Pastoral Perspectives

The Destination Matters More Than The Boat

Some of us may have recently come across this saying “We are in the same storm but we are not in the same boat”. This phrase is part of a longer poem and it appears that the unknown author was writing to appeal to the readers to be mindful of the different circumstances that people are facing particularly during this pandemic.

For example, while the circuit breaker measures may provide more time for some to be with their loved ones, this same restriction is putting others in harm’s way as their safety and emotional well-being is being threatened by their abusive spouses.

The poem has no doubt struck a chord with many. Regardless of what our individual experience with this pandemic has been so far, we can all agree that we should learn to be more empathetic towards the struggles and concerns of others. This is especially so, if some of us have boats which are in a far better condition to sail through this tempest.

But what exactly would make one’s boat “storm-proof”? Is it a matter of economic resilience and so everyone should try to be nimble enough to acquire certain skill sets? Or should the government work towards implementing minimum wages so that any worker will be able to ride through a recession? Or does it have to do with social capital where if one has strong support from family and enjoys goodwill with friends and community, this individual is more likely to go through a crisis unscathed? Admittedly, there are no easy answers given that what we are talking about here is more than just building a physical boat that is seaworthy.

In Psalm 1, the writer confronts us with a more fundamental question, one that we should give further thought to. More than just about the “quality” of our boat, we are to consider the direction of our lives. While no one is spared from storms, there is a world of difference between one who continues cruising along on a luxurious yacht to nowhere and someone who is navigating his sampan towards a specific destination. As a Christian, even if our sampan does not quite make it through life’s storm, it does not mean that we have lived our lives in vain.

When the psalmist describes the blessed man to be “like a tree planted by streams of water that yield its fruit in season and its leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3), his intent is not to impart to Christians some method to secure a life of comfort and abundance. As some Christian writers have pointed out, being blessed in the Bible has to do with how one receives God’s favour and has this deep sense of satisfaction despite his present circumstances. Furthermore, a reader who continues reading through Psalm 3 and 4 as well as many other psalms will soon discover that a righteous person does experience his fair share of conflict and distress.

Undoubtedly, the focus of the psalmist is to teach us that life is basically a choice between two ways of living: the way of righteousness and the way of wickedness. It should not surprise us that depending on who we listen to and follow, our character will be shaped accordingly and this in turn will put our lives unto a certain trajectory.

Here in Psalm 1, the psalmist is cautioning us that when one keeps lending his ears to ungodly advice or finds himself subscribing to values that are subtly self-centred (such as “Just follow your heart”), there is every likelihood that one will be on a downward slide. From mere assent, one may go on to adopt a particular lifestyle (“stands in the way of sinners”) and even end up joining unbelievers in showing contempt towards God (“sits in the seat of the scoffers”).

In contrast, the way of righteousness begins with listening to God. To meditate on God’s Word means to study, reflect and to prayerfully fill our mind with God’s truth throughout the day. While it is a good practice to set aside a time of the day to read our Bible, I hope that one understands that this is to be more than just ticking off a list of to-do things.

The key difference between the way of righteousness and the way of wickedness is not so much in action but in our posture and attitude. Rather than external conformity of behaviour, the emphasis is on delighting in God’s Word. This means that as we read God’s Word, we need to ask ourselves how we are growing in delight of it. Do we increasingly see the goodness of what God has revealed and trust in him? Are we growing in discernment and conviction that apart from God, what the world offers is but vain hope and empty promises?

When we talk about delighting, it is like how many of us are looking forward to be able to gather again in the sanctuary for corporate worship. It is heartening to know that we are saying this not because we are fearful of “disappointing God” or trying to spare ourselves from feeling guilty or being guilt-tripped by church leaders for missing out on Sunday services. Instead, I believe it is the case of the extended absence of our physical gathering makes our hearts grow fonder. In other words, our motivation for wanting to gather has more to do with tasting the goodness of corporate worship rather than avoiding whatever repercussion skipping corporate worship may bring about.

It is true that we are in different boats and some will invariably be more severely affected than others by this ongoing storm. Nevertheless, the good news of Psalm 1 is that our hope is in God who faithfully watches over those who belong to him. In the midst of a storm, God graciously enables us to live God-glorifying fruitful lives here on earth. And when it is time for us to face the last storm of our earthly lives, He will come to carry us safely to our eternal home.

Rev Edwin Wong

May 24, 2020