By Elizabeth Prata
“O Lord of the oceans,
My little bark sails on a restless sea,
Grant that Jesus may sit at the helm and steer me safely;
Suffer no adverse currents to divert my heavenward course;
Let not my faith be wrecked amid storms and shoals;
Bring me to harbor with flying pennants,
Hull unbreached, cargo, unspoiled.“
Excerpt from ‘Voyage‘, The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Edited by Arthur Bennett
I simply love the Valley of Vision Puritan devotionals. They are so Jesus-centered. It’s refreshing to read and ponder written prayers devoid of anything from today’s toxic effects of me-centered, prosperity, self-esteem nonsense.
I lived aboard a small yacht for two years, and through that experience I have a deep appreciation for the biblical allusions related to anything nautical. The Lighthouse, the stormy seas, the waves, reefs, and lee-side are all familiar to me and I can deeply identify with them. I suppose it is the same with the believing farmers and fishermen regarding the agricultural or fishing metaphors. Not that one needs to have had a certain life experience before understanding, but the life experience Jesus causes us to have does deepen some aspects of the Word and we gravitate to them on a different level. It’s like when a person becomes a parent for the first time, they understand the biblical verses related to parenting on a different level then they did before.
Though our boat is at anchor in this photo, we spent many a day where the sea looked as calm and as flat as it is in the picture as we tried capturing wisps of wind flowing here and there and inching along over tiny waves.
The sailor is ever restless. We want to go and we thus pray for wind. The wind comes but it’s not enough, or it’s too much. When the boat finally settles on a loping rhythm up and down the waves, the sailor wishes he was in port. Of course the moment one is in port, one wishes for the freedom of the sea. And so it goes.
The frustration of no wind can’t be overstated. The luffing sails, slack and listless seem almost an affront. One cannot manufacture wind. One cannot control the wind. One only waits, hopes, prays, and looks. The sailor learns patience. The sailor learns to relinquish control.
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)
The opposite is a problem, too. Too much wind can damage the boat, set the sailor off his course, or even swamp him and all will be lost at sea. The storms can be terrifying.
But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. (Jonah 1:4-5a)
Luke wrote of the travails Paul endured when he put on a ship that set forth too late in the year. In their part of the world, winter was a time when many storms brewed up and winds became contrary in a moment.
The Storm at Sea:
Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. (Acts 27:13-15).
And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. (Acts 27:4).
Sailors know the prevailing wind‘s direction given the time of year. Prevailing winds are winds that blow predominantly from a single general direction over a particular point on the Earth’s surface. They try to use islands as their shelter, making it a lee. This means if the prevailing wind comes from the east toward the west, if you sail or anchor on the west side, the island has blocked the wind and you will have more peaceful waters upon which to sail or sleep. Like this:
As the poet stated in Valley of Vision, “Bring me to harbor with flying pennants, hull unbreached, cargo, unspoiled.” That is always the sailor’s main objective- get to harbor. Sailors are not made to voyage permanently, or Christians are not made to pilgrimage permanently. We are all voyaging toward one and only one harbor, the feet of the risen Jesus in the safety of His harbor, the Kingdom of God.
Until then we have a great and powerful Captain, our Rock to shelter and protect us from the storms and winds that try to blow us off course or drown us. Our Lord is our ever-present and mightily capable Captain of safety. Thus, thanks to Jesus Christ, it is well with our sail soul.