A New Orientation

This is a picture taken in winter of the mid-day sun over a lake. As you stand looking at this scene from the point at which the picture was taken, in what direction are you looking – north, east, south or west? Most readers of this blog will give the same answer but not all!

Back in May 2016, I had a work-trip to Australia and I made what was to me a surprising discovery. The sun shone from the northern sky!  I was standing by a street in central Sydney and a friend was directing me to the Opera House. He pointed down the street and said, “keep going south and you can’t miss it”. But the sun was shining from behind us and I thought, “That can’t be south … that must be north”. Of course, it was south because the sun (of which I was somehow aware without thinking about it) was shining down on us from the northern sky.

Again, a day or two later, one of my hosts had taken me to the rail station to catch a train into central Sydney and it happened again. She indicated the direction from which the train would shortly be coming and I thought, “Surely not, it will be coming from the west”. East and west were swapped around in my mind because, again, I was assuming that the sun was shining from the south … and it wasn’t!

After more than seventy years of life oriented to the sun being in the southern sky, I was being reoriented to having it shine from the north! East had become west and west east!

In the Introduction to his book What I Believe, Leo Tolstoy wrote this:

“Five years ago I came to believe in Christ’s teachings, and my life suddenly changed; I ceased to desire what I had previously desired, and began to desire what I formerly did not want. … It happened to me as it happens to a man who goes out on some business and suddenly decides that the business is unnecessary and returns home. All that was on his right is now on his left, and all that was on his left is now on his right; his former wish to get as far as possible from home has changed into a wish to be as near as possible to it. The direction of my life and my desires became different, and good and evil changed places.”

At the age of 55, Tolstoy wrote this about his conversion five years earlier. For most of his life he had been a Nihilist. He went on to say, “I, like that thief on the cross, have believed Christ’s teaching and been saved.”

I was seventeen, going on eighteen, back in February 1962. (You can do the maths!) I was sitting in a Sunday evening service in the YMCA in Dublin. It was a service to which young people came from all over the city and its suburbs. The meeting hall was quite large with a gallery at the back. I was sitting with two friends high in the gallery.

I had always believed in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I had always believed that Jesus came as baby, lived, died on the cross and was raised again. I had always regarded the Bible as God’s book and read it regularly. I had always gone to church. I had always prayed to God. But, at that time, I was struggling with the realisation that, in spite of all that, all was not well in my heart and life, that there were things that I had done, said and thought that were not good. They were bad but I wanted to hold on to them.

That evening, sitting there in that service, while a church pastor from Liverpool was speaking, I surrendered to the Lord and trusted him as Saviour and Friend.

I was filled with joy as my friends and I walked the mile and a half or so to where we and other young men fresh up in Dublin from the country were living. I immediately wrote a letter home to my parents and younger brothers on the farm to tell them that Jesus was my Saviour.

I was changed and my life was changed. It wasn’t just a change of mind, a change of beliefs that I had. It was a new relationship.

How to describe the newness of this new relationship? I’ve come to think of it as being a reorientation, a reorientation of the whole person. Having this new friend, Jesus, come into one’s heart and life is a reorientation from having my world centred on me to having it centred on him. It is not that I’m consciously thinking of him all the time any more than I am consciously thinking of the sun as being in the southern sky but my living and my decisions and plans now take him into account. A husband is not consciously thinking of his wife every moment of the day but all his living and all his plans are made and decisions are taken within that relationship and oriented towards it.

Light of the world, help us to be always oriented to you as Son of God, to walk in your light and to reflect you in our living. Amen.

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