In his account of Paul’s journey to Rome, Luke tells of a brewing storm – a very strong wind blowing down from the island of Crete (Acts 27:14). He continues, “It hit the ship, and since it was impossible to keep the ship headed into the wind, we gave up trying and let it be carried along by the wind. We got some shelter when we passed to the south of the little island of Cauda. There, with some difficulty, we managed to make the ship’s boat secure. They pulled it aboard and then fastened some ropes tight around the ship. They were afraid that they might run into the sandbanks off the coast of Libya, so they lowered the sail and let the ship be carried by the wind” (vv. 15-17, Good News Bible).
The last phrase is crucial. In light of the circumstances and to prevent the ship from running into the sandbanks, “they lowered the sail and let the ship be carried by the wind.” In that sentence lies a profound truth – the setting of the sail determines the direction in which the ship goes. This truth is carried over into life in that it is our response to the situations around us that determines the direction and effectiveness of our lives. To every situation, we bring a preconceived set of ideas and beliefs, a worldview that determines or influences our attitudes and behaviours. What one person perceives as an insult may be viewed by another as a compliment. Two people looking at a cup that is half-full may walk away, with one person thinking it is half-empty. In other words, our perspective, the way our sails are set, determines our direction – our responses to our experiences.
In her poem, ‘Tis the Set of the Sail, Ella Wheeler-Wilcox writes: “But to every man there openeth / A high way and a low / And every mind decideth that way his soul shall go / One ship sails East and another West / By the self-same winds that blow / ‘Tis the set of the sails and not the gales / That tells the way we go / Like the winds of the sea / And the waves of time / As we journey along through life / ‘Tis the set of the soul / That determines the goal / And not the calm or the strife.” Notice both ships are in the same body of water facing the same set of circumstances; the same wind causes one ship to go East and another West. “Tis the set of the sails and not the gales that tells the way [they] go.”
We do not have to be victims of our circumstances. We do not have to run uncontrollably into the “sandbanks” of life. Regardless of what we face, the contrary winds of life that are blowing, we ultimately decide how we set our sails; we always get the opportunity to do so (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). If we decide not to set them, they simply stay in whatever position they are in, and we are at the mercy of the winds. We risk becoming shipwrecked. What will our response and attitude be in the face of hurts, provocations, trying times, and discouragements, to name a few? It is easy to blame the circumstance for our actions and reactions, yet we must remember “tis the set of the soul that determines the goal and not the calm or the strife.” Given the winds of life blowing where you are, have you checked your sails lately? In which direction are you going? It is all in the set of the sails.