Circling Back |

Credit: Justin Luebke,

It was mid-fall, the prairie sky was growing dark and sleet was turning the highways into hockey rinks. I zipped up my jacket, started my 4×4, and steeled myself for the trip.

I was circling back.

‘Circling back’ is an idiom from the 80s corporate world meaning ‘to avoid an unpleasant or unwanted topic’ by circling back and talking about this later, much later, or maybe never.

In the military sense, it means ‘to reverse direction,’ when scouts would move ahead of the main force and then having spotted an enemy, they would circle back the same way they came and report what they saw.

Sometimes to move forward, you have to go back.

I was circling back to meet up with a group of people where fellowship was a challenge for all of us, me and them.

As I traveled, I listened to Christian music and did lots of praying. For years, I felt like an outsider in this group. I felt like a Zebra and never knew if I was one of the black sheep or a white one.

I was certain of only one thing, that I was called to help, and hoped that these meetings would include building a new ‘bridge’ between us.

As I drove through the darkness, God gave me a vision.

First I saw the remains of a large bridge across a river that had been burned.

Besides that old bridge was a brand-new tubular steel bridge. It was red and sturdy, but also very narrow and could only hold one person at a time. It was so narrow that a person had to cross it cautiously.

Sometimes when we are circling back, the only bridges available are more limited than the old ones.

At the end of this gathering, I was exhausted and happy to head home.

But the bridge metaphor has haunted me ever since that day.

Paul writes, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18 NKJV).

For me, the old bridge was gone, and it was not coming back, but still, I had to do my best to make things right.

I had to circle back by the only available bridge and leave the results in God’s hands.

Circling back is not a modern concept. It is an old one.

One of the earliest examples is from the life of Joseph, who grew up in one of the most dysfunctional families you could imagine.

His mom died at an early age. His three, yes, three stepmoms, were not very comforting. He was his father’s favorite son, and that fact was not lost on his 11 older brothers.

While a teen, Joseph was sent by his father Jacob, to check on his older brothers, who were away looking after the sheep.

He was wearing his infamous coat of many colors, which also happened to be the coat traditionally worn by an overseer or lord.

Interestingly, it was not Joseph’s coat that sent his brothers over the edge, but rather it was his prophetic dreams. One in particular, where Joseph dreamed of his brother bowing before him, was the main problem.

Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit, and we shall say some wild beast has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams,” the brothers said.

In the end, they settled with selling Joseph off as a slave, but ultimately it was his prophetic gifting, that caused his brothers to rid themselves of Joseph for good.

From the pit, where Joseph was initially imprisoned, to his brothers finally bowing to him, would take 22 years. It was to be a hard time for Daddy’s favorite son.

So at this point in the story, Joseph was given a gift, a spiritual coat of authority and calling, only to have it torn off and thrown away.

Psalm 105:17 says, “God sent a man before them — Joseph — who was sold as a slave.”

God allowed Joseph’s authority, his ministry, and his call to be torn away by his brothers.

Ouch, did you catch that?

But in the end, it is always about our response.

How will you deal with your brothers and sisters when they seemingly treat you bad?

I expect the world to lie and treat me wrong at times, but when it involves God’s family, the hurt goes deep.

I’ve seen too many over the years, who had far greater giftings than me. They seemed born to be great in the kingdom, but they had the coat of many giftings torn away.

They became angry and bitter against the church and would no longer fellowship with their brothers.

They still follow God, but just reject the church. Meanwhile, their kids took it one step further, not only rejecting the established church, but God as well.

Joseph ended up in Egypt, to prepare the way for his family, to follow and be saved.

It seems that Joseph never looked for his family on his own (his terms), but let God bring them to him.

Joseph’s purpose was not complete until he circled back and dealt with the same brothers who had betrayed him 22 years earlier.

Remember Joseph’s words to his brothers, “What you meant for evil, God turned around for good to save many.”

Sadly, I’ve found myself on the brother’s side, so when I have to circle back and deal with others it’s good to remember that I have not always been on the side of the angels.

Names in the Bible are significant, and it’s worth mentioning the names of Joseph’s two sons, which reflected God’s work of grace in his life.

Ephraim was Joseph’s second child and his name means ‘double fruitful’; but before you can experience God’s double blessing, you need to first have your Manasseh, which means ‘making to forget’.

Before Joseph experienced his double blessing, he had to circle back to the place of pain and allow God to help him forgive and forget the hurt.

Romans 8:28 reads that ‘all things work together for good.’

Joseph knew this long before Paul penned those words. He may have been stripped of his coat, but not his integrity.

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