It’s been a week of U-turns.
Memorably we had the U-turn over the tax rate for high earners. Dramatically just the day after the PM’s statement that she was “absolutely committed” to the cut. Ouch!
U-turns are generally considered bad form, a sign of weakness when strong opposition is encountered. Such an about-turn, as we have witnessed, is often dramatic and very public. Take a U-turn at your peril.
As it happens we were in Arnhem the other week, the site of “the bridge too far.” Clearly a painful decision for the Allied commanders, to turn around and pull back. Their intricate plan had failed.
However, we need to realise that taking a U-turn can be the right decision, simply by being alert to some key changes in the situation.
As physician Alex Lickerman, observes: “Circumstances never remain static, so why should our responses to them be forever locked in their initial form? The best answer often changes over time.”
And of course, the Christian life begins with a U-turn. What the Bible calls repentance, re-pensée, a re-think for our life’s direction.
American pastor Peter Marshall observes: “A person walks on through life - with the external call ringing in their ears but with no response stirring in their heart, and then suddenly, without any warning, the Spirit taps them on the shoulder. What happens? They turn around. The word 'repentance' means 'turning 'round.' He or she repents and believes and is saved.”
But as in all U-turns, not easy. “True repentance is necessarily a difficult process,” reports Christianity Today. It will mean a lot of undoing, even abandoning long-cherished goals. And quite possibly, this gain of faith can mean a loss of face.
"I gave in, and admitted that God was God. Perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England," recalled C S Lewis. A most painful U-turn, even one wholly necessary
As we decide to live for Christ, we resolve to follow his lead. So how do we handle U-turns, when we think that we are going in the wrong direction? Not easy, especially when God often will lead us through what seems at the time failure. Do we press on, knowing that this is how God often works? Or simply realise that we are going in the wrong direction.
This has to be one of the main dilemmas for disciples of Jesus.
Certainly I can think of many examples in my own ministry when I needed to press on, as I shared for example in last week’s blog. As Jesus warns in one of the shortest verses in the Bible: “Remember Lot’s wife!” (Luke 17:32). When it comes to obeying God, don’t do a U-turn.
So just keep at it undaunted whatever God has called you to do. “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” (Hebrews 12:12)
And I guess some of you reading this blog need such encouragement Jesus never said it was going to be easy and God is the God of resurrection, the Saviour of failed causes.
As church builder Rick Warren explains: “When you’re in the middle of a failure, it can seem like nothing good will ever come from it. But God can always bring good from your failures. In fact, your worst failure can become your greatest success. If you let him, God will use your failures to build his church!”
But there again, the truth is that we are simply weak sinners in the process of being repaired. We are still learning - and inevitably we make mistakes. Here, like Google, we need to “fail fast.” To turn around as soon as we realise that we are going in the wrong direction.
And it’s important to realise that what once worked then does not mean that it will still work today. Also what worked over there does not necessarily work over here. In our fast-changing world we need to be alert to the temptations from routine and tradition.
Sometimes a full blown U-turn is entirely necessary. However, for disciples of Jesus no big deal if we understand that God values us for who we are rather than what we do. Not so much a failure as a learning experience.
To know when to persevere and when to U-turn needs wisdom, when it is a bridge too far. And here we need the counsel of the Holy Spirit through the wisdom of fellow Christians who know us well – do we simply hold our course despite everything or just call it a day? Whether we lose face, of course, is neither here nor there.
Either way our security lies in not where we are going but who we are following. As Archbishop Justin said in his brilliant sermon for the Queen’s funeral: “Jesus – who in our reading does not tell his disciples how to follow, but who to follow – said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’”
He stays with us whether we stay the course or not.