By Phares Gilchrist
Trajectory: the path followed by a projectile flying or an object moving under the action of given forces
In the early 1990’s, there was a primitive computer game called Artillery. It has mutated into all sorts of fancy modern games, but I loved this original game. It was so simple. You had to use your best judgment on how to sight the trajectory for your canon. Over time, an innate sense of a general placement developed. The trajectory merely had to be adjusted by accounting for the variables. How high is the hill, how far is the castle, etc.?
A few years ago I read a book by Andy Stanley, The Principle of the Path. It, like my game, had a simple but profound premise. The trajectory of your life is set by the object you are fixed on. Of course, immediately, the verse “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith” begins to echo, and we all nod our heads in agreement with it. But what really would my life look like if I were fixed on Christ? How fixed am I? What does it take to alter that trajectory?
I was the youngest of four children. My mother taught English. My father managed a car dealership, and I had a lot of love, affection and support from them. Even so, there was a conspiracy in the family that kept me uneasy. There was a tension always lurking. As I matured, I learned the source. My oldest brother was giving my parents fits, and I was not supposed to know. He was 9 years older than I, and my other brother and sister, who were aware of the problem, were conscripted into “protecting” their little sister from knowing any details. As you can imagine, this special treatment I was receiving produced some hard feelings between my siblings and me. I didn’t know why and began to resent…everyone. Without knowing the truth, I was left to my own devices to figure out what on earth was the matter. Why were moods so moody? Why did Mom always have a veiled answer for my questions? Why were my father and oldest brother so angry with each other?
A trajectory had been set that I was not a part of and had no control over. It was vexing. It followed me to school, where I had a tendency to not trust teachers found to be manipulative. I did, however, have close relationships with some of my teachers. One day one of them shared I had been a topic of conversation in the faculty lounge that day. Half were beyond frustrated with me, the other half thought me a well-adjusted, capable, and enjoyable student. Both were right.
It also followed me into my friendships. I had a very low tolerance for those who, in my opinion, were not forthright. I was now setting my own trajectory. My set point was to escape this system I was a part of and make a new one. And then, when I was 17, Christ intervened. He offered me a new trajectory that involved a transformed life and a new reality.
But here’s the thing about a trajectory. It is only as effective as the point of focus. Change the focus, and you change the trajectory. At first it might just be an inch off. But without correction, over time it widens. After months and/or years of following this path, you are now miles away from the original point of focus.
In my favorite movie, The Dish, NASA is tracing the trajectory of Apollo 11 from a dish in a sheep paddock in Australia. It’s a big deal for the country, and they have lost the signal. After hours of painful wrangling with numbers and computers, one of the men looks outside and sees the moon. In a flash of clarity, he realizes they merely need to set the dish in line with the moon to get the trajectory. A frenzied pace of looking for solutions was replaced by peace when aligning not with computers, but with the actual object to be pursued. A simple correction with a profound outcome.
The fantastic news is that focus can be adjusted. It can be redirected. Sin can be repented of, rebellion can be given up, self-centeredness can be refocused on Christ. Some corrections will take longer than others because of the duration of the travel from set point. New habits are a work. Paul tells us in Philippians 2 to “work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” In other words, God worked salvation into me at a great price. My job is to take it seriously and apply myself to the trajectory. When I fail, there is forgiveness and a hand waiting to help me back into alignment.
I’m going to be honest, I get a little frustrated when I see others take the work Christ did on our behalf lightly. Nothing like a pandemic in isolation to clarify what we have been given and how quickly it can be taken away. Worship, fellowship, gathering together are great gifts we have been given. When those gifts are taken away, it reveals where the focus of our trajectory lies. But did you notice I said “when I see others”? As if I don’t take these gifts lightly a thousand times in a thousand different ways.
I am looking at this time of isolation as a gift. A time when I can take stock, reevaluate my trajectory and the end of its path. It means I proactively choose to give Him my pathmaker and trust His accuracy in hitting the target. It requires engagement in the process with Him and with those in my sphere of influence. It also requires replacing those paths that are worn and comfortable with those that are new and challenging.
You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever. — Psalm 16:11