The Power of the Rudder

Recently I was privileged to participate in a tuna fishing trip. We were on the road at midnight as our charter guide wanted to leave the pier promptly by 4:00 AM.  Upon our arrival, our guides wasted little time throwing our few items in the small twenty-four-foot boat. A mechanical breakdown the evening before placed us in this smaller backup boat. Within minutes, the 250-horsepower engine had us skimming and bouncing across the sea to the desired fishing spot some seventy miles into the Atlantic.

As we departed, I noted the small boat had no seats except for the few ice chests. From under the bow, the guide extracted four beanbag seats to be shared among the five of us for the two-hour trek. Being one of the larger of the five, I was asked to sit on the floor in the back of the boat, next to the engine, to ensure maximum efficiency of the prop. The cool, June, ocean air and high speed, complimented by the low sideboards, quickly forced me to hunker down flat on the fiberglass floor as we raced across the dark sea. I found myself postured in an endurance mode, which included restlessness, grunting, and shivering, as the engine screamed full-speed ahead and the boat bounced and slapped my fetal-positioned body against the floor. A small glow from the GPS device reflected off the face of the guide as he steered the boat into what seemed like a great abyss.

As the glow in the east became brighter, I began to observe my surroundings. The engine was mere inches from my head and I was lost in thought as a white wake unfolded behind us. As the guide glanced at the GPS and made small adjustments, I noted the very small rudder turning ever so slightly.

Around 6:00AM, the throttle was reduced to half speed as our two guides scrambled readying our tackle. I was quickly ordered to steer the now pilotless boat. “See those other boats about a mile away, just aim for them,” the one guide barked. So, I did.

As I settled into this temporary assignment, I was fascinated as I observed how the incredibly small rudder had such influence even when turning the steering wheel ever so slightly! A mere two inches of motion translated into four to five feet of directional change at the bow. The small size of the rudder was stark in contrast to the boat and further dwarfed by the horsepower the engine emitted. Yet, the rudder had so much power. What a paradox! So small—yet this small instrument controlled everything on the boat.

So it is with the tongue. The Apostle James compares the tongue with a rudder—

Take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  James 3:3-5

James uses two other examples comparing the tongue to a large horse under control through a bridle, and a small flame having potential to set ablaze an entire forest. His warning and appeal is calling awareness to the power of the tongue and a continual reminder…that even our tongue must be under the Lordship of Christ.

For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. James 3:7-9

While I can lament or regret times the power of my tongue was unleashed and steered off course like a boat without a rudder, or was running wildly like an uncontrolled horse without a bridle, James also reminds that our tongue can become pure and sanctified as we bring our tongue under the Lordship of Christ.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. James 3:17-18

The tongue, this small powerhouse instrument was created by God. This small instrument can indeed become a beautiful gift as we allow ourselves to be fully redeemed by the Lord…including even our tongue.

“What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (spoken by Christ) Luke 6:45b NLT