Updated: Sep 2
The compass is a vital instrument in the navigation of marine vessels. Its magnetized needle always points to the north pole of the earth's magnetic field. Once the north is established, finding the other directions are easy.
Years ago I volunteered and spent time on the Christian ship M/V Doulos (since retired in 2010). There were a number of Filipinos assigned to different departments aboard the world's oldest active ocean-faring passenger ship. Not everyone is given the opportunity to work at the captain's bridge, but one of us was given the privilege to take command of the captain's wheel and steer the 130-meter long vessel.
At coffee break one time, Ryan told us of his time at the helm. Gripping the wheel with eyes forward, he looked out beyond the bow of the ship toward the ocean. He focused on making sure that the wheel was not moving to the right or the left. The captain was beside him guiding and giving instructions the entire time but left for a while so Ryan could get a feel of steering the ship on his own. He concentrated even harder on keeping the wheel steady. When the captain came back, he noticed that the ship veered from its planned route. Ryan was so focused on the wheel and on the sea that he did not look at the compass once. In the few minutes that he was left alone, he had steered the Doulos eight degrees off course! With the captain's guidance and Ryan's eyes on the compass, they were able to put the ship back on track several minutes later.
I couldn't shake off the fact that we were off course for about half an hour and no one knew about it except for Ryan and the captain. Everyone on board was going about their own way and was oblivious to what was happening. Ryan's oversight would have affected all of us.
If the Doulos had continued on Ryan's course then we would have arrived late at our next port of call. Sea and weather conditions are taken into consideration when navigating a ship and charting its course. If we had sailed into weather conditions we were avoiding because we were off course, we would have been in for a rough ride and delayed even more. Many people, churches, and organizations would have been affected with the cancellation of programs and visits. Much needed supply shipments would have also been delayed. Eight degrees was more than enough to make a mess of carefully laid out plans.
There were two things that struck me the most in Ryan's story. First, our efforts are put to waste when we focus on the wrong thing. It did not matter that he gripped the wheel really tight and put all his effort in making sure it did not move so that we would stay on course. The compass which actually guides the ship into the right direction was overlooked. Second, our actions whether good or bad create ripple effects which affect a great number of people than we could ever imagine.
In life, we are involved in a lot of things and situations. We try our best to do what seems right to us in order to get an expected outcome. We get what we hoped for but sometimes we become disappointed because results fail to meet our expectations. A lot of times we end up exhausted with all the effort that we exert, and lately world events have shown us how things can quickly go in a very different direction with life-changing ramifications.
Navigating through familiar situations can be difficult at times, but what about those that are totally deviant? There are people who will insist that they can make it on their own. Perhaps this is true, then again there always comes a time when something or someone influences us which results to a change in our thoughts and actions.
We all need a guide and the best life guide is God's word, the Bible.
It is a guidebook that sheds light on everything related to humans and the world we live in. Inspiration, encouragement, instructions, warnings, and life lessons fill its 1,189 chapters. In Ryan's experience, things went wrong because the captain went away and was left on his own. There was no one to tell him if he was still on the right track. On the contrary, when we make God the captain of our life, He is with us at all times. God is a one-of-a-kind Captain because He is the only one who invites those He leads to rest in Him. Once we trust Jesus Christ and put our lives in His hands, His Spirit is deposited in us as His guarantee. The Holy Spirit becomes the compass always pointing to God. When we think or do something that is contrary to what God says and who He is, the Holy Spirit stirs within us to alert us that we are going astray.
Reading the Bible, obeying God, and following the promptings of the Holy Spirit all lead to what God wishes for us - an abundant life while here on earth and a homecoming in heaven later on. When we live this way, our life becomes a positive force influencing and blessing those around us.
Let's loosen our grip on the wheel, focus on His word and be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We can be certain that we will never be alone as we navigate through life with God on our side. The journey will have its share of calm and rough moments. We are in good hands though because everything our Captain does is motivated by His love for us. We'll be right on course.