As I write this blog, the television news bulletins are showing pictures of a massive Italian cruise liner lying on its side off the coast of Italy. It’s not yet known exactly how many people have lost their lives, but, amazingly and thankfully, the majority of the passengers and crew were rescued from the Costa Concordia. The fact that over 4000 people were rescued at night, from a rapidly sinking ship, is something of a miracle.
No doubt there will be a full enquiry into the cause of the disaster and we will learn exactly what happened last night, when the ship was sailing in what should have been the safest of waters and in the calmest of weathers.
Almost exactly 25 years ago, on the 6th March 1987, the Herald of Free Enterprise sank just outside Zeebrugge harbour. This ship was a large roll-on roll-off car ferry. It had crossed the North Sea many hundreds of times and had already made four crossings on that day between Belgium and the UK.
When disaster struck 193 people lost their lives. The tragedy of this tragedy is that it was totally avoidable. It was not an accident. The ship set sail with the bow doors open and as the ship hit the open sea, water flooded the car decks. The ship took a heavy list to one side as vehicles began to move and then the whole ship capsized in just 30 feet of water.
As I watched a documentary TV programme about the disaster, God began to speak to me of the dangers of sailing through life with the bow doors open. The crew had set sail like this on many previous occasions without consequence, but on this occasion the unthinkable happened. The Captain of the ship was responsible for setting sail with the bow doors open. The crew were responsible for not closing the doors in time. The victims who died were innocent bystanders of an avoidable drama.
We are all individually responsible for the ship of our lives. If we are sailing with the bow doors open, then nothing untoward may happen for a long time. There is little danger when the waters are smooth. Complacency and pride can make us careless in our conduct. But when the unthinkable happens it’s not only the individual who suffers, but all “the passengers” who were depending on us for their well being are in danger of becoming victims.
Those passengers include our own families, our colleagues, those who work for us and all who look to us for spiritual input and care at various levels of church life. For a Pastor or leader of a Christian ministry, the passengers include their whole congregation, staff and even the wider Body of Christ. When the disaster occurs to a high profile Christian leader the ripple effect can become a tsunami.
Many of those I have prayed with, whose lives had experienced some form of shipwreck, had been sailing through life with the bow doors of their lives wide open. For some, disaster struck by way of public exposure of immoral conduct. For others the torment of inner guilt was the root cause of personal breakdown. For yet others the circumstances of life had turned against them and when everything was laid upon the table, it was painfully evident that bow doors which had been left open years ago had never been closed.
The enemy will use anything and everything in our lives which is out of harmony with God’s covenant of blessing. The ten commandments are referred to as God’s covenant in Deut. 4:13 – they represent God’s very best for us. Unresolved sin issues always condense down to a willful choosing to ignore one or other aspect of God’s covenant of blessing.
There may be reasons in the past as to why a particular sin has remained out of control – such as abuse or various aspects of parental damage – but sin is still sin and it is far better to face the fact of it and receive healing for the cause than to wrestle on one’s own to close a bow door that has been jammed open and which seems immoveable. There are answers. If the bow doors are not closed there will come a time when disaster will strike.
There are many disasters waiting to happen in the Body of Christ – people who are shipping water privately through open bow doors. Those disasters can be avoided. All the problems a person has in this life are not automatically resolved at conversion. When we get to heaven the old man will fall away, but right now we are still wrestling with the consequences of the fall – even after we are born again. We all need healing. Conversion is but the beginning of a journey of discipleship.
It’s clear from the dramatic pictures of the holed vessel that the ship hit submerged rocks. With modern safety equipment on board, that can warn the Captain of such dangers in good enough time to change course, it’s hard to understand how such an accident could have happened. But happen it did.
The enemy loves to deceive us, in our own personal voyage of life, to sail into waters we thought were safe but which, in reality, are strewn with underwater rocks. We desperately need to have our spiritual radar switched on at all times. God has promised to lead His people when they trust in Him. How we need to keep close to Him so we can always hear even the whisper of His voice and avoid the rocks that could make shipwreck of the vessel of our lives.