The planets in our solar system all orbit around the sun, because they have no choice but to orbit around the sun. We, on the other hand, have been given the freedom to choose our own orbits, so to speak. And even though the “planet” we call “me” will sooner or later spin out of control or disintegrate or turn into a flaming ball if we choose to leave the orbit we were created to follow—with Jesus at the center of our life—we have all, nevertheless, chosen to do just that during seasons of our life.
Two quotes from two great men, separated by a century, sum up the gravitational pull that has drawn me back into a close orbit of the Son, repeatedly and permanently…
In his book Following Jesus, the great British theologian N.T. Wright says this: “The longer you look at Jesus, the more you will want to serve him. That is, of course, if it’s the real Jesus you’re looking at.” Wright is saying that it’s very possible for us to miss the “real” Jesus—the Jesus described by the Bible who is wholly unlike any man who ever lived because he is both man and God. Instead, many of us end up following a guy who looks a lot like Jesus but is actually more like the guy who made your Starbucks latte the other day: polite, eager to serve, helpful, and comfortably anonymous. The real Jesus is magnetic, because he is far more fierce, unpredictable, and amazing than our conventionally preposterous descriptions of him.
The second quote is from Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a 19th-century English pastor who suffered from depression and a painful birth defect. Every week, this 22-year-old phenomenon preached two services at his London church, bellowing his love for the “orbited Son” (without the benefit of a microphone) twice every Sunday to crowds of 6,000 people. At the time, he had more books in print than any other living person. He still has more books in print than any other pastor in history, including more than 2,500 of his published sermons. Historians call him the “Prince of Preachers,” and his guiding motto in life has now become my own: “In everything, make a beeline to Jesus.” Rather than explain what this little motto means, I’ll let this well-known story about Spurgeon do the talking:
Much later in Spurgeon’s ministry, a young pastor asked him to listen to him preach and give him a critique—a common request since Spurgeon was revered by other preachers. After he listened to the young man’s impassioned sermon, Spurgeon was honest—he thought it was well prepared and well delivered but it nevertheless…stunk.
“Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?” asked the young pastor.
“Because,” said Spurgeon, “There was no Christ in it.”
The young man said, “Well, Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.”
The old man responded, “Don’t you know, young man, that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?”
“Yes,” said the young man.
“Ah!” said the old preacher, “and so from every text in Scripture there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. Dear brother, when you get to a text, say, ‘Now, what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ.”
Spurgeon lived his life “making a beeline to Christ”—it was his central, guiding commitment every time he opened his mouth to speak or teach or write. And as I have adopted “beelining” as the driving force in my life, I have discovered my own embedded purpose and identity—it feels deeply good to follow the orbit I was designed by God to follow. And when everything in our life is orbiting around “the real Jesus,” epic stuff happens. Because Jesus is at the center of our lives, the people around us find rescue from pain and worry and hopelessness and emptiness and loneliness and purposelessness and so many other “ness-es.” Life transcends our expected drudgeries and becomes an everyday (but epic) adventure.
In my three-plus decades of serving Christian leaders, I’ve seen (over and over) research that shows the #1 thing on “church wish list” of teenagers and adults is to “learn more about Jesus.” I love that. When we help people draw near to His beauty—not for “life application,” but simply to appreciate, admire, and worship Him—we’re also helping them move back into close orbit around “the way, the truth, and the life.” The closer we get to Him, with no agenda other than to explore how far we can move toward intimacy, the more we will see Him, hear Him, taste Him, touch Him, and smell Him. Transformation comes when Jesus fills up our senses. In ministry, there is nothing more profoundly satisfying than witnessing someone break through their cocoon, unfold their wings, and fly into the Son…
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following Jesus. He’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible and author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution, The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.