How to help others and yourself stay on course: A message and a metaphor

In his excellent book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Tim Keller offers the following metaphor to assess our present condition before the Lord (p.258-260). Your spiritual life is like a boat at sea. You’ve been given command of the vessel, and the expectation is that you will make progress to the other side.

Below are four ways to describe how you’re doing. This is immensely helpful for assessing your personal condition, but also as you help others assess theirs.

Sailing – the wind is at your back and you’re in regular communion with God. You sense his constant presence, help, and power.

Rowing – the effort to maintain a close relationship with God is more of a duty than a delight. You are not despairing, but you find yourself in a state of spiritual dryness.

Drifting – the spiritual dryness has caused you to stop trying anymore. You have no strong desire to know or obey God, and you start looking for comfort elsewhere.

Sinking – the lack of spiritual growth has given way to self-pity and resentment. You have been blown off course and run the risk of making shipwreck of the faith.

This is a powerful metaphor, and a helpful way to serve others as they seek to assess their spiritual condition. I appreciate how Keller is honest about the times when circumstances will leave you felling like you’re rowing in the dark. But if you keep rowing – reading your Bible, praying, being faithful to attend church – you will enjoy deep communion with God when the winds kick up again.

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