Trimming Your Sails (1)
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Philippians 2.12, 13
We trim the sails of our soul as we monitor and adjust them to make sure only the right Wind is blowing against them. Keeping the ill winds of doctrine from gaining any presence or influence in our soul, and keeping our spiritual canvas unfolded into the Wind of God, is work. Work, according to our reliable friend the Oxford English Dictionary, is “activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result.” Work is worthwhile, in other words, in direct proportion to the value of the result we seek. Work requires effort. Effort entails preparation, focus, exertion, time-on-task, attention and expertise, progress, and more. It takes effort to do the work of trimming the sails of our soul. If we refuse the effort, because we dislike the idea of work, then we may expect to drift off course in our journey with the Lord, and perhaps even to know His chastening along the way (Heb. 12.3-11).
If seeing Jesus – in glimpses now but ultimately face to face – and being made like Him are not the defining results we seek in the life of faith, then we probably won’t work at unpacking and deploying the full measure of our salvation, including the work of keeping the sails of our soul trimmed and filled with the Wind of God. And if the prospect of seeing Jesus, of increasing in Him, being filled with His Spirit, and journeying according to His charts and tools, so that we know Him with us and are moved by His power to serve His will – if that prospect does not function as the supreme and driving force of every aspect of our lives, then we’re not going to devote much effort toward the work of our salvation; and we’ll be largely indifferent to the work of keeping the sails of our soul trimmed and full of God’s Spirit.
It comes down to what pleases us, what result we’re seeking. Please note that, in Philippians 2.13, the word “His” does not appear in the original Greek text. Its being set in italics informs us of as much. The text actually (literally) reads: “…for God is the One working in you both to will and to work for that which pleases.” Not just that which pleases God, but true and lasting and complete and altogether satisfying and holy pleasure, pleasure that we may know every day and all along our journey with the Lord. David taught that such pleasure is only found in the Presence of the Lord Himself (Ps. 16.11). When we know the Presence of the Lord, we know that which pleases. Which really pleases, pleases entirely, and pleases purely and unfailingly and with joy unspeakable.
That which truly pleases is knowing the Lord in each moment of our journey. God is the One Who is working within us that we might will that which pleases, and that we might engage the work of attaining and possessing that which pleases.
If you want that, you’ll take up the call of working out your salvation in fear and trembling every day. And no small part of that work, which leads to the unspeakable pleasure of the Presence of the Lord, involves keeping the sails of your soul trimmed.
The sails of the soul (reprise)
In this series we have been considering our lives in Christ as spiritual vessels sailing on a journey toward the Lord. In this journey, the state of our soul is of paramount importance. The world knows this. The devil knows this, too. And these conspire to blow against the sails of our soul with ill winds of various sorts, to keep us from that which truly pleases, knowing the Lord consistently and increasingly.
What captures our mind, enthralls our heart, and settles into our conscience will determine the course of our life. What and how we think, what and how much we love, and what we value – mind, heart, and conscience – are the masts of the soul which hold the spiritual canvas intended for the filling of God’s Spirit. That canvas – those varied sails – are desire, delight, and love (on the mast of the heart); reception, attention, and interest (on the mast of the mind); and assimilation, value, and priority (on the mast of the conscience). The adjustments we make to these sails will determine which winds we allow into them and which direction our journey of faith will take.
In this final part of our study, we will examine the work which we must do continually to keep our soul’s sails trimmed and adjusted, so that only the Wind of God’s Spirit fills and drives them. I want to quote again a paragraph from early in our study: “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 on Jesus Christ, teaches us to hate sin and love God’s Word, and brings forth the fruit of love in us.”
Get ready to work
Or, as Paul put it: “work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” And while working out our salvation involves not only keeping our soul ship-shape, this great work begins there, and must be constantly attended to if we are to make progress in our journey.
In any sailing vessel a good bit of work is always ongoing. There are decks to swab, meals to fix, bilges to pump, and whatnot. But all those ancillary tasks will not enable a pleasurable journey, and they will not allow us to reach our final destination unless the sails of our vessel are adjusted and trimmed to catch the Wind that alone can drive us home.
And it is to this great work, this ongoing and pleasurable effort, that we turn in this final installment in our study, “Winds of Doctrine.”
1. What kinds of “work” go into working out our salvation in fear and trembling?
2. Jesus is the end we seek, the ultimate pleasure any of us can ever know. How do you experience the pleasure of knowing Jesus?
3. What do you presently do to keep the sails of your soul trimmed and adjusted into the Wind of God?
Next steps – Preparation: Review the previous four installments in this series. Where do you expect to have to work the hardest to realize the pleasurable journey the Lord intends for you?
T. M. Moore
All the studies in this Winds of Doctrine series are available by clicking here.
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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.