My friend Kelly was talking the other day about that verse in James where it likens a man's tongue to the rudder of a ship. I got to thinking about ships, and pondering my life in Christ. The next thing I knew, I was typing away at the computer, and this analogy was born.
My life was nothing before God opened my eyes. Before I realized that Christ was calling me, and before I turned to Him, I was just another person on the Island, trying to live happily and to do things that gave me joy. Like so many others, I was seeking the things that I thought would make me successful. When I look back on it now, it feels dark. Like I didn’t understand anything at all.
Then one day Jesus called me out, and I realized that I, along with everyone around me, was a sinner against the Most High God. Christ offered me forgiveness, eternal life, and a new spirit.
The new spirit was like a ship. It was like freedom. It was such a beautiful gift – one that I never could have deserved. I got in and made ready to sail away from the Island forever. But I didn’t know how to run it. No one was there to show me how.
Of course, God also had given me a letter which told me how to use the ship. But it was a very, very long letter, and it took a lot of effort to read and understand it. Plus, I could never remember the parts that I had read. I would learn what to do in a certain situation, but then when it came time to put my knowledge to use, I would forget God’s instructions and revert back to my own efforts.
I never made it to the deep waters. Every time I managed to pull away from the beach and into the shallows, the waves would eventually push me back. Occasionally, I managed to get past the waves, but then there were rocks, and my ship would scrape up against them until I was afraid it would break and be sunk.
Sometimes I would get frustrated and, thinking that I just wasn’t ready to sail yet, I would beach the ship and just sit there on the deck, reading the instructions. Other times, rather than read the instructions or ask God directly, I would just sit there, gazing out at the wide open sea, and wish that I could be there. I occasionally saw another ship out there, sailing along on some great adventure. I longed for that so much, but I just didn’t feel ready. I still tried sometimes, but I always ended up back by the beach.
Of course, there were other ships around me in the same situation. But it didn’t really make me feel better. I wanted so badly to be out there in the open sea, riding the currents and the winds with confidence. I knew that, if I could just learn to listen to God, He would get me there. But it was so much harder than I thought it would be. The waves and the rocks weren’t the only things in my way.
There were also storms.
As I continued to sail around my Island, trying with all my might to get away from it, I ran into a lot of them. Sometimes I saw them up ahead but tried to sail through, thinking I could make it. Other times, it wasn’t my fault at all. They just came up suddenly, and I had no way to prepare. My ship received a lot of damage, but amazingly, it never sunk.
Sometimes I would seek out God’s guidance on how to sail. Often, though, I wasn’t patient enough to wait for His orders, and ended up trying it on my own again. Other times, I would follow Him for awhile, only to be distracted by the beauty of the ocean and the smoothness of the waters. Everything was wonderful after I followed His guidance. I forgot about the terrifying storms, and about the Island that still lay just on the other side of the ship. I would be so happy and peaceful that I would forget that I needed His instruction, and I would soon find my way into another storm.
While I was going through all of this, one day I came across another ship. I had seen other ships from a distance before, but I had never been this close to one up until now. I enjoyed the company a great deal, and soon I and the other ship’s passenger decided to make our journey together. Normally there is a ceremony for this, in which the boats are carefully joined with strong wood, but we had some rope on hand and decided to use that instead, so that we could continue on our way without having to wait for the ceremony.
Unfortunately, the ropes were not as strong as we had thought. Had we sought God’s guidance on the issue, we would have known that ropes tend to snap during storms, and are not sturdy enough to hold two ships steady in such times. We found out the hard way that a normal storm is actually made much worse when two ships are tied together with ropes. We even bumped into some other ships when we were jostled by the waves, causing damage not only to our own vessels, but to others as well.
The ceremony wasn’t far off, and thankfully, although some of the ropes had snapped and we had both been jostled around severely, we made it through and managed to join our ships together in the proper way.
Shortly after this, I sought God out more than ever. I was still suffering from the storm, as was my new partner. I had taken on a lot of water, some of which we are still, to this day, working to bail out. But it caused me to make a tremendous effort to seek His guidance, and I made it further from the shore than I have ever been. I think part of it was because we were both seeking, and sailing in the same direction. We had both opened several sails, and we were moving faster than either of us had ever gone alone.
But then, slowly, I started to try things on my own again. So did my partner. I’m still not sure how it happened, but I guess I started looking at my ship, and sometimes at his, and when I realized what bad shape they were in, I was afraid they wouldn’t make it out in the deep, uncharted waters. Especially with mine. It was easier to see the flaws in my own ship, because I was closer to them. And I knew exactly what had caused each one, because I’d been there when it happened, and I remembered… most of the time.
So I set about trying to repair everything that I had done to tear up my beautiful gift. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good with woodwork. I tried to patch up the holes, but the wood that I nailed on wasn’t very strong, and it kept breaking back off again whenever I turned to work on something else. It was horribly frustrating, and as I continued to work on it, I began to drift back. The waves were pushing me closer and closer to the shores of the Island, but I hardly noticed, because I was so focused on repairing the ship.
What I didn’t realize was that if I had just continued to listen for God’s guidance, he would have sailed me to a place where Jesus Himself could repair my ship for me. Jesus, the one who had built it to begin with, who knew every board and nail and rope, would repair it and make it like new again. My new spirit would no longer bear the marks that my old nature allowed to fall upon it. It would be beautiful again. Whole again.
If I let Him, God would teach me how to sail. He would lead me to the ports he wanted me to stop at. He would take me out to the open waters when I was ready, and if He wanted to, He would lead me and my partner across the world, where we would see Him work His mighty wonders upon the people, giving them ships of their own and setting them free. And then, eventually, I would reach the Great Shore, where God Himself dwelt in all His Glory. And when the world was created anew, and all the evil taken away from it, I would be there with Him, living without fear and without sin, the way we were created to live.
His Guidance was right there in front of me. Within me, even, in the form of His Holy Spirit. All I had to do was tap into it, and listen to His words, and He would show me my adventure.