“All the water in all the oceans cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside.”(Eugene Peterson)2
My first thoughts on reading Eugene Peterson’s statement were first, that’s an incredibly amazing declaration given all the water in all of the oceans of the world; second, the 40-days/nights journey that carried Noah, his family and the animals of the Earth were dependent on this very truth; and finally, the old fisherman’s prayer: “O, God, Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small,” the recollection of which always causes me to marvel at how much of an abyss life can be apart from GOD’s sustaining, keeping grace.
The fact is that all of our boats are small compared to the size of the bodies of water in which they sail, even the 5,000 passenger cruise ship I was on several months ago. It was like a tiny pin in a vastness of water. For that reason, it has always been essential that water be kept out of the boat so that it can stay afloat and arrive at its various destinations, including returning to its original port. As one of my Bible college professors would say, that’ll preach.
Imagine that your life, your Christian life specifically, is the boat and the world (its systems and value) is this great ocean that extends far, far beyond what you’re able to see. This world/ocean is what you see and experience each and every day, all day. Continually you make choices to flow with or against the currents of the world/ocean as you cruise toward a destination. You navigate in both the calm and in the storms that come your way. There are some things that this world/ocean offers you that are of great benefit to you, and there are some things that would be detrimental to you if you allowed them to enter your life and remain (i.e. water in your boat). If they do enter, you begin to experience listing (becoming unbalanced; leaning to one side). Listing might cause you to sail around in circles rather than a straight course. At the least, it will slow your progress. The more from the world that enters your “boat,” the more likely your course will be disrupted and you wind-up arriving at a place you had no intention of going. Too much of the world will spiritually sink you.
The challenge you face daily is to take full advantage of the good the world offers (remember, it’s not so bad a place that GOD doesn’t love it, sustain it, and seek its redemption) and to keep the bad things (anything antithetical to Christ) out so that you can remain afloat rather than sinking, and arrive at your destination according to GOD’s will for you. Luke 4:1-13 is a good illustration of this. Jesus, following His baptism, was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit where He was tempted by the devil in three different ways over the course of 40 days:
- The temptation to turn a stone into bread to satisfy His bodily hunger;
- The temptation to immediately ruler over all the kingdoms of the earth in exchange for worshipping Satan; and,
- The temptation to test the goodness and faithfulness of GOD by throwing Himself off the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem
Had Jesus yielded to any one of these (allowed them to enter Him), He would not have accomplished His mission on earth, that is ushering in the kingdom of GOD and providing for our redemption. Had Jesus yielded, He would have “slipped into darkness” in the parlance of the 1970s soul/funk band, War.
Those same temptations have their equivalents for each of us. Don’t forget, Jesus gave us a specific mission/course before He left (see Matthew 28:19-20 if needed), one that requires a tightly sealed boat/life.
We can substitute satisfying physical desires for stones and bread. Now, not all physical desires are bad, and some are absolutely essential for physical life to continue. We need safety, shelter, food and water. We even need medications from time-to-time. We need to reproduce. But each legitimate physical desire has its proper use in the course of time (take time to read Isaiah 58 which explains why GOD asks us to sacrifice eating every now and then to devote ourselves to fasting). And then, an obvious reality is that some physical desires are clearly spiritually illegitimate.
We can substitute self-satisfying ego expressions, personal ambition, and impatience in place of immediately ruling all the kingdoms of the world rather than waiting on GOD and following the course He lays out. The unchecked or even partially checked desire for status, titles, elevation, and money, or to be admired, to look good in front of others are all things which may cause our boats to list, slow our progress, and even redirect our course away from that which we were directed to pursue. It may even call into question whether we are worshipping GOD or ourselves.
We can substitute lacking/loosing faith in the goodness and faithfulness of GOD in place of throwing ourselves off a high pinnacle to see if He will send angels to catch us. This oldie, but baddie worked in the Garden of Eden and it is still effective now, particularly when we or those we are close to are discouraged due to extended periods of difficulty or suffering (which happens to all of us). Our great spiritual enemy wants us to question GOD’s love for us and perceive Him as arbitrary and fickle in His dealing with us so that we lose hope. The result is we have only ourselves and the other influences in our lives that are not GOD as our anchor and rudder.
All of us are targets for these temptations, and any one or a combination of these three can cause us to be cast adrift or even sink in the realm of faith. Instead of being vessels of hope for the sake of others, our “slippin’ into darkness” results in us offering nothing more than what the rest of the world already offers because we’ve become pretty much like the rest of the world as we gradually lose possession of what we once vigorously professed – Christ.
These are temptations to which we need not yield, but we always need to be on guard. They faced Jesus, and we can never be above them. And if we have yielded, we need to grab the spiritual bucket and start bailing out that which doesn’t belong. Rather than “slippin’ into darkness,” we let’s walk/sail in the light (1 John 1:7). That way, we can sail along and be about our Father’s business.
- Slipping Into Darkness on the album All Day Music by WAR recorded in 1971 on the United Artists label.
- Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p.43.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2019. All rights reserved for text content unless otherwise