Rudder Theology: Three Truths To Help You Steer Through Life
Kristen Wisen - Soul Care Counselor
I am not a boat person. I like boats. I like to fish from boats. I like to sit in boats. But I had an experience when I was twelve that keeps me from wanting to drive or even own a boat.
My father was an investment banker and when I was in seventh grade, we went to the Virgin Islands to stay at one of his partner’s homes in St. Thomas. The home was on a private bay and his partner owned a two-person sailboat and my father took me out for a spin in the bay. There was plenty of wind and my dad easily maneuvered the boat, all the while trying to explain to me how he controlled our direction by moving the rudder and using the wind to his advantage. It was both thrilling and terrifying at the same time, because that boat could really move.
Then came the question that minutes later my dad greatly regretted asking.
“Do you want to steer?”
I agreed, thinking it couldn’t be too hard. Within seconds the wind caught our sail and we were off... headed straight towards a coral wall at the edge of the bay. Dad started yelling for me to pull the tiller (the rudder’s handle), or maybe he said push, but the end result was I had no control over where that boat was going and the speed was only increasing. He finally jumped out of the boat to keep us from hitting the wall. The good news was that the boat was unharmed. The bad news was that when dad jumped out of the boat, he stepped on a sea urchin, which left about thirty poisonous spikes in his foot and the rest of the trip was spent removing them, treating the wounds, finding antibiotics, nursing a fever and watching my father hobble around until we went home.
Bottom line, I didn’t understand how to use a rudder, let alone how important it was.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, we understand that our rudder is the Word of God. As we sail through life, what steers us in the right direction is what we know to be true through the Word.
By faith, we hold onto the tiller and let the Spirit lead us through life by careful understanding of His Word. Let’s lay down three truths about our rudder:
Truth #1 — A rudder controls your direction.
There are a few things that compete for this role: our flesh through our feelings and the Spirit through the Word of God. When we live by the Spirit, we are choosing to walk by faith and submit to His Word. We humbly put the needs of others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3,4), we forgive quickly and often (Colossians 3:13), we use our words to build people up (Ephesians 4:29) and we should be the most loving people on the face of the earth (I Corinthians 13:4-7). But when we let our flesh take over, it’s as if we let go of the tiller and are now being tossed and turned based on how we feel rather than what we know God wants of us. When our feelings are guiding us, we are much more self-focused and protective, we harbor anger and bitterness, and we treat people as we feel they deserve to be treated (Ephesians 4:17-19).
Truth #2 — It’s easy to steer the rudder in calm seas.
We define faith as:
Believing the Word of God and acting on it, no matter how I feel,
because God promises a good result.
When life is going smoothly, it’s easy to walk by faith, as we can see the good results that God promises. A life void of bitterness is a good life. Being kind, tenderhearted and forgiving comes easily when we see God’s blessing in our lives. Being in the Word, having times of prayer, meditating on Scripture - when life is easy, these disciplines flow naturally. But what happens when a storm hits? What happens when we don’t clearly see God’s hand of blessing?
Truth #3 — In trials, faith is what makes you hold onto the tiller.
If we choose to walk by faith only when we feel like it, then we are partnering with our flesh and that’s a dangerous partner to have. In the times of testing and great struggle, what we know is true about God must be what directs us. Too often our spiritual disciplines fall by the wayside during a trial and feelings of loneliness and abandonment are right at the door, ready to take the place of God’s presence. The way we fight against this is to battle through the darkness with faithful disciplines - staying in the Word and on our knees, filling our mind with scripture and truth. By faith, we must believe what God tells us about Himself, even when we don’t see it and especially when we don’t feel it. Our faith must be what directs us and leads us out of the storm.
Hebrews 11 is known as the faith chapter, as it lists out many people who walked by faith, trusting the Lord when storms were raging. Instead of letting go of God’s instructions, they held on with both hands as the Lord directed them through the crisis. Will you follow their lead and by faith, choose to trust what the Bible says about God in the midst of the storms of life? Do you have consistent spiritual disciplines in place that are teaching you who God is? Do you let your faith lead you or are you more apt to follow your feelings? Here’s a suggestion - go read Hebrews 11 and ask the Lord to teach you how to live by faith, so that when the storms of life arise, you hand will hang on to the tiller and let the His Word be your rudder.