Many years ago I used the example of a small boat to explain various elements of Christian life. So picture a sad little boat pulled up on the beach, tired and worn and unloved.
Someone decides to give the boat a whole new life.
They show care for the vessel and begin repairing damaged parts.
They scrape back the peeling paint and replace the weakened timbers, giving the boat a face-lift of fresh parts and paint.
Where the hull has been twisted over time, by boards shrinking, or by bumping into things, the boat has to be straightened.
To make the boat stable it is fitted with fresh ballast to help it sit right in the water.
Next the boat is fitted with an outboard motor to push it through the waves.
Then some fancy equipment is added, to help it navigate, check depth and even locate fish.
The boat now looks fresh and happy, and is stable, capable and well equipped. It floats happily at the end of the pier where it is moored.
Reflecting on our Christian journey, we start out damaged by sin and by our own selfishness and folly. We are worn, scratched and even twisted. While God loves us and devotes Himself to us, He must work on healing our dents and distortions.
Then God has to clean us up, scraping off our own ideas about ourself, and what we have done to make ourselves look good. Some things in our life have become ineffective or broken by our sin and worldly ideas. God has to remove those wrong ideas and choices from our life and replace them with truth that makes us strong and effective.
We also need to be made stable, not flying off in one direction or the other. So the ballast of God’s truth and doctrine is placed in us, helping us know what we believe and why, and helping us live by that truth, even under trials.
We are then encouraged to use our faith to move us through situations effectively. Instead of just floating in life we learn to take hold of God and to trust Him to make good things happen. This is like the outboard motor moving us against tides and waves.
The fancy equipment equates with the Holy Spirit empowering us with various gifts that bring us wisdom, insight, sensitivity to God and His plans, revelation in God’s Word and results from our prayers.
God, then, works in us sanctification (cleaning us up) and restoration of our soul, replacing worldly things with spiritual things.
He establishes and stabilises us with truth and doctrine. He encourages our faith and calls us to live by faith. He fills us with His Holy Spirit, empowering us for effective service.
We end up shiny and new, effective and powerful, ready for the work of God.
So let’s reflect on what might happen if we have those things out of balance.
Some people won’t let God challenge them about their poor condition. They want to be loved by God, but they want to keep all the junk, damage, scratches and smell of their old life. They shut out the love of God and God’s plan to make them a ‘new creation’, preferring to stay the same. The little boat remains as limited and unlovely as it was at the start.
Some people spend their whole life focused on sanctification – cleaning up themselves and others from wrong things. They become extreme about what is right and wrong, approved or not, and finding every little spot and dent. They become legalistic and extreme in their judgement of others and self, never feeling good enough. A little boat like that certainly wouldn’t let God take it out where it might be made dirty or dented. It wouldn’t want any fishermen cleaning smelly fish in the boat.
When it comes to ballast, a boat that gets too much stabiliser will end up very stable, on the bottom of the sea. Ballast balances us, but too much makes us sluggish in the water, heavy to handle. Many a Christian can be filled with knowledge that does nothing for their effectiveness for God. Instead it bogs them down and may even sink them in analysis and knowledge.
The outboard motor is a wonderful thing, making the boat speed through the waves. But a bigger and bigger motor will eventually rattle the little boat to pieces. The motor needs to be in balance with the boat. And so our Christian life is not about who can do the biggest faith exploit, but having faith for all the things God calls us for.
A boat equipped with every conceivable gizmo might seem very impressive, but fancy equipment is only useful if it matches the tasks the boat is meant for. A little boat is a boat, not a showroom for amazing equipment. Its task in life is to be a boat, not to win awards for its high-tech fittings.
There is yet one more quality that I have not mentioned. It is the most valuable of all.
So, consider that little boat, tied at the end of the pier, floating there day after day, gleaming in the sun. That’s nice. But what is missing?
If it floated there forever its entire existence would be wasted.
What that boat needs is an owner; a captain and commander, who loves and cherishes it and who walks the pier, unties the boat and steers it into the open waters for some purpose. The boat may take the owner fishing, or it may rescue someone stranded or drowning. It may take the owner to some pretty place to enjoy sun, breeze and view.
At every step of the life of that little boat, the most valuable thing is the love, care and purpose given by the owner.
And so too in our Christian life. Whether we are being scraped clean of ugly gunk, or being straitened out or having our weaker parts pulled off, or if we are pushing into a headwind, or using our equipment to find a sunken vessel, our greatest quality is that we are loved and owned by our loving Heavenly Father, God Almighty.
So take some time to reflect on where you fit in this Little Boat Analogy.