No one likes a roadblock—except the guy who makes all those roadblock signs. But for the rest of us, a roadblock can be downright annoying.

But it doesn’t need to be.

Take Marco Polo, whose birthday is celebrated September 12. Most people know Marco Polo as the guy who invented that silly swimming pool game. But what Polo really did was travel—a lot. His father and uncle were jewel merchants, and they had already traveled through parts of Asia, but when Marco was 17, he joined his father and uncle on their travels. This wasn’t intended as an especially long journey, but it was a difficult one. For example, it took them four hard years to cross the Middle East and reach China. (Remember that the next time you complain about connecting flights in Atlanta.)

“I don’t even know what a swimming pool is.”

Marco did not return to his hometown of Venice for 23 years. But during that time, he learned much of the Chinese culture. He played a key role in the court of the Mongol ruler, Kublai Khan. At times, he was a special envoy for Khan, a governor, and even a member of Khan’s council.

We wouldn’t know any of this had Marco Polo not faced a major roadblock in his life. After he returned to Venice, his city was at war with Genoa, a rival city. Marco was commanding a warship which was captured, and he was thrown into a Genoa prison. In my book, that’s a serious roadblock.

So to pass the time in prison, Marco told stories of his experiences to a fellow prisoner, Rustichello, who also happened to be a writer. Rustichello put pen to paper and the result was the book which came to be known as The Travels of Marco Polo.

The book was an instant hit. Printed in Italian, French, and Latin, the book was read throughout Europe. Although some were skeptical—the stories seemed a little too far-fetched for some who couldn’t imagine life beyond the Holy Roman Empire—the book had a great impact on future merchants and adventurers. Two hundred years later, when Christopher Columbus set out to find a shorter route to the far east, he went prepared with a copy of Marco Polo’s book.

Life doesn’t always go the way we planned. Schedules get interrupted—sometimes for the afternoon and sometimes for a lifetime. It happens. But when it happens, how do we respond?

  • We can get frustrated and take it out on the family dog.
  • We can find some other way to be productive.

It’s a choice as simple as that.

  • Years ago, my father found himself at a gathering he’d rather not be at. He found someone who looked equally bored and struck up a conversation. Turns out they had a shared interest in engineering and their conversation eventually turned into a new company with a patent and a device I can neither pronounce nor understand.
  • Long lines used to be my frustrating roadblock, but I use my smartphone to be productive. I read a book.
  • The apostle Paul had plans to do mission work in Bithynia, but he faced a roadblock. We don’t know the nature of that roadblock, “but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:7). Paul didn’t fuss, “Why, God, would you let me make these plans if You didn’t want me to go there?” Nope, Paul just picked up and went in another direction. And with that, the Gospel began its journey into Europe.
  • Later, Paul wrote about his imprisonment: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel” (Phil. 1:12).

I don’t think Paul ever saw a roadblock!

Whatever is in front of you, don’t see it as a roadblock; it’s an unplanned opportunity. Roadblock or not, God can—and will—use you.

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