Church in the Midst of the Sea (Full Article)
Understanding “The way of a ship in the middle of the sea” from Proverbs 30:19 is of paramount importance because it is a picture of safety and provision for the believer in the midst of the sea of Nations. Many times in Scripture a ship is utilized as an allegory to express the believer or the corporate Church in this world. Rev. 13:1 is a picture of the sea of nations during particular turbulent times, stirred up by Satan at the end of the age. The only hope that is truly present in a physical way in this world is the church because of who we are in Christ.
A Place of Safety, as well as Cohabitation
I see the church at large as an armada or fleet in this way, but also a local church as kind of a three-masted sailing vessel that contains the life of God collectively. The sails are faith, held out by the believers corporately, to catch the wind of the Spirit. I see the ropes and tackle as the commitments of the individuals that hold the masts (the presence of God) in place, and the sails held taught by the personal commitment of each believer in order to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit to move the ship forward. Besides occasional passengers, every believer has a specific task in the life on the ship (Eph. 4:16), as well as its destiny. The believer should fit in with the corporate vision and mission of that vessel and be under its authority. There is a strict protocol on entering and leaving a ship, including stating the reason when officially boarding or leaving the ship. I believe it helps maintain order, as well as providing a secure environment for those Christ rescues in the storms of life.
I believe that the Lord sees each individual believer in the same way, apart from the corporate, sailing his own vessel through life with Him at the helm. Let's briefly look at a collection of terms and references in the Scriptures which will help us to see ourselves in this way. Here are a few, paraphrased:
– The hope we have is expressed as an anchor of refuge in a safe harbor within the veil because Jesus entered as a forerunner* for us. (Heb 6:19-20)
forerunner*: a nautical term for when a ship cannot make it into the safe harbor on its own, a small boat is dispatched to carry the anchor into the harbor.
– We should pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Heb2:10)
– Some have suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. (1 Timothy 1:19)
– Do not to be childlike tossed about by the waves and winds of the doctrines of men (Eph. 4:14)
– Men can be hidden reefs and can cause wild waves in the midst of the church. (Jude 12-13)
– The tongue is like a small rudder that can steer a large ship even though it is driven by strong winds (James 3:4)
– When we cry to the Lord in our trouble He can cause the storm to be still, waves to cease and guides us to our desired haven. (Ps 107:28-30)
Seaworthiness is a term I would like to examine because it describes not only the ability to stay buoyant in the midst of a storm, but to navigate to fulfill our journey's mission.
A ship is a place of safety when you are on it if the sea (world) does not invade the ship to the point of sinking it, or causing the life within the ship to deteriorate. The sea conditions can and will greatly hinder the ability to navigate the unchartered waters ahead, not only to stay afloat, but also to complete our Godly mission.
When we kids went fishing in a rowboat with my Dad, occasionally he would proceed to rock the boat from side to side very energetically, even if we got a little wet. He was showing us how safe it really was from tipping and not to be afraid of getting wet. He knew that those times would come in many future situations of rough waters we would encounter. He was helping us get what they call “sea legs”, which gave us the ability to move about in a pitching and rolling boat with ease. Occasionally when we were out all day in especially rough waters, when returning to dry land, it was a little difficult to walk because you had the sensation you were still on a rocking boat. It may have to do with a law of inertia; “a body in motion tends to stay in motion”.
It is time for the body of Christ to get her “sea legs”. Some of these issues may “rock your boat”, but I believe it is necessary to share them in this strategic hour. I hope to share what I see and feel with the risk of getting you a little wet if I rock your boat a little too hard.
Today we see the incredible speed of the “paganization” of the nations around the world taking place, ours included. We see the dismantling of Christian principles and the assault on the Word of God becoming the norm and not the exception. A “contemporary god” that is being carried along with this current is more relevant for today and many nominal Christians are being caught up in its undercurrents. The current is getting stronger and the church will be moving against the current as never before because the wind and the waves will be contrary.
It reminds us of Matt. 14: 22-34 when the Lord told His disciples to get into the boat and go over to the other side ahead of Him. He remained on shore praying while His disciples had taken their boat and were in the midst of a sudden gale on that dark night when the winds and waves were contrary; and their faith was tested in many ways. Jesus came to them walking on the water which terrified them at first. Peter walked on the water while wrestling with his own faith and when Jesus came into the boat the wind ceased; and it opened the disciples eyes to who He was- the Son of God. The last verse is important and they crossed over to the land to complete their mission.
The question is, what will cause our supernatural eyes to be opened in the midst of the storms? These things were written down for our instructions. Our storms we will face together will not be much different. He will not allow us to be tempted beyond which we can endure. We need to see the Lord in the midst of the storms and expect Him to move supernaturally. Like this incident, He has initiated our journey, knows our frame and will be there when we cry to Him in our trouble. He can cause the storm to be still, waves to cease, and will guide us to our desired haven (Ps 107:28-30). He is never late, nor will He forsake us.
My Own True Story
I am sharing this story because it vividly illustrates trying to navigate in the midst of a storm and we came very close to being shipwrecked. It contains within it the urgent need to be in communication with other boats, as well as with one another. It illustrates how unforeseen situations can arise that can be dangerous, as well as encountering unfamiliar waterways, and every person on the boat was needed and vital. It shows that wisdom and decisive commitment are needed. There is no turning back and no room for panic. (You will have to transition spiritually to the analogies that can easily be drawn from this adventure.) However, I trust as the reader is placed on the boat with us, the emotional stress you can feel in identifying with the growing crisis should help prepare you to relate to the possible roller coaster of tension one may experience in spiritually rough seas.
Four of us were returning after fishing on our twenty-two foot boat from the “acid waters” between Long Island and New Jersey. The weather had turned suddenly nasty and since we were out of the sight of land, we were hurrying to get back through the inlet before it got too rough. The closer we got to shore the higher the waves became because of the 8 to 10 foot “ground swells” (shallows will cause waves to rise higher as they roll in from the sea.), which was the opposite of what we expected. The tide and winds were contrary and the chatter we were hearing from other boats on our marine radio indicated the inlet we were heading for was already very treacherous and several boats were in trouble.
As we listened intensely we heard boats were making for an alternate inlet further up the coast with slightly better conditions. We were not at all familiar with those waterways, but we had no choice. After charting a course from our map we headed slowly through the rough seas and limited visibility toward our destination. The boat was taking pounding and so were we. There was no relief. After finally finding the inlet it was past dusk and the conditions were worse than we anticipated. Several other larger boats were also trying to maneuver into position as well. We had to wait our turn near the entrance, making it somewhat more precarious because other boats around us were also in peril.
After a few false starts because of other boats, we finally had our slot and knew once we started and were in the midst the inlet we would be committed and there was no turning back. As we began entering the mouth of the inlet we realized we had “following seas”. The current was against us with the winds pushing the waves and us from the stern. It was a slow fearful pulsating affect with every hissing wave. The boat would almost stop moving forward, groaning under full power, and then the wave would try to push us rapidly forward, either coming over the stern (which it did a few times) or push the boat slowly sideways out of our control. Other boats larger than ours were going through nearby and in back of us, adding to our danger because we were virtually at the mercy of the sea swells and so were they.
All eyes onboard were steadfastly focused to help navigate, even though there was one person at the throttle and helm trying to steer. We barely made it through those last five long tense minutes with all of us on watch clutching whatever life preservers we had on the boat as we gradually made our way past the shallow sandbars and the protruding rocks. We did not realize how much water we had taken on until the boat began to slowly pitch and roll from the waves after we were inside the inlet and it began to slosh around above the deck where we were standing. It was by the grace of God we made it through and because it was a very seaworthy and well-equipped boat, but we realized we were not very seaworthy in experience. We had a new respect for the sea with a lesson we never forgot which had seasoned us for the many adventurous voyages afterward.
Navigation Dangers Ahead
The church is about to head into uncharted waters. When the tide continues to go out in our society before the storm surge (similar to the *Bay of Fundy) many hidden rocks will be exposed, both in the world and in the church. There will be many reefs and shoals that we (the church, personally and our families) will encounter that can cause our faith to be shipwrecked, including whole churches, if we are not prepared and seaworthy. Changes will begin to occur incredibly fast with little or no time to negotiate them. It is time to inspect and prepare the ark for seas the church has not been tested in before.
*Bay of Fundy: Each day 100 billion tones of seawater flows in and out of the Bay of Fundy during one tide cycle, more than the combined flow of the world’s freshwater rivers!
The Perfect Storm of October 1991 is a reminder of how, without typical hurricane warnings, it ravaged many ships and smaller vessels at sea. It was an exceptionally large and powerful storm, which materialized quickly and greatly affected the Atlantic Ocean with a suddenness that startled even the weather experts. It took several lives and was very destructive over a wide region. Super Storm Sandy and other historic storms have struck our region and around the world. Much of this is just part of the increase and intensity of the birth pangs predicted in the Scriptures.
The Storm of the Lord
For many years now, along with other prophets, I have seen the dark storm clouds gathering on the horizon. We need to understand that the primary reason for the delay of God's judgment has been because His church has not been ready. He is not slow in fulfillment of His promises as we may think, but is patient toward us, not willing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3: 9, 14-15), including His Church.
The sum of the word in the scriptures and through His current prophets is the truth. It may be throttled by God's patience and mercy, the prayers of the saints, or accelerated because His purposes are being fulfilled in the fullness of time.
The prophets only prophesy in part and see in a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:9-12); that is why we need the whole body of Christ. Unfortunately, from a prophetic perspective, the clearer the whole picture seems, the greater the chance of the error of presumption in timing of a visitation. Most often it seems only part of the picture slowly turns into reality with a clear trumpet call. It does not mean that the rest will not follow.
Godly Navigation Needed Ahead
"The Key to success is not in changing the direction of the wind, but in knowing how to set your sails.": Author unknown
If we are going to be at sea, (and we are) and if there is a storm brewing (and there is), plotting your course now to intersect your destination in God is only the first part in the journey. We need to be keenly aware of certain navigation skills.
Tacking while Sailing
Mid-course corrections in God are a way of life in the Kingdom, especially during the storms we go through, because conditions are always changing. In sailing against the wind, a ship will often be forced to “tack” or zigzag to make headway to stay on course.
Have you ever heard the saying: “God writes straight with crooked lines?”
When drawing a straight line with a ruler it looks straight to the naked eye. However, when we use a powerful magnifying glass to view it, it is jagged or zigzagged in appearance. In life, many times our spiritual walks appear to us in this way and “tacking” is necessary. We experience the zigzag in our mission, but in God’s infinite wisdom He sees it as a straight line.
Uncertainty is often the way of our journey, but the hand of our God will guide us. The fear of the Lord is our confidence that we will have a place of refuge in the storm (Prov. 14:26) and that He will bring us to our destination(s) safely.
“He brings them into their desired haven” Ps 107:30
Getting Your Sea Legs.
We often go through unfamiliar and sometimes troubled waters in life. If you are a young Christian, it takes time to get your “sea legs”. It is not something you are taught or learn by reading a book. You must get into the boat and go to sea. I urge you to read Matt. 14: 22-34 where Jesus told His disciples to get into the boat and go to the other side. He did not get into the boat with them this time, but they obeyed.
Get into the Boat
The winds and the waves were contrary, and their faith was tested and built up because this time the Master met them in the midst of their voyage. The safest place you can be is in the will of God, even if it defies your understanding; so get into the boat. The most precarious place to be is one foot in the boat and the other on the dock, especially when the waters are rough.
A Word to the watchmen from the Lord: “Many will run to and fro seeking answers, but I say to you, I will give you a sure word for this season and the next, and then the next. Know both the word and know the season, so that your voyage can be understood clearly and your mission accomplished. We lose both time and opportunity when we are not awake to the things of God in the day of visitation.
Making the most of the day or of a week (*chronos time) is good stewardship. The wise and effective watchman has his senses focused and attuned to the slightest hint of a season change (**Karios window of opportunity). He’s an eagle on the lookout. Don’t let your diligence towards day-to-day events choke out your attention to the season changes.
*Chronos refers to minutes and seconds. It refers to time as a measurable resource. Numbering our days.
**Kairos means an appointed time, an opportune moment, or a due season. A brief window is a kairos opportunity.
The “Crows Nest” Vantage Point
Rev. 4:1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.
“Come up here” to me is like being in the lookout “crows nest” on the very top of the mast of the ship. It was the best place of visibility to see dangers, sighting land and to aid in plotting a course should land be seen:
Wikipedia relates how sailors may have had crows or ravens in a cage secured to the top of the mast, so that when searching for land in dire weather conditions they would release the bird noting the direction of flight to help plot a course for the ship. It is the same principle of the watchmen on the wall seeking the Holy Spirit:
Is. 21:11 The oracle concerning Edom. One keeps calling to me from Seir,
“Watchman, how far gone is the night? Watchman, how far gone is the night?”
Is. 21:12 The watchman says, “Morning comes but also night.
If you would inquire, inquire; Come back again.”
It is time as a prophetic people that we all must take our place in the “crows nest”. I believe that these prophetic dreams will give you a pair of field glasses to be able to see what to watch and prepare for; and how to pray as well. A big part of this article is a mindset preparation for the journey ahead. Mindset is a set of beliefs or way of thinking that will help change our behavior and outlook as we move forward in the Kingdom of God.
Three Masted Sailing Ship Vision
Many years ago while I was being prayed for on a retreat I began to have a very clear vision; only it was more like a trance where I was actually experiencing and doing activities in it. I found myself on a large three masted sailing ship, standing on the bridge looking at the helm area. Everything was all shinny, brassy and new.
A picture I had once seen flashed before my eyes as I stood behind the helm. It was a picture of a youth at the helm of a sailing ship with Jesus standing behind him with His hand on the young man’s shoulder and the other outstretched arm pointing the way to steer the ship through the rough seas ahead.
During the next scene I found myself slowly strolling on the deck looking at the breadth of the ship and up at the masts which were huge, almost overwhelming. All the wood was highly varnished teak, oak and mahogany and trimmed with brass. There were no sails unfolded and no one else was on the ship at that time.
In the next moment I found myself up in the crows nest and looking out over the water. I could see a group of islands silhouetted on the horizon. The impression I had was that they were tropical. The other impression I had was that the ship was going to sail from island to island and that the course was already predetermined. The vision ended at that point.
Even though the impression I had in the vision was that the islands were tropical, it had entered my mind that evening and the next day that I had not seen any palm trees in the blue silhouette, wondering if I was reading more into this than was really there. That afternoon as my wife and I were walking together we both noticed a bright shinny object on the ground and as she picked it up she said, “Oh look, a little bit of Hawaii”. It was a small metal green and silver silhouette of a palm tree, probably a part of a child’s toy.
The ship was in the water, but there were no sails unfolded indicating to me that it is yet in the future and a glimpse of what is to come in the Spirit. It symbolized the provision to be provided for the church and myself in this journey. The whole scene was a picture of the adventure that was in the future ministry with Him that was yet to unfold. I could see both the confirming prophetic aspect in pointing the way and the calling as a “ watchman seer” and to cry out warnings in future ministry. The confirming palm tree indicated that wherever the church would be sent would flourish.
The ship experience was so riveting at the time I remember it as clear as if it happened today. The trance merely confirmed my destiny that God had placed in my heart years before. It reflected an old model sailing ship given to me many years before that I had cherished all those years, not knowing why. It was a model of an old ship from Columbus’s era with crosses and the King's crown on the sails. I still cherish it today.
All I had experienced and saw in this vision was a type of the church's destiny and that is why my home office is completely decorated in nautical. An old sailors song I picked up along the way has stayed with me over the years and the words go something like this:
Oh the ocean waves may roll, let them roll
And the stormy winds may blow, let them blow
But we brave sailors go skipping to the top
While the land lovers lie down below
The cry of the Spirit: ALL HANDS ON DECK!
I shall see you there by the grace of God, for these are exciting days. There is a great harvest ahead with great rewards to follow. In the words of Jesus in Luke 21:28:
“But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”