I’ve spent some of our last sweet summer days at a lake house my parents own in Northwest Arkansas. To get down to the lake, you have to drive around winding, steep roads. Last summer, Peter and I were walking along these roads and noted the effectiveness of switchbacks. On foot, those roads take sharp turns and are steep. These switchbacks make it possible to scale steep ridges on foot or in cars. The easiest way to scale that mountain is a series of moving forward and switching back. This image of scaling a mountain by a series of switchbacks came back to mind after hearing our Pastor Jeff address Acts 8.
Two individuals with belief are highlighted in this chapter. One believed Jesus’ power could bolster his own, and one placed himself in submission to Jesus’ power. One believed “that he himself was somebody great” (Acts 8:10). One actually had an incredible position of influence—“a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure” (Acts 8:27). One captured the attention of his community “because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic” (Acts 8:11). One was emasculated because of his proximity to the Queen. Though he was in a position of power, he wasn’t truly accepted in society. The first man was Simon the magician, and the second man was called the Ethiopian eunuch.
From these two vignettes I can ask myself, “Am I attracted to the benefits of proximity to Jesus for myself? Or do I enjoy proximity to Jesus? Period.” I think this is an important distinction. Does Jesus orbit me? Or do I orbit Him? It’s the difference between false belief leading to death and genuine faith leading to life. Church history sheds light on the story further. Simon is labeled a heretic, and the eunuch becomes a missionary—bringing the gospel to Northern Africa.
What does Jesus orbiting us look like? It can look like Simon offering to pay the Apostles for the ability to distribute the Holy Spirit. It can look like utilizing your skills in business and leadership to work in churches, but simply seeking after your own gain. It can look like strictly regulating your children’s behavior because they reflect your parenting. It can look like pursuing God-given, artistic endeavors to make a name for yourself. It’s as simple (and terrifying) as pursuing Jesus so you can find healing from your troubled past.
In each scenario, you are the object. The object of power, comfort, skill and influence. You become god. You are the god of your own story and Jesus is the power that fuels you.
What does it look like to orbit Jesus then? It looks like a powerful man whose brokenness drives him to desire Jesus above all else. It looks like utilizing your skills in business and leadership to give your life to church, seeking ways to share Jesus’ transformation of your life in creative ways. It can look like walking your children through the hope of the gospel each time they, and you, fail. It looks like entrusting each moment of failure to a Holy God who is forming and shaping them and you. It looks like using your God-given artistic endeavors to share His beauty and magnify Him. It’s a simple as realizing that Jesus is the balm for your troubled past, and He gives you the strength to forgive the past and hope for the future.
It is the difference between arrogance and humility. This is literally the human story from day one. This actually precedes humanity’s story. Our greatest enemy was once one of heaven’s host of angels. He desired to be like god. He desired to be god. This is our story too.
So what do we do? I think Simon had an opportunity to change the trajectory of his story. His false belief was called out by Peter, saying, “Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22). Repent. Turn around.
Life orbiting Jesus is like a mountain. And repentance is like the switchbacks that make scaling the mountain more attainable. If you find your motivations are steeped in selfishness, repent. Turn around. Switchback. Then you start along the path again and realize after not too long that you need another switchback. Repentance. Turn around. Scale a little farther. As you’ve walked this road for a while, you see through a clearing in the trees how far you’ve come. It’s remarkable. In this excerpt by Charles Spurgeon, he expresses this metaphor further:
Our knowledge of Christ is somewhat like climbing one of our Welsh mountains. When you are at the base you see but little: the mountain itself appears to be but one-half as high as it really is. Confined in a little valley, you discover scarcely anything but the rippling brooks as they descend into the stream at the foot of the mountain. Climb the first rising knoll, and the valley lengthens and widens beneath your feet. Go higher, and you see the country for four or five miles round, and you are delighted with the widening prospect. Mount still, and the scene enlarges; till at last, when you are on the summit, and look east, west, north, and south, you see almost all England lying before you. Yonder is a forest in some distant county, perhaps two hundred miles away, and here the sea, and there a shining river and the smoking chimneys of a manufacturing town, or the masts of the ships in a busy port. All these things please and delight you, and you say, "I could not have imagined that so much could be seen at this elevation." Now, the Christian life is of the same order. When we first believe in Christ we see but little of him. The higher we climb the more we discover of his beauties.
This intimacy with Jesus—asking Him to search my heart and motivations, and repenting when needed—is a most precious gift. In our social media culture, we are obsessed with knowing what people are up to. How do they style their homes? How do they clothe their bodies? What are they reading? How are they parenting? We crave intimacy with strangers, but we act like allowing Jesus that kind of access to our life is impossible. It isn’t. It is hope.
It’s allowing my mind to be filled with His words and His story first thing in the morning—allowing it to shape my story for the day. It’s turning to Him in my moment of parenting failure for forgiveness and strength to repent to my kids. It’s running to Him in the midst of relational conflict and allowing Him to shape my heart before I try to respond. It’s submitting my small moments and large vision to His leading, trusting His guidance and walking in steps of holy confidence—not arrogant self-promotion. It’s allowing my greatest joys and ecstasies to become moments of worship of the generous Father who bestowed them upon me.
“You're the center of the universe
Everything was made in You Jesus
Breath of every living thing
Everyone was made for You
You hold everything together
You hold everything together
Christ be the center of our lives
Be the place we fix our eyes
Be the center of our lives
We lift our eyes to heaven
We wrap our lives around your life
We lift our eyes to heaven, to You”
-“Center,” Charlie Hall
I leave you with this question. Are you orbiting Jesus? Or are you living as though He orbits you? If you find the latter to be more true, switchback, my friend.