The Holy Spirit: A Metaphor

sailing.jpgI was discussing the work of the Spirit with a friend who asked a very insightful question: Why does it seem that the Spirit leads different people in different directions?

He was thinking in doctrinal terms. We’d been looking at 1 Corinthians 2, where Paul teaches that the Spirit helps Christians understand things that those without the Spirit cannot.

We talked about it but, as so often happens, the answer didn’t come to me until five minutes after we’d gotten into our cars and headed in different directions.

Consider what Jesus said to Nicodemus —

(John 3:8) “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Nowadays, not many of us have ever been on a sailboat. And so we don’t realize that sailboats have a nearly magical way of defying common sense. You see, so long as the wind is blowing, the boat can go any direction it wants — even upwind! It’s called “tacking into the wind,” and any good sailor knows how.

Now, no one wants to cross the sea by tacking. It’s slow and it’s hard work, with constant adjustments required. Sailing downwind, especially in an ancient sailboat, makes much more sense. And so, a parable —


The sky was clear and brilliant blue; the wind was strong and steady. The boat skimmed over the water so fast and high, the sailors felt like they were in low-flying airplanes rather than boats. Well, they would have felt that way if they’d ever heard of airplanes, but they hadn’t, because this was the First Century. But you know what I mean.

The boats were so fast that the passengers couldn’t feel the wind. They felt the sea spray blown on their faces as the prow hit wave after wave, the boat bobbing with each impact. But they were going nearly as fast as the wind, so to them, there was no wind. They only knew the wind was blowing hard and straight because their sails were taut and they were racing across the sea.

It was great fun — watching the sea rush by and seeing the shore grow closer. Of course, their goal was the shore, where they were going to meet family they’d not seen in a long time. And while they were anxious for the shore, they were also enjoying the journey.

It’s not as though there was no work for them to do. The sea was large, the journey was long, and the boat had to be maintained, meals had to be prepared, and the sails and tackle required constant tending. But with the steady approach of land and constancy of the wind, the work was light and easy.

One day, they happened upon an old sailor in a small boat. His face was as weatherbeaten as his boat. His arms were massive, with muscles built from years of fighting the wind. He looked undaunted despite his exhaustion.

As the first boat approached, he began to shout. “You’re going the wrong direction! You’re supposed to tack into the wind!” He continued to work the tiller and pull on ropes, forcing his boat into the wind.

The captain of the first boat came on deck to check out the visitor. He ordered his crew to strike the sails so they could talk. “We’re just trying to get to shore. The wind is from the west. This is the way!”

The old man snarled. “It’s God’s wind, isn’t it? Who are you to challenge God’s way? The wind is from the west, and so I’m going west!”

The captain was puzzled. “If it’s God’s wind, then why not let God blow us where he wants us to go?”

“Because,” the old man said, with disdain, “God wants us to work for our passage. It’s not supposed to be easy. He taught us to tack because he wants us to tack. It’s hard, and it’s tough — but it makes hard, tough men. It’s a test, can’t you see? Will we do it the easy way or the hard way? And I know that God’s way is the hard way.”

The captain replied, “There are many boats going this way. You are the only one going upwind. We sail easily and fast.”

The old man retorted, “What’s right isn’t what’s popular! I honor God by fighting the wind, by standing firm against those who scoff, by being tough and not being afraid to be different.

“You’re soft. Come about and sail with me. I’ll teach you how to tack into the wind, day after day, year after year, and prove yourself to God.”

The captain shook his head sadly. “God didn’t make this hard. You’re making it hard. You can use God’s wind to sail with him or you can sail against him. You make your own choice.”

But even as he spoke, the boats were pulling apart, and so the conversation ended. The one thing a boat in the wind can’t do is be still.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink.
My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.

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0 Responses to The Holy Spirit: A Metaphor

  1. Larry Wishard says:

    Thank you for your blog. I discovered about three months ago and truly enjoy it.

    Sailing is a good topic. The wind blows wherever it blows. It blows at times against us in ways we don't understand. We can then tack to move to the will of God. But at times God has trained us and where we want to sail is also where He is ready to send us. Indeed His yoke is easy and burden is light. I once argued with a friend that the teaching of Paul on resurrection meant that the life without persecution is miserable. But Jesus taught us to know that if we walk away from this world, he will give us many blessings in this life and the next.
    Thanks again.
    Larry Wishard, Denver CO

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