Some of my favorite memories are on sailboats. When I was a teenager, I spent my summers as a sailing instructor at a camp on the NC Coast. It was so much fun teaching children about boats and how they worked, but more than that, we were teaching them life lessons and how to navigate through them.
My favorite times were teaching kids who had never been on a sailboat. Boats have many parts and there are many new words and instructions for a beginner. I would take the girls out to sail, teach them the basics and then ask them to repeat what we had just learned. They would stare at me with blank faces, glancing at me, then at the waves. Oh dear. They didn’t hear a word I said! All they really wanted to know was what would happen if our boat tipped over. Something they knew could happen. I laughed and told them not to worry, but quickly learned, until we tipped over and they learned the capsize procedure, they were not going to trust me. And until we got that part over with, they weren’t going to take in anything else I said.
I realized the first thing to do with beginners was to take them out and tip them over. They would shriek and I would assure them all was okay. We would turn the boat upright, they would get back on, exhale, smile and have a great time. They would relax, not fearing the deep waters or the wind gusts. They would listen to what I had to teach, they would trust me, they would take the tiller with confidence…the unspoken fear behind them.
Sailboats are not made for shallow waters or dull wind. A sailboat works its best when it is halfway tipped over. That’s when you truly experience exhilaration and understand the freedom of feeling a boat operate how it was created…when you are heeling over, when the waves are big, when you are out beyond the protective cove in deep waters…when you’re about to tip…that’s when you can really fly. And when you’re not scared to tip; you’re free to sail.
Perhaps God is like a Sailboat Captain. Only, He is a perfect Captain. And a grand Captain. He created the ocean, the waves and all the boats…all of this, and yet He cares for each little sailor so much that He wants to be their personal Captain, come on their boat and join them on their journey. He sent His son, His perfect son, to drown so we would never have to. He promises a destination, one we’d never get to on our own, but one He delights in taking us to…He just asks that we trust Him, and that we let Him be the Captain. He promises never to leave us.
He knows more than we do when He says what I told those kids on the sailboat, “don’t be afraid.” … Do not fear. It’s the most repeated command in the Bible. He doesn’t say “try not to fear,” He commands us…“do not fear.” I’ve heard it appears over 365 times, enough for each day of the year. How appropriate! God says “do not fear for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). He says, “do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1), “do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). He says “nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:19). That His perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). That we did not receive a Spirit that makes us a slave to fear, but a Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15). Jesus asks his disciples to take their boats into deeper water (Luke 5:4). When Peter asks if he can walk on water, Jesus says “come” (Matthew 14:29). He did not give us a spirit of fear but of power, love and sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
I recently read a devotion about fear…David says, “when I am afraid, I will trust in you, in God whose word I praise (Psalm 56:3).” It asked me to write in the blank, “when I am afraid of ______, I will trust in you.”
I truly want to trust Him with everything, but if I’m honest, my trust has boundaries. What about the big fear? Every mom knows the one. What if something happened to my kids? My 3-year old jumped off the diving board for the first time today and I almost stopped breathing! If the unthinkable happened…I don’t know what that would be like and I can’t pretend to…but God reminds me He loves my children and husband more than I do. That He has given us Jesus and nothing can take that away. That if His promises are true, it means they are true no matter what. He says do not fear.
While I may hold onto my deepest fear more tightly than I’d like…God has blessed me with two amazing friends who have walked the unthinkable. One has lost two husbands, one her child. These sailors have survived a hurricane, and they remind everyone around them of His goodness. The deep waters I think are big are nothing to them. They sail with ease. They give me courage. They have a very special relationship with the Captain and a firm grasp of His promises. They know at the end of the boat ride is a destination that holds much for them…their eyes don’t lose sight of it. They are the kind of people you want on your boat when the storm comes. When you hear a mom who lost her 5-year-old speak about the hope God has given her and someone who has lost two husbands say God has plans to give her a hope and a future, that could only be the Captain speaking. While my trust may have conditions, these women remind me His goodness is unconditional.
I’d like to say I’m pretty brave, but if you told me I had a week to live, I would do today differently. There’s a deep, deep love I would share, words I would say, things I would completely let go of…others I would take hold of. The bottom line is, I would love more. There would be no holding back. That holding back thing I’d like to let go of forever is caused by fears. My pastor once said they draw the boundaries of our lives, boundaries God wants to break through. He promises victory when we do and gently reminds us we can trust Him.
The times I have said yes and stepped out for God, the times He has asked me to bring darkness to light…showing onlookers a capsize and recovery…He reminds me I don’t have to fear. That I’m not a bad sailor; He has made me a perfect sailor, and someone who can point others to the good Captain. Any tip is recoverable with Him, even the ones when the boat turns all the way upside-down! When we expose the tips on our journey, we invite people to trust the Captain and invite Him aboard…so they can sail in deep waters, heel over and fly free. Those who trust in Him are radiant with joy. He helps us get over our falls, but we never get over His grace. When we share Him, we are called deeper into it. He allows us to be a part of His rescue story. Having been rescued, we know there is nothing better.
Perhaps God tips us over, not to drown us, but to show us the great rescue plan, and then invite us to participate in it. Maybe He does it because He knows that until we know He’s telling us the truth when He says “do not fear,” we’re not going to hear anything else He has to say. It’s not our desire to stay dry and safe that is going to protect us in the storm. It’s listening to the Captain and trusting His plan. This Captain loves us so much that He took that unthinkable fear upon Himself. He gave up His son for us. It is finished. We have nothing to be afraid of.
And when He sees us parked in the still waters of a marina, He comes to take us away. Because He is for us. We may pray to stay safe and dry, but He reminds us he has come to give us life and life to the full. He would never harm us, He just wants to show us the ocean…as sailors, He knows it’s what we were made for. We have a good captain. With a good plan. Taking us to a good destination we’ll never get to without Him. We just have to trust Him. And when our boat tips over, it’s not the end of the ride…with the Captain, it’s the just the beginning. He says “do not fear” and He wants us to trust Him. So we can sail.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).
“I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8).
“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength; they will soar high on wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31).
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”…“Lord if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”…“Come,” he said (Matthew 14:27-29).
“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory” (Psalm 73:23-24).