Before reading any further, you should know that I have never sailed a boat. I have talked with people who have sailed boats. I have seen it done on television. I have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, and regardless of what the commercial says, I am far from being an expert on sailing. Nevertheless, from what little I know about sailing, I want to attempt a metaphor for spiritual formation that I hope will give you insight into your own spiritual journey.
According to experts on the Internet, a sailboat cannot sail directly into the wind. Instead, the boat must sail at an angle of 45-50 degrees off the wind and zigzag back and forth in order to make your way into the direction of the wind. This is a method sailors refer to as “tacking.” My mind has a hard time understanding how a boat with sails can make any progress in a windward direction at all. It seems to me that the wind would always push you in the wrong direction. But I have seen it done and the tacking method works.
The trouble with tacking, as I see it, is that it is inefficient. Whenever I travel from point “A” to point “B” I tend to take a direct route. Wind is not a factor in most of my travels by plane, train, or automobile. In my vehicle I set my GPS coordinates and follow the instructions expecting the GPS will select the most direct route to my destination. When sailing you may have an intended destination, but getting there is rarely a matter of taking the shortest route.
Something like this is going on when it comes to spiritual formation. Rarely does a spiritual journey look like the shortest route on a GPS. More often it resembles a sailboat journey, zigzagging to and fro at angles. At times the wind changes and you have to adjust or maneuver differently to maintain your course toward the intended destination.
It doesn’t take too much study to see illustrations of this point in Scripture. Examples like Abraham, Moses, and David stand out quickly. Abraham was sent on a journey without knowing the destination. Moses wandered in the wilderness forty years. David spent some time in the wilderness wandering about before becoming King, and then his most difficult journeys began. Each of these stories and many others in Scripture indicate for us that a spiritual journey is rarely, if ever, a direct route.
“Spirit of God” is translated from a Hebrew word (ruach ‘elohim), which can also be translated “a wind from God.” The Greek word translated Spirit (pneuma) can also indicate “wind” or “breath.” With this in mind, my sense is that we should understand our Spirit-filled, Spirit-led (Spirit-breathed, perhaps) journey as something more like tacking into “a wind from God” rather than a trip from point “A” to point “B” taking the shortest possible route.
I’ll write more on this next week. But for now, I hope you will begin to see your journey of growing into the confession you made that Jesus is Lord as a journey of formation that will zigzag, more or less at times, throughout life. Our destination is to be more like Jesus and more importantly to be with Jesus. We have not yet arrived at either destination. In the mean time we must learn to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14) More to come . .