Charting your course in 2012
Early this month we watched Investec Loyal skipper Anthony Bell celebrate his yacht's win in the Sydney to Hobart race with his
crew of "sailing rock stars and sporting celebrities". Yesterday we sat gobsmacked as footage of an impressive cruise liner called the Costa Concordia, tipped over on its starboard side and helplessly submerged off the coast of Italy (three people perishing and 60 still missing), filtered onto the TV.
These events paint a stark picture for us of life: of the vagaries and victories. As we make our way into the new year, it's wise to reflect on the course we are charting, repairs that may need to be made to the ships we're sailing and the final destination.
For those of us in the fleet who follow Christ, it's a comfort to think we are all headed towards the same finish line. But while the navigation system, the map, the basic structure of the boat and the power that propels us along may be the same, the course we choose, the model and make of the boat, our crews and our cargo can look quite different. So too can the storms we encounter and the pace at which we travel. We are all at different stages in the race.
When God was instructing Noah on the building of the ark, he was very specific about its measurements and requirements. Noah, we are told, was a good man with no faults who lived in humble fellowship with the Lord. His biggest act of obedience saved his life, and that of his family (and two of each of every animal with them).
Conversely, the Israelites were extremely double-minded. At certain points they wanted to please the Lord and obey His commands, such as keeping the Sabbath; at other times they were given over to idolatry, choosing to worship things other than God. They were a vexed, stubborn people, but God still showed them his mercy.
"Let my people return to me," He said in Isaiah. "Remove every obstacle from their path! Build the road and make it ready! I live in a high and holy place, but I also live with people who are humble and repentant, so that I can restore their confidence and hope."
Christians are not promised a safe passage through life, but we are given guidance as to how to build the most resilient ships as well as Jesus' guarantee that faith in Him will calm the storms that inevitably blow in. How can we best ensure our ships righteous passage through life?
After becoming a new Christian, I thought my ship was tip-top tight, but I soon discovered that there was a lot of worthless cargo stored below that threatened to sink me (I was very nearly shipwrecked). When we endeavour to unburden ourselves of such things – both physical, mental and emotional – we feel more able to sail smoothly. We are less rigid. We keep afloat. We love, forgive and live more easily.
Peter writes, "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness...For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities... they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive." (2 Peter 1: 3-8).
The structural foundations are very important. A complete transformation of your thinking, doing and being is no easy task; but God gives us grace as we go about it. And as each unnecessary thing is cast off, in faith and humble obedience, something more worthy takes its place. I am living proof that God restores, redeems and re-purposes those who acknowledge him and love him.
"I will always be with you to save you; my presence will protect you on every side," he told the Israelites. "When you pray, I will answer you. When you call to me, I will respond... I will always guide you and satisfy you with good things. I will keep you strong and well. You will be like a garden that has plenty of water, like a spring of water that never runs dry."
A wretched girl confounded by anxiety, ambition and the lingering need for approval rendered by her parent's divorce, and diminished by the controlling influences of the world? God would not have a bar of it. "What did you gain from doing the things you are now ashamed of?" asked Paul (Colossians 6:21). Nothing. Am I perfect? Far from it; but he's done a mighty work.
God asks us to give things up to free ourselves for more of him. What this might involve is specific to the individual; it's your deal to transact with God. One of the books I most cherished reading last year was The Hole in Our Gospel by World Vision president Richard Stearns. It tells his personal story of leaving behind his career as a successful businessman to (somewhat reluctantly) lead World Vision. He downsized his life and moved his family and thought deeply about God's purpose for him. He found it hard and is not shy about confessing this.
Choosing to abide in God's plan for our lives, indeed for all humankind, is a great act of faith that will bear rewards, though not necessarily what we imagined: he won't give us what we want, but what we need. Like me, you may have to completely rebuild your boat; or you may need to make some repairs, as the scratches and bumps of the past year have left you feeling a bit wounded; or you might need to clean off the crusty old barnacles of resentments, disappointments and rigid ways of thinking. Perhaps you just need a bit of a spit and polish (good for you!)?
How do we go about doing the clean-up job; to get back on course?
1. Ditch the unnecessary cargo. Repent of any lingering sin and endeavour to make amends. If God is asking you to let go of something in your life, do it. Ditch it. You don't need it. Don't burden yourself with guilt if you find it hard to let something go, but know that as you aim to make reparations and sacrifices, God will give you the power to bring them to completion.
2. Build your ship on blocks of righteousness. God's way always works (see Noah) and if you seek him out he will give you precise advice. For instructions, see the Bible. "I have given you my power and my teachings to be you forever." (Isaiah 59:21)
3. Take the right crew and cargo on board. We all need people in our lives, "sailing rock stars", who believe in us and will give us their unfailing support. Additionally, the world is all-too willing to sell you cheap imitation stuff; pack the good stuff into your life. This is everything from food that will give you the energy and sustenance to achieve what's ahead, to the movies and TV you watch in your home.
4. Stay your course. Be less concerned with what others are doing, and eschew blueprints for your life that don't quite fit who you are, and stay the course. Has God shown you that you should buy property, change jobs, commence a university course, spend less time on your career and invest more into your relationship, look after your health, create a new business or rekindle a much-loved activity? Don't be distracted by what the other ships are doing; it's your life, and for you and God to plan out as you adopt more of Christ's heart, spirit and mind.
5. Coat the hull with love. Going through life as if it's you against the world is not much fun. People will disappoint you, they will let you down. Don't let that take the wind out of your sails. Be quick to forgive wrongs, as Jesus forgives yours, and choose how to react to everyone and every situation. Be a bridge builder, not a destroyer. As a Christian, you have a constant source of love, and this free gift should be willingly bestowed on others. "Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God." (1 John 4:7)
6. Keep your eyes on the destination. You know the end goal – getting there is about pleasing God with your thoughts, words and actions, and resolving to accept his grace and mercy when needed.
Though we may come across rocky seas, or make a choice that takes us off course, when we are able to hand the wheel over to Jesus and confidently say, "You're the captain of my ship", we are less troubled, less fearsome about the world, and live in a quiet confidence. I hope you enjoy charting your way through 2012.
*This is an adaptation of a sermon given at Liberty Baptist Church, Mount Tamborine, on January 15, 2012.
Girl With a Satchel