When someone says, “Jesus is my true north,” he or she is honoring Jesus as the constant in an ever-changing world and the true guide amid shifting morals and fluctuating ideals.
The expression true north is based on a fact that navigators and surveyors must deal with every day: a magnetic compass is not a terribly reliable instrument. A magnetic compass points toward the magnetic north pole, which is not the same as true north, or the geographic (or geodetic) north pole. The difference between magnetic north and true north is currently a matter of several hundred miles—but it changes, due to the fact that the magnetic north pole drifts several miles a year.
The earth produces a magnetic field. The places where the lines of magnetic induction converge are called the magnetic poles. The location of the magnetic north pole changes over time. In contrast, true north is a fixed spot on the globe: the true north pole is found at the conjunction of the lines of longitude, the point at which the earth’s axis exits the globe. Magnetic north varies position from year to year; true north is unchanging.
Because the needle of a magnetic compass points toward the magnetic north pole, not the geographic north pole, it is not entirely accurate. It may give a general idea of where north is, especially in the middle latitudes, but it can be wildly unreliable in the regions closer to the poles, varying by 20 to 60 degrees. The difference between magnetic north and true north is called declination, and it varies according to where one is located on the globe. To compensate for declination and find true north, we must perform some mathematical calculations using an up-to-date chart or calibrate our compasses.
Adding to the confusion is magnetic deviation, caused when nearby metallic objects or electrical equipment influence the compass needle. Deviation is especially a problem inside ships and airplanes and in areas containing a lot of metal ore. Like declination, deviation must be overcome, usually by means of auxiliary magnets, in order to find true north.
When we say that Jesus is our true north, we mean that He is the constant, unchanging source of truth and life. He is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The philosophies, theories, concepts, and schemes of mankind are constantly shifting. “But the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:15; cf. Isaiah 40:8).
When we say that Jesus is our true north, we acknowledge that we live in danger of being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). In such a tempestuous world, we need to plot our course by the coordinates provided by the Lord Himself. We can avoid making shipwreck of our lives by “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).
When we say that Jesus is our true north, we glorify the Lord who defines justice and righteousness. Moral standards that align with His nature will keep us on the correct course, just as a compass that aligns with true north keeps us moving in the right direction. “As for God, his way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30).
When we follow Jesus as our true north, we must disregard the many distractions and influences in the world that would alter our course. Just as the readings of a compass may be corrupted due to nearby objects, so we are prone to be swayed by various attractions in the world. We must constantly calibrate ourselves to the example of our Risen Savior. Our spiritual needles must point to objective truth and not turn after subjective opinions, vacillating values, or erratic rules. We must be like the man who built his house on the rock, not the sand (Matthew 7:24–27).
True north is a precise direction, and, no matter where you start on the globe, true north will lead you to the same location. There is nothing erratic or misleading about true north. It transcends geography, locality, and lesser pulls. For those who are lost, true north is a welcome blessing. And Jesus Christ is an even greater blessing to those who are spiritually lost.
“True North,” a song by Twila Paris, sums up our need for Jesus as our guide:
“We lost our bearings,
Following our own mind
We left conviction behind . . .
How did we ever wander so far
And where do we go from here?
How will we know where it is?
There’s a strong steady light
That is guiding us home . . .
“We need an absolute
Compass now more
Than ever before.”