Adjusting Your Sail
A dear friend gave this to me in September 2013; she saw it at the Germantown Festival and thought of me. I had just finished battling cancer for 14 months. It sits on my nightstand. Until this week, I didn’t look up the author of the quote. It is a quote from Elizabeth Edward’s book Resilience written after the death of her son and father and her diagnosis with cancer all in the same year, and then cancer’s return and very public revelation of her husband’s infidelity three years later. It says, “She stood in the storm, and when the storm did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails.”
As I was battling cancer, another dear friend gave me a framed quote attributed to Mother Teresa. It said, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.” That quote in its silver frame are no longer with me, and I didn’t pass it on, either. Here’s why I took the quote out and threw it away. First, it is attributed to Mother Teresa, and she didn’t say it. Second, it is not Biblical.
The idea may have come from the passage of I Corinthians that we read this morning. Paul does say, “God will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” The context of the passage is important, though. Paul is writing to the church at Corinth, which is struggling because of their newfound freedom in Christ from the 613 laws of Judaism and their effort to live as the Kingdom of God. What is ok? What is forbidden? Paul writes, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful.” When you are tempted, remember that any temptation you face is common to every person. And God won’t let you be tempted beyond what you can resist and will provide a way to escape the temptation.
This passage is dealing with temptation, not with crises and problems to handle. God doesn’t give us problems and disasters because he trusts we can handle them. So, what does the Bible say about handling our problems? It says we are not alone. Throughout Scripture we are assured that no matter what we face, God is with us.
Moses, after leading the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness for 40 years, looks across the Jordan River from Mt. Nebo and sees the Promised Land. But, God speaks to Moses and tells him that he will not go in. He calls the people together and as he tells them he will not be crossing the Jordan with them he encourages them, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6) Then, Moses hands over leadership to Joshua and dies. After burying Moses, their leader for the last 40 year, the people are afraid to go into the Promised Land. They have to cross the Jordan River to the other side. They don’t know what, or who, they will face. They are terrified. Joshua echoes Moses, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God will be with you, wherever you go.”
Isaiah prophesied to Israel, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41:13)
The Psalmist intones, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Ps. 34:17-18)
Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28–30).
Paul does write about the storms of life saying, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”(Philippians 4:13) “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair.” “…this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7-8)
God does not hand us problems to handle based on our ability to deal with them, the storms of life come to us all. The promise in the storm is that we are never left alone to handle our problems. God is with us in the storm.
So as we stand in the storm, we are not blown away. And we weather the storm better as we must adjust our sails. I don’t think that it is any accident that the Hebrew and Greek words for wind also mean breath and spirit.
When you are on a sailboat, if your destination lies upwind, you need to get as close to the wind as possible. When the storms of life are beating us back from our destination, we need to set our sails as close to the wind as possible so that our sails will fill with air. God is with us in the storm, and we get as close to the wind of God’s Spirit as possible through prayer. And yet, in the midst of the storm, it can be hard to pray. As we struggle against what threatens to blow us away, how do we set our sail as close to the wind as possible? What do we say to God?
Here’s the truth: I don’t know anything about sailing. So, I did a little research, and I’ve found I still don’t really know anything about sailing. You can’t learn to sail by reading about sailing. The only way to learn to sail is to get on a sailboat. Prayer is the same. You can’t learn to pray by me telling you about it. You can’t read about prayer and get better at it. You learn to pray by praying. And it is hard to set aside time to talk with God, who doesn’t ever text you or call, who rarely if ever says anything to you, and yet, as you get in the sailboat and set sail, you begin to see how the wind blows and how to catch the wind in your sail.
Jesus knew that we needed to know how to pray, so he gave us an outline. When you pray, pray to God who is our Father and at the same time whose name is hallowed. And ask for his will to be done and for you to have what you need for that day. Forgive those who have hurt you and ask God to forgive you in the same way. And pray that “God will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
When we face the storms of life, when our anger and fear and hurt are raw, we often don’t have words to express what we are feeling. But God doesn’t need our words, and God is strong enough to take our fury and love us still. We can turn to the Psalms and hear the pain of lament and know that nothing we say or think will change God’s steadfast love for us. The 13th Psalm is one I turn to when I need words, “How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day long?”
And, with the psalmist, as we set our sail as close to the wind as possible, we begin to make our way through the storm. “I have trusted in your steadfast love,” says the psalmist, “my heart will rejoice in your salvation.”
We stand in the storm, but we do not stand alone. We adjust our sails and catch the wind of God’s Spirit. As Elizabeth read from Isaiah, “You shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry and the Lord God will say, Here I am….the Lord will guide you continually.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.