Alongsider Briefings: Reflections of a Life Lived with God

Life is Like an Art Gallery: Picture #4 – Three Ways to Leave a Traffic Circle

Our lives are full of images — pictures of heartache, love, and faith. Jesus used pictures extensively. They were more than power point images to illustrate the main points of his sermons. Jesus used pictures because they suggest truth rather then spell it out; they evoke faith instead of explaining faith. Ultimately, they catch us by surprise.

This blog is the last of my four life pictures — images that the Lord has used to suggest growth and to evoke new ways of living. All of these pictures have caught me by surprise, they serendipitously appeared in my life and are burned in my mind.

In the past months, I’ve written about the pictures of Superman, a novel, and some crows. There’s no relationship between any of these images except the impact they’ve had on me. My fourth and last picture is as unusual as the others — it’s the picture of a traffic circle or roundabout.

Columbus, Ohio is being flooded with traffic circles (There’s a technical difference between a roundabout and a traffic circle but I prefer using “traffic circle”). Traffic circles slow down traffic, they’re cheaper to maintain than the typical traffic light, and they decrease accidents. But there is one frustration — getting stuck in the inside lane.

I’ve been stuck on the inside lane of a multi-lane traffic circle. I drove around and around the circle, trying to get to the appropriate exit; growing in frustration at every attempt to get out. Around and around I went. 

The Christian life can be like being stuck in a traffic circle. We keep going around and around, missing the exit ramps. What’s being stuck look like?

Too often, I find the Christian life one of a constant pursuit to perfect the basics. I need to pray more, I need to study the Bible better, I need to serve more . . . the list could go on. I go around and around the spiritual traffic circle trying to perfect the spiritual disciplines.

Churches create their own traffic circles. We go around and around a church schedule of small groups, service projects, worship services, adult classes . . . you get the picture. We go around and around and miss the purpose of the traffic circle.

What’s the purpose? Traffic circles are designed for us to exit to one or more roads not to keep driving around the circle. What do these exists represent in our lives as disciples? Exits are the roads to the world — the place where Jesus always intended to send us (John 17:18). It’s easy to get stuck on the inner ramp missing the life of mission.

How do we escape the tyranny of the inner circle — always perfecting the basics, caught in an endless array of activities? Three simple practices help me find the exit route to the world.

Be deliberate. Out of frustration I try to avoid the traffic circles but I can’t. They’re the only way forward to my destination. If I can’t change the traffic flow, I can choose my attitude: “Don’t get frustrated or angry, Bill. Your impatience will not change the traffic route.”

Taking the exit ramp to the world is a deliberate choice. I prefer the safety of my Christian enclave, the regularity of Sunday worship, or the “purity” of the Christian culture. I must choose to trust God to be “lights in a crooked and perverse generation” (Philippians 2:15). I must daily decide not to be pulled into the safety of the inner circle but to take the exit ramp.

Watch the signs. Like any intersection, traffic circles have signs that direct me around the circle. I sometimes ignore the signs because I think I know the way. I soon find myself struck in the inner lane. What are the God-signs that lead me to the exit ramp?

These Holy Spirit signs are as simple as a neighbor confiding in me about grieving for a parent’s death. Another sign can be a friend facing an ethical challenge at work. An honest discussion with a co-worker about his or her marriage can be a sign. I need to be on the lookout for these signs. They point me to the exit — the people in my world that the Lord sends me to.

Focus on the destination. My goal is not to drive around the traffic circle; my goal is to arrive at my destination. My goal is not to “perfect” the basics but to get to know Jesus. My goal is not to immerse myself in church life but to experience the church propelling me into the world. The destination may be obvious but making the turn is a challenge; life is distracting.

Like the speeding cars in the circle, the speed of life traps me in its routine and I miss the exit. Like vehicles jostling for space in their lanes, church activities compete for time to spend with unbelieving friends. Like my distracted glance that misses the exit, I’m easily distracted by life’s mundane routines.

Thinking of life as a traffic circle keeps me focused on finding the exit ramps. Jesus’s instruction to the demon-possessed man kept him out of the inside lane and pointed to the exit: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19). Don’t get caught driving around and around in the inner circle, head for the exit, head for the world.

The Ways of the Leader Cover Image for Bill_1

The Ways of the Leader

Check out Bill’s latest book The Ways of the Leader on NavPress. The book will help local leaders wisely develop local strategies for local challenges.

One Comment

  1. one of the most intimidating driving experiences is that round about on 161 going toward old Dublin. I’ve gotten off the wrong exit way too many times for a guy with my years of driving and my mad driving skills. Mad can be taken several ways! Good word brother

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