Here’s the thing: in the end you have to choose. It is time for setting sail.
- You might be St. Francis, choosing after a direct message spoken by Christ.
- You might be a disciple, choosing based on what you think will best serve the kingdom.
- And then again, you might not have the slightest hint of what God wants.
But you have to choose.
Doing nothing is also a choice — in the parable that was burying the resources master entrusted to you. It is the one act that the master disapproved.
God guides us with his Spirit.
What you need is the Spirit’s help. You may already know that, in both Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek, the word we translate “Spirit” also means “wind.”
Too often, when we seek guidance we confuse the Spirit with the Word.
Yes, God has spoken, and finding God’s way entails listening carefully to the Word.
But God also directs and guides us with the Spirit’s breezy influence.
If the Spirit is God’s wind, you probably shouldn’t expect it to provide words. You should expect the Spirit to do for you what the wind does for a sailboat.
Think of yourself as a yacht.
So you are a yacht, a graceful sailboat, created by God to serve God’s purposes.
A boat can’t stay in dry dock. To fulfill its nature the it has to float in a body of water.
Once in water, a yacht shouldn’t stay tethered to a dock. To fulfill its purpose it has to push off.
To do anything useful, a yacht needs a smart skipper at the helm. That’s your brain. You will need discernment to know where to go — that’s choosing.
And then you will need to use your savvy to help the boat (your life) get there using the opposing forces of sea and the wind.
It isn’t so simple as letting the water move you. The tide and the currents would take you somewhere, but where?
It also isn’t so simple as letting the wind move you. If you put up a sail on a flat bottomed boat, you will skim along wherever the wind blows. If you find your way to port it will be by sheer luck.
A yacht needs tension and stress to move.
Your sailboat is designed to live in tension between wind and sea, so that you can get where you want to go.
It has a keel from bow to stern, poking down into the depths. That keel keeps the boat moving on a line.
- Try to move the boat sideways through the water and resistance holds it back.
- Push it along the keel and it cuts its way through the sea.
You put up your sail and you catch the wind. It pushes against the broad surface of the sail, thrusting the boat through the water along its keel.
Trouble is, the wind isn’t blowing where you want to go.
And you can’t go directly into the wind.
But, if you skillfully use tension between wind and water you can zigzag your way pretty much anywhere.
Remember I’m talking about guidance here.
You need to have a keel too, some weight pulling you down; be grounded in Christ.
And you need to have something like a sail to catch God’s wind — some practices that get you to ask questions and listen for answers.
There will be tension between your groundedness and the Spirit’s nudge. You will need to move the rudder so the Spirit’s influence moves your life where discernment has chosen.
You have to aim wrong.
And you will make mistakes in setting your course. Actually you have to. Your goal is to reach God. The Spirit is God. God’s Spirit is the wind — and no sailboat can sail straight into the wind.
A yacht reaches port by aiming wrong—over and over.
Say your destination is due North, and the wind is coming at you out of the North. You tack back and forth, Northwest, then Northeast, then Northwest again. Over time you move North to harbor and home.
- You keep adjusting your keel by directing the rudder.
- You keep adjusting your sail by moving the boom.
- You keep the tension, the stress, where you need them so that the boat eventually goes where you need it to.
And if you are a follower of Jesus, at any given moment you are not aiming directly toward harbor. You are constantly off the mark relative to your final destination: you are either zigging too far one way, or zagging too far the other.
You keep going, keep tacking, and you get there.
So you do have to make some big choices. The thing to do in the meanwhile is make excellent little choices.
Keep a strong keel by living in the depths. Come back again and again to dwell in the Scriptures. Come back again and again to prayer. Worship with the community receiving Word and Sacrament. Keep learning, serving, growing. Pay attention to what matters.
Keep your sail up, doing what you need to do to catch the Wind of the Spirit. One excellent tool for that is to write about your life and your faith in a journal. Use it as a tool to listen for the rustle of the Wind in you and around you. Take up a practice like lectio divina or the examen so that you are actively receptive to that Wind.
So now it is time. Push of from shore. Hoist your sail.
Which direction will you choose?
Now it’s your turn: When did you find your way closer to God’s goal by “aiming wrong”? Let me know in the comments below…
Eric M says
Gary, I agree that this was probably the best in a very good series, as I’ve been reflecting on the post and wanted to reread it again today. Though I’m neither young nor a pastor I still look back occasionally and second guess my life decisions. I could have chosen another path, but I’ve chosen the path I’m on and still pursuing a life of faith in Christ.
Your post suggests something like an allegory along the lines of Pilgrim’s Progress, though with a nautical theme. Over the past few days I’ve re-imagined my life choices in this way.
Gary Neal Hansen says
Thank you so much, Eric! I really appreciate your affirmation. It is funny how one post gets a ton of attention and another doesn’t. I too liked this one in particular but it hasn’t been seen by many folks. Good to know you found it helpful.
Gary Panetta says
This post is very helpful and encouraging.
Gary Neal Hansen says
Thanks so much, Gary! It is a huge encouragement to hear you say so.