“Ah, dearly beloved son, why didst thou go on thy journey without taking counsel with me? For the country which thou are seeking from God, ye will never find on these dead soft skins, for it is a holy consecrated land...”
- Anonymous, Vita Brendani, Irish, 12th century
And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
- Romans 6.13
Brendan, called the Navigator, flourished around the middle of the 6th century. He was abbot of the monastery at Clonfert when he received a call from God to seek His Kingdom by sailing west across the ocean.
His first voyage – which he and his companions undertook in boats made with the skins of animals – ended in failure. They met with several obstacles, underwent various trials, and even lost a member of their company to sin. They were unable to reach their desired destination, the Promised Land of the Saints, and returned to Ireland, weary and disappointed.
Ita, Brendan’s foster-mother, explained the reason for his failed mission. She counseled him to build boats from living timber, not dead soft skins, because he could never enter the Kingdom and promises of God in such vessels.
Brendan’s story is part history, part allegory, part spiritual counsel. It is meant to teach us how to know the Presence of God, to experience the fullness of His promises, and to share in the victories of the saints who have gone before. His story encourages us to live the then and there of eternal life in the here and now of our daily experience. But we cannot realize the Presence, promise, and power of God in the dead soft skins of our fleshly endeavors, be they ever so numerous or demanding. To obtain the promises and enjoy the Presence of the Lord, we need the living timber of Christ, and His cross and righteousness.
In short: Sail in flesh, fail in flesh; sail in wood – the sacrifice, righteousness, exaltation, and reign of King Jesus – and you’ll know God’s good and perfect plan every day.
Many believers are disappointed in their experience of walking with the Savior. Or, if not disappointed, then too easily satisfied, as C. S. Lewis observed (The Weight of Glory). The Christian life doesn’t seem all that real, different, or exciting. It’s just another niche in their busy and diverse lives, but not the all-embracing, all-transforming experience of grace and truth that God intends.
At least, they don’t seem to know the joy of the Lord, demonstrate the righteousness of the Kingdom, or appear to be marked by the peace, joy, and power of the Spirit (Rom. 14.17, 18; Acts 1.8).
And what’s worse, they’re OK with that. Their faith in Jesus is good enough, and that’s, well, good enough for them.
There can be no full and abundant life in Christ, no basking in and growing into the exceedingly great and precious promises of the Lord, as long as we try to hold on to the old lives from which Jesus has delivered us, or try to live for Jesus in ways that don’t disrupt our material comfort.
The joy, power, and exhiliaration of the Christian life are in Jesus Christ. We must enter Him, into His death and resurrection, into His indwelling Spirit, into obedience to His Law and Word, into His Presence at the right hand of God. We must board the timber vessel of His resurrection power, using the oars of Scripture reading, prayer, and worship; and launch out each day into the journey of working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2.12).
We cannot continue to sail in the ship of sin, comfort, and convenience, and know the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at the right hand of God (Ps. 16.11).
Here is a call for repentance, revival, submission, vision, discipline, and Kingdom-seeking. We were not saved to be comfortable, and certainly not merely to continue in the ways of dead soft skins we pursued before Christ claimed us for His Kingdom. We have been redeemed for promises – precious and very great promises, that bring us through the timber of the cross into the promised land of the saints which is our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1.4; 2 Cor. 1.20; Col. 3.1-3).
Take up the timber of Christ – His cross and His strength. You will share in the promises and victories of the saints of old when Jesus is not only your destination, but your vessel and strength as well.
1. What did Jesus mean when He instructed us to take up our cross and follow Him?
2. Jesus did not call us to comfort, but to self-denial. What does this mean for you?
Psalm 42.6-8 (Nettleton: Come Thou Fount)
Oh my God, my soul is weary, therefore I remember You.
Let Your grace and goodness near be, and Your promise ever true.
Lord, when trials and fears surround me, Your commands will be my song.
When distresses sore confound me, Your great love will keep me strong.
Show me where I need to turn from the world and seek You more earnestly, Lord. Help me today to…
To help you in pressing on
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.