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Seafaring: a key discipline for success

I have been slowly plowing through a very well-written book: The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America–The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675 by Bernard Bailyn. Maybe I am one of the last people in the U.S. who think “history” does not mean, “What I did last summer.” Regardless, I keep finding new applications for the stories of the brave and often odd people who first settled the European colonies in the United States — what they did to each other and to the people they invaded, usually in the name of God.

When I began to prepare for teaching the cell leaders last Saturday I was in the middle of reading about the famous Pilgrims. I realized that Christians, in general, and their leaders, in particular, would do well to develop a spiritual discipline that every Pilgrim had to develop. We Christians are a “seafaring” people.

The Pilgrims were radical Christians but they were normal people. Their several month voyage to North America in a small, leaky boat was amazingly brave. Most people I know are in a small, leaky boat, in one way or another right now —  I know Circle of Hope fits that description! But even if I were not connected to that vessel, I would still have the leaky boat named Rod to deal with. Yet God calls me to set out for parts unknown. I need to become seafaring even if I am not completely seaworthy. (Good metaphor for us, right?)

You know you are gaining the spiritual discipline I call “seafaring” when you are unafraid of vast waters, you are adventurous, and you can procure a ship.

I am not sure any sane person is totally unafraid of vast waters. But a Jesus follower cannot be led by Jesus if they are not drawn to the ocean of eternity and brave enough to wade in. That impulse caused the Pilgrims to load their families (little Hannah!) on disreputable boats and sail for some place they thought might finally be a place where they could live their faith in peace. I don’t totally agree with their theology, but I admire their fearlessness.

To be seafaring, it also helps to be adventurous. I am not sure  a sense of adventure is totally necessary to travelling with Jesus. Some good Christians are going to either stay in the hold the whole journey or be seasick the whole time — that’s not preferable, but it has to be OK. But it will help if you love sea air, will climb up and furl the sails, are on deck to help in a storm and love scanning the horizon for the next destination to come into view. To follow Jesus, one needs to like travelling because He’s going somewhere.

whipsawingOne of the least appreciated factors in being seafaring is usually the most necessary — one can procure a ship. The Pilgrims had a very difficult time getting the funds to hire one. Some families had to wait nine years to be reunited before their handlers considered them worthy of space on a ship! Our church has spent no little effort trying to find a places to live in Philadelphia so we understand how hard the practical necessity of getting a vessel. I recently learned that the “stampeders” who made the daring trip to the Klondike in Canada to mine for gold also had to be seafaring. Part of their difficult journey included building a boat to get up the river to gold fields. While there were commercial sawmills operating, the cost of milled lumber was beyond the means of most. The majority were forced to resort to milling their own lumber by hand. This involved laying a log on a scaffold and then sawing the log lengthwise using a whipsaw. This was such a hard, two-man job that many close partnerships fell apart in frustration and exhaustion — and the end result was often pretty leaky! Jesus followers in general, but certainly their leaders, understand the frustrations that come with trying to get somewhere that is hard to get to. Lord help us build the boat and stay afloat.

Circle of Hope miraculously floats and gets places. The danger inherent in that success is that fearless, adventurous, skillful people, like the survivors who invaded of North America were, are prone to thinking that their courage and power made them great. It is surprising how often people start out with God and then ten years down the road of their holy experiment are much more like their home territory’s power structure than they imagined. Most people are seafaring in the Spirit until they get somewhere; then they revert to thinking they’ve got it together or are in charge of keeping it together. Meanwhile, Jesus is looking over his shoulder wondering why they stopped following.

I led a little exercise in the meeting and had people rank themselves on a scale of one to ten in relation to the basic traits of being seafaring: unafraid of vast waters, adventurous, can build a ship. (Try it!). Then I dared them to stand when their number was called. I don’t remember any ones or twos. But we had a healthy representation all along the rest of the spectrum. There are a lot of different kind of people on our boat — I think that makes it a good ship if Jesus is the captain. I think Jesus wants us all to get there together. Some of us will always be more daring than others and a few of us will always be the ones who lead us to build our vessels. But we all need to develop a taste for sea air and need to enjoy the wonder of being saved, no matter what is over the horizon in that vast sea.