Ask the Question of Trajectory – Not Position

During my undergraduate studies, I took a few statistics classes as a part of my degree plan. And though a lot of that knowledge has come and gone, there are a few terms and exercises I remember. One of those involved the importance of drawing a trendline.

A trendline is different than a line graph. In a line graph, you are connecting points to each other, no matter where those points are on the axis. With a line graph, you might be a steep high and a dramatic low point connected together to where the line is a constant up and down kind of peak and valley look. But the trendline is meant to demonstrate the direction of the change over a period of time. Rather than connecting all the individual points, the trendline is drawn through the middle of all those points to show whether or not there is a pattern.

This kind of line doesn’t answer whether there are high high’s and low low’s; instead, it’s meant to visually show the overall trajectory of the data. In real life, you might use a trendline, for example, to predict stock values. Yes, a stock might be super high on a given day, and be super low on another given day. But given time – what is the price of the stock doing? Is it going up, despite those low’s? Or is it going down, despite those high’s? That’s the trend, and that’s the purpose of the trendline.

It’s not as concerned about a position at a given moment as much as it is concerned about the overall trajectory.

And perhaps there is a good life principle there as well, especially when it comes to thinking about where we are in our own movement toward what God intends for us to be. We do not often do that.

Typically, we look at our spiritual growth as a fixed point on a timeline. We examine our character, or our belief system about current issues, or even our participation in the life of the church with a very narrow lens. And when we do, we can easily consider ourselves as doing a pretty good job. But what if we zoomed out a bit? What if we looked at our trajectory rather than our current position? It might tell a different story.

Let’s say, for example, we read the clear words of Hebrews 13:5:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”

We want to take these words seriously, so we look at our current position:

  • Am I giving to the church?
  • Am I generous in other ways as well?
  • Does it seem like I am making decisions with the primary focus being money?

Positionally, these bullet points are all green lights. But then you decide to step back, and when you do, you discover that in the long term, your behavior has changed. Not suddenly, but slowly. And while positionally you might be fine, you are suddenly able to see the trajectory of your heart and see there is some prayer to be had. Some realigning to be performed. Some reflecting to be processed on where you are.

The same thing might be true about a doctrinal position you have. Though positionally you might feel okay, but when you take a broader look, you are able to detect some movement. Some drift. Something that, if left unchecked, will eventually move you to a position you don’t want to be.

This is the way of things, isn’t it? That our hearts are always moving one way or another, and that we often aren’t even able to reflect on which way that is. But thanks be to God who, in His grace, is always ready to receive our confession and is always ready to extend His mercy and bring us back in line with the trajectory He has for us, which is to continually be conformed to the likeness of His Son, Jesus.

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