Are You Rowing or Sailing?
Read Galatians 5:13–25
Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 [NASB]
I love walking out to the lighthouse at the Santa Cruz harbor at sunset. Graceful sailboats glide through the narrow inlet. Rowers and kayakers paddle hard past the rocks on the way home.
Now, I know some people love rowboats, but I can tell you they’re a lot slower than sailboats and, by the looks on the faces of the rowers, a lot more work!
I used to live like a rowboat Christian.
I saw daily Bible reading, prayer, witnessing, etc., all as strokes of the oar, good deeds that might get me to the destination — God’s blessing — some day! But before long, my exertions wiped me out and I was rowing in circles.
And to keep from total despair I was redefining progress: It became all about the paddling. Putting the oars in the water became my focus. I forgot about the destination. Bible reading, Scripture memory, quiet time became my goals. Spiritual growth came to be about the means, not the end.
But God intends you to make progress like a sailboat, not a rowboat.
The disciplines of the spiritual life are like the sails of the boat: Bible reading, prayer, and so on are sails meant to catch the breeze and help you move forward with the wind. They help you see, feel, and appreciate God’s gracious love. And that’s what moves you forward. The way you set your sails helps you catch the wind, but it’s the wind that propels you — the wind is the energy source, not you. It’s exhilarating!
When I began awakening to the truth of grace, I felt like I was unfurling my sails, starting to zip along with the breeze of the Spirit, making progress in my character growth like never before! I was still doing spiritual “disciplines”, but there began to be a difference in the effect they had on my life. Incrementally, the more I read the Bible, sang worship songs, shared my faith, prayed, etc., the more revitalized I felt — instead of feeling drained, as these exact same activities had made me feel before.
The difference? I realized these disciplines were not earning me anything — they were just sails, put up to help me sense the surge of grace that had always been there, but that I had ignored while I was rowing my way around!
And I realized they were the means to the end. The goal was a Christ-like spirit: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22–23)
Ironically, when I am in my “rowing” state of mind, I often have less fruit of the Spirit; the hard work makes me crabby and cramped. I display what Paul calls in today’s passage “desire of the flesh”: certainly the jealousy, selfish ambition, envy, and spirit of discord in my life seems to be intensified by my grunt work (Galatians 5:20–21). I think it’s because I feel almost as if I am in competition with the other rowers.
The thrill of living by grace, on the other hand, develops Christ-like attributes more quickly than “rowing” ever does!
I encourage you to put up your sails! And if that analogy doesn’t work for you, Paul’s got another one up his sleeve for tomorrow!
In what way do you relate to the rowing vs. sailing metaphor?
Has your spiritual life been characterized more by rowing or sailing?
Today in prayer put up your sails, so to speak, and thank God for His love and grace to you. Pray for specific people you know, that they may understand God’s grace through Christ for them.