The Endless Immensity of the Sea
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood, and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery
It is the inclination of every Christian, because they are concerned about looking more like Jesus, to try and devise a plan to expel all the ugliness they encounter in their hearts every day. I suspect that likewise, every Christian has hit a roadblock in this pursuit, frustrated that all their efforts seem to affect very little change. This has been my experience, and the experience of many that I know.
Perhaps, the reason for this roadblock is not because the Holy Spirit lacks transforming power, and not because the words of Scripture lack wisdom, but because we are not attacking our sinful desires in the way God intended. The daily fight against sin, if we’re honest, often looks like this: We take a big sigh, reluctantly turn our attention from whatever we would rather be doing, and pick up a few pieces of wood. We hammer away, not really paying attention to what is before us, taking as many glances as we can behind our shoulder at what we left behind. The project seems pointless. We don’t even want to build a ship.
And all of this, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery might suggest, is because we know nothing of the sea.
The 19th Century Scottish preacher, Thomas Chalmers, had a similar idea, when he penned his sermon The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. He wrote, “The strong man, whose dwelling-place is there, may be compelled to give way to another occupier—but unless another stronger than he, has power to dispossess and to succeed him, he will keep his present lodgment inviolable.”
In other words, we should never expect that our sinful desires are going to just pick up and leave the dwelling place of our hearts. Not even if we ask them too with an intimidating voice. I’ve even tried to say please. It doesn’t work. All of our addictions and obsessions with sex, intimacy, money, euphoria, praise from people, ourselves, and a thousand other things will never be removed from or reordered in our hearts. That is, unless a stronger desire comes to take their place or rule them rightly. Chalmers goes on to write, “The only way to dispossess [our hearts] of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.”
The problem is, we do not take time to see the glory of God. God has not intended that we ignore our desires, lock them up, and act as if they don’t exist. The call to be a Christian is not the call to be an ignorant prude, refusing that our desires are real. The problem is not our lusts. It is that we lust too little. C.S. Lewis said we are like little kids who refuse to give up our mud pies in the slums of England, when God is offering us a holiday at the sea. He is offering us his glory, the beauty of all that he is, the only all-perfect, all-satisfying being in existence. He is offering us himself.
Little change will happen in our hearts unless we see this reality. So, I want to long for the endless immensity of the glory of God. I know that when I gaze at the vast ocean that is God’s glory, I cannot help but stand in awe. I want to be so captivated by the beauty of God, revealed to us in the person of Jesus, that I cannot help but throw down what I found previously satisfying so that I might start building a ship, with the prospect of an eternal adventure, filled with unspeakable joys.