I’m not a sailor but I did take a course in college that involved learning boat terms (I don’t know why you can’t just call it the “right” side of the boat). The only thing I remember about the course is that at the end of it, we went sailing in the bay off of San Pedro. And I got seasick. And for all you judgmental characters out there, consider this, at least it wasn’t a course on underwater basket-weaving.

So if you are an accomplished yachtsmen (or yachtswoman), please do not be offended as I offer up this small lesson about sailing and life, for it is sure to be riddled with nautical negligence and maritime mistakes.

In sailing, the basic principle is that you catch the wind in a piece of fabric so that it pulls you through the water. This is fairly uncomplicated if the wind is blowing steadily in the direction you want to go and if you’re not going that far. Even I could do that! Jump in the boat, put out a sail, tie it so that it catches the wind, and steer the rudder until we reach the other side.

But of course, it is rarely that simple unless you are sailing in a bathtub.

The wind generally does not blow in the exact direction you want to travel. And it rarely blows consistently for very long. The wind has a tendency to change direction and force. Sometimes it gusts, sometimes it dies down, and sometimes it blows with hurricane force. From one day to the next it might blow in one direction and then change completely. It is changing constantly.

Jesus, when speaking about the wind, said “it blows wherever it pleases...you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”

And this is why sailing is both a science and an art. A good sailor learns how to read the wind and react to it. When there is little wind, the wise sailor puts out many sails. When there is much wind, she puts out few. When the wind is gusty, she keeps her sails trimmed tightly so that the sails do not rip and tear.

If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, and you can’t simply steer towards your destination, she will tack the boat back and forth in a zig zag pattern. Moving off course for a time, but then turning back in the opposite direction, all the while moving towards the destination, even if not in a straight line.

Sailing well takes great skill.

The Bible compares God’s Spirit to the wind. Like the wind, God is unseen by human eyes. You can sense the Spirit of God just as you can detect the wind, but you cannot contain it or control it. You do not tell the wind where to blow, but you respond to it.

Jesus went on to say that the people who are following the Spirit of God are like the wind, “you don’t know where they will be from one day to the next.” This is because they are putting up their spiritual sails and responding to where God’s Spirit is blowing!

Following God’s Spirit is a skill that we learn, just like sailing. It starts with paying attention to Him, studying how He operates, spending time with Him, and responding to Him. We learn when to trim our sails and when to put more sails out. We learn when to zig-zag and when to run in a straight line.

So how are your spiritual sails? Are they catching the wind of God’s Spirit? Maybe the whole idea is foreign to you, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We all can learn more about who God is, how He works, and how to cooperate with Him. Do you need to get in the wind? Do you need to put some more sails out?

Whether you like sailing on the ocean or not, I guarantee that this kind of sailing you will love!

Andrew Cromwell is the executive pastor at Koinonia Church in Hanford. E-mail him at andrew@kcfchurch.org or call 582-1528.