. He said, "Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here." “The Message” translates verse 2: "Change your life. God's kingdom is here." “When you're stopped in your tracks, remember the roundhouse.”
I now realize how many times in my life I came to the end of the tracks only to have God lead me to repent, to turn around and head somewhere else – somewhere He wanted me to go. When I entered college I was a music major; by the end of my freshman year I was headed for the ministry. When I headed home for the summer following that freshman year, I had a fairly serious relationship with a girl who was a fellow student; within a matter of weeks she cut off the relationship and I had met Barb, my current wife. When I graduated from seminary I was offered the opportunity to serve in an exciting young church where we could be near parents and in-laws; I wound up in a well established, traditional, exciting church northwest Iowa. I once said I doubted I would ever serve in Michigan; I've served in Michigan for over 30 years. I also said I would certainly never serve in my home town of Kalamazoo – not because I didn't like Kalamazoo but because people just don't serve in their hometowns; I served 81/2 years in Kalamazoo. And there are so many more visits to the roundhouse in my life. But get the picture? Time and time again I came to the end of my tracks and God put me in His roundhouse and turned me around, back to Him.
The roundhouse experiences of my life simply prove God’s truth once again: “We make our own plans, but the LORD decides where we will go.” (Prov. 16:9 CEV) “The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?” (Prov. 20:24 NLT) “I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course.” (Jer. 10:23 NLT) I'm glad this is true – though I still may not understand all the reasons and times God has put me in the roundhouse, I can honestly say that not once did I regret repenting. Whenever I have turned back to His way it has been good and right. No wonder Isaiah prophesied, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength...” (Is. 30:15) I am trying to be more sensitive to those times when I'm nearing the ends of the tracks, headed the wrong way – because I'm still learning the importance and beauty of “When you're stopped in your tracks, remember the roundhouse.”
Perhaps you've reached an impasse in your life; maybe your life has become dull and routine; it could be that you're sensing that your life has lost is meaning; or it's possible you're traveling along at a rapid pace and haven't even thought about the direction you're heading. Whatever the case, pause for a while and examine your life. Ask God for discernment. Eugene Peterson, in “The Message” translates Jeremiah 10:23, “I know, God, that mere mortals can't run their own lives, that men and women don't have what it takes to take charge of life. So correct us, God, as you see best.” Make that your prayer – today and every day. It's a whole lot easier to spot the roundhouse coming at the end of tracks than to go crashing into it. Perhaps the principle should be “When – or before - you're stopped in your tracks, remember the roundhouse.” Correct us, God, as you see best.