The Sails of the Soul

Set your soul for smooth sailing.

Ill Winds (3)

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2.11, 12

Full sail
A well-trimmed sailing vessel employs a variety of sails to capture and maximize the power of the wind. Think of a typical three-masted schooner or frigate. Each mast has a large mainsail and one or two topsails above it. Strung from the fore and aft masts, you may find another set of sails, either triangular or quadrilateral.

The sails work together, overlapping with one another, and they complement one another, to allow the vessel to make progress. When the sails are full and the tiller holds firm, a sailing vessel makes good progress along its course.

The soul can be compared to the masts and sails of a sailing ship. It employs three “masts” – the heart, the mind, and the conscience – which each use a variety of “sails” to keep the soul moving along in the life of faith. We in whom the soul operates to empower our walk with and work for the Lord want to keep our sails filled with the Wind from God – the Holy Spirit – so that He breathes into each of the sails of the soul those affections, thoughts, and priorities that will keep us moving forward in faith. At the same time, we must guard against any “ill winds” of false teaching, sentiment, or value, since these “war against the soul” to cause us to drift off course and compromise honorable and Christ-like conduct.

Let’s look more closely at the sails which operate from the “masts” of our soul.

The heart: the main mast
The primary mast which catches the winds that blow upon our soul is the heart. We must “guard the heart with all diligence,” Solomon wrote, “for from it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4.23, my translation). Jesus said as much, too, saying that the heart is the treasury of good or evil, depending on how we keep it (Lk. 6.45). The primary sails operating on the mast of the heart are desire, delight, and love.

We recall that Eve fell into sin as she began to desire the fruit of the tree rather than the Word and promise of God (Gen. 3.6). Her desire was to indulge a fleshly delight rather than to maintain communion with God, and thus she opened the gate of her soul to the Trojan horse of sin.

Desire works hand-in-hand with delight. We tend to desire what we think we might take delight it. Delight is a powerful affection tha can easily cause us to give in to sinful desires. This is why David counsels us to delight in the Lord. If we delight in the Lord, we will desire the Lord, and He will give us more of Himself. If we delight in things other than the Lord, then that sail of our soul may fill with things that turn out to be idols and sources of drift.

Love is the attraction and conviction resulting from having what we desire and delight in. Obviously, love can become misplaced, as when Demas loved the world, and desired and took delight in its lusts, rather than in the Lord and His Kingdom (2 Tim. 4.10).

The mind: the aft mast
We often speak of having an “afterthought” about some matter. Usually, that afterthought comes as a corrective to a premature judgment. The mind is the aft mast of the soul. In one sense, it catches whatever wind comes to the soul before the heart, but it is not as powerful as the heart in driving the soul along its course.

The mind raises three primary sails into the winds that blow upon our souls – reception, attention, and interest. Reception welcomes prevailing winds. It acts to consider, discern, and decide which winds to receive and which to shun. Because we have received the Spirit, not of the world, but of God, we must receive only those Winds of God that are consistent with His Word (1 Cor. 2.12, 13). We need to be well aware of other winds that wish to blow against our minds, but we must not receive any except those which are of the Holy Spirit.

The sail of attention gathers the winds that blow against the soul and distributes them about, that they might be well-considered and transferred to the main mast of the heart. If we give attention to contrary winds – like Eve, pondering that fruit and deciding it was a good thing to eat – we may compromise not only our thoughts but our affections as well, leading to drift from God’s course.

Interest is a more permanent feature of the mind, and finds us probing deeper into ideas, worldviews, suggestions and the like. Interest works properly when reception and attention have done their job, because then the focus of interest will be only that which blows with the Spirit of God.

The conscience: the foremast

If there is a foremast to the soul, that which tends to lead the main and aft masts of heart and mind, it is the conscience. For the conscience is the repository of settled convictions and values. In a healthy soul, these operate to keep heart and mind filled with the Wind of God. The sails strung from the foremast of conscience are assimilation, value, priority.

By assimilation that which we have considered with the mind and embraced with the heart becomes settled in the soul, an integral part of who we are. “For me to live is Christ,” Paul wrote (Phil. 1.21), thus showing that he had assimilated Christ into his conscience and all of his life.

Paul thus valued Christ above all things. He counted everything else but rubbish for the joy of knowing and having Christ Jesus (Phil. 3.7-9).

Thus, Paul’s priority in everything was to glorify Christ (1 Cor. 10.31).

In a healthy soul, the mind, the heart, and the conscience seek out the Wind of God and the duties and benefits the Spirit and Word bring to us. The ill winds of doctrine are noted, but they are neither received, delighted in, nor assimilated. Instead we hoist all the sails of our soul into the Wind of doctrine that comes from God alone, centers of Jesus Christ, teaches us to hate sin and love God’s Word, and brings forth the fruit of love in us.

For reflection
1. Why should you watch over your heart with all diligence? What can happen if you don’t?

2. We have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2.16). How can we make sure that we always think with that mind?

3. The Law of God is the bedrock of a sound conscience. Why is that so?

Next steps – Transformation: Spend some time in prayer reviewing the state of the sails of your soul. Do you see any areas that need amending?

You can also now listen to a weekly summary of our daily Scriptorium study on the book of Jeremiah. Click here for Jeremiah 34-38.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

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 Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore