The Celtic Revival: Age of the Peregrini (14)
“Ah, dearly beloved son, why didst thou go on thy journey without taking counsel with me? For the country which thou art 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
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
- Matthew 16.24, 25
Brendan’s voyages took him to many places and on many strange adventures. 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 know the Kingdom and promises of God in such vessels. Brendan subsequently built sturdier boats of wood, and in his next voyage, arrived at last to the Promised Land of the Saints – an allegorical experience of the City to Come.
Brendan’s story is part history, part allegory, and part spiritual counsel. It is meant to teach us how to know the Presence of God, experience the fullness of His promises, and share in the victories of the saints who have gone before. His story encourages us to seek the there and then of eternal life in the here and now of our daily experience, to understand that our life is always a journey to the promised land of hope and glory, but that we may enter that rest and glory every day by following a disciplined life of faith and obedience.
But we cannot realize the Presence, promise, and power of God in the dead soft skins of our comfortable faith. To obtain the promises and enjoy the Presence of the Lord, we need to rest and journey within the living timber of Christ.
In short: Sail in the flesh, fail in the flesh; sail in wood – the cross of Jesus we take up daily – 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). They are content splashing around in the mud puddle of their faith because they cannot envision what it would be like to spend a day at the beach. The Christian life doesn’t seem all that real, different, or exciting to such believers. It’s just another, albeit important, niche in their busy and diverse lives, not the all-embracing, all-transforming experience of grace, truth, and mission that God intends.
Such believers don’t seem to know the joy of the Lord. They don’t flourish in the righteousness of Christ and His Kingdom, or bear witness to Jesus in 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 they don’t aspire to anything more.
But they are sailing in the dead skins of the flesh, rather than by the strong timber of Christ and His Word. They may one day reach the promised land of hope and glory, but they’ll not experience much of it in the here and now of their daily lives. Nor will they convince many of the value or necessity of taking up this journey.
The joy, power, and exhilaration 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 cross and resurrection power, the sails of our hope and faith spread wide to catch the Spirit, and the oars of Scripture, prayer, worship, and good works eagerly and faithfully engaged. Thus we launch out each day into the journey of working out our salvation with fear and trembling, realizing as we do increasing measures of the Presence, promise, and power of Christ and His Kingdom (Phil. 2.12; Eph. 3.20).
Brendan’s example 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 the 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).
1. What does it mean for you to take up the cross of Jesus each day?
2. What are some signs that you might be slipping into a merely “comfortable” faith?
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. I am too easily content with the state of my faith. Help me to…
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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.
The Timber of Christ
- T.M. Moore
- August 2, 2022
Take it up daily.
The Celtic Revival: Age of the Peregrini (14)
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore