"A ship, like a human being, moves best when it is slightly athwart the wind, when it has to keep its sails tight and attend to its course. Ships, like men, do poorly when the wind is directly behind, pushing them sloppily on their way so that no care is required in steering or in the management of sails; the wind seems favorable, for it blows in the direction one is heading, but actually it is destructive, because it induces a relaxation in tension and skill. What is needed is a wind slightly opposed to the ship, for then tension can be maintained, and juices can flow and ideas can germinate; for ships, like men, respond to challenge." ---James Michener, Chesapeake
If you've been paying attention lately, virtually every form of media is telling us that conditions in the world are not good. North Korea has restarted their nuclear program even as much of their population is starving. Iraq and their Presidential Thug are playing fast and loose with the United Nations and the mandates for disarmament. Numerous other "wannabe" rogues are waiting in the wings to ply their trade of armed blackmail and international thievery. For any person of faith to believe in a Sovereign and loving God honestly seems ludicrous!
There's a certain desperation in the air these days; a desperation born of declining economics, the racial balkanization of America, and the sense on the part of young adults that their futures may not likely be better than their parents. This negativism affects our politics, our interpersonal relationships, and our business and industry. Sadly, too, it affects our faith communities.
The stress of the times, though, has the effect of revealing to us exactly what kind of God we believe we have! Just in the past few weeks, hardly a day has gone by that I have not received at least one email message imploring me to help distribute a "prayer wheel." This is a bit like the Christian version of a rabbit's foot --- a good luck charm calculated to manipulate God into performing our bidding. You'd think we were whirling prayer wheels to get our way. The hand-wringing and desperation reveal to us that some people have a weak, pitiful God Whose actions are largely only an impotent response to developments in the world.
Dire conditions and difficulties, though, CAN have a far more significant role to play for us. They CAN show us that our vision is out of focus and our faith is misplaced! They CAN force us back to our spiritual "bottom line" in devotion and doctrine.
First, the difficulties, threats of war, and less than ideal conditions around us force us to consider that GOD'S focus is to fulfill HIS eternal purposes in the world! God's decrees --- His eternal purposes --- ARE being worked out in the world and WILL be accomplished. His purposes are spiritual in nature and they are realized in Jesus Christ. "According to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Ephesians 3:11)
So, for us Christians, there is NO room for despair, NO place for worry, and NO excuse for anything other than strong, unalterable faith! God has already written the history of the world --- He wins, His ends are accomplished, and His people are victors! We MUST live by faith --- in faith --- and through faith. It is NOT faith in conditions, NOT faith in ourselves, and NOT faith in what we want or what seems to be good to us. It IS faith in our Sovereign God and His Sovereign power. The Apostle Paul said it this way, "For I am convinced that [nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)
Second, the difficulties, threats of war, and less than ideal conditions around us force us to understand the role that immediate difficulties play in our lives. As the quote above shows, the real effect of consistently favorable conditions is that ships and people BOTH become sloppy and inaccurate. Opposing winds and winds that seek to blow us off course require much out of a ship's crew --- constant vigilance to the skills and duties inherent in good sailing, and consistent attention to the destination intended. In fair winds, anyone can be a sailor. Foul winds turn recreational sailors into true seamen!
SO --- this week keep your attention on the "map of life" found in God's Word. Focus on the destination decreed by God's eternal purposes and sail for them. Keep your equipment in good order and your rigging tight. Stand tall --- you serve a Sovereign God. Live with strong and unwavering faith. Remember --- all things will come out just as He decrees. May He give us the kind of faith that can say like the Apostle Paul, "If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." (Romans 14:8)