Being under the power of sail (whether sailboat, sailboard, iceboat or whatever) can be a lot of fun, but, just like life itself, it can have both exhilarating and difficult times.
When we have a “following wind” and the going seems effortless – the wind moving us along almost without work, just like those “good days” in life – things seem good indeed. On the other hand, when we have to fight into the wind – like those other days we all experience – it’s not so easy. But it still works. If you have ever been sailing, you know that we can make progress sailing into the wind just as we can with the wind behind us.
Sailing into a wind, of course, we have to tack the boat – zigzagging back and forth in a way that never seems like we are going in the right direction, yet we get where we are going eventually. In the Christian life, God takes us on many tacks; although we may often not see where we are going, or understand the point of some of the detours we might seem to have to take, He sets the course and gets us to our destination (Philippians 1:6). An encouraging fact about tacking is that no matter whether we make small zigzags (to put it in non-nautical language) or large ones, the actual distance travelled is actually the same; and we still get where we are going. Sometimes life’s detours can seem to be long ones, but if we have turned over the helm of our life to the One who is the sure Pilot we will get there.
Nevertheless, those times when we are facing the wind or going through stormy waters may seem tough, and we may wish for calm seas, but that’s actually what all sailors fear most when under sail – being becalmed. Throughout the history of sail when winds dropped and movement stopped, sailors eventually ran out of food and water and became extremely sick or sometimes perished. When we enter what may seem to be a pleasant, calm stretch of life, we need to remember that being becalmed often leads to a false sense of security, to apathy and eventual loss of close contact with the One who is the bread and the water of life (John 6:35, John 4:14).
We may think sometimes that living under our own control - like ships with engines that do not have to rely on external power – would be great in that we could go anywhere: picking our own directions, making our own moves; but left to our own direction in life we know we really drift aimlessly and no direction has any meaning. When we are relying on the power of the wind we work with a power beyond our control, and that is how God chooses to propel us in His direction. Once we understand it, we see that the Christian life, like sailing, is not really giving up our freedom of direction; it’s accepting a freedom to participate in the most challenging, exhilarating and meaningful sailing possible. It reminds me of the lyrics of the old song made famous by Rod Stewart: “I am Sailing,” which ends:
“We are sailing, we are sailing,
home again 'cross the sea.
We are sailing stormy waters,
to be near you, to be free.
Oh Lord, to be near you, to be free …”