At My Wit’s End

“Only a weakling gives up when he’s becalmed!
A strong man sails by ash breeze!”

“She’s in ballast and riding high…
Her topsails and royals are catching a breeze that’s too high for us.”

“And now you’re becalmed.
Just like I was…
Wanted to make something of myself.
But I didn’t have a chance.”

“I will lift up my eyes unto the stars.
Sometimes, if you look at the stars long enough, it helps.
It shrinks your day-by-day troubles down to size.”

Quotes from Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
Jean Lee Latham

“When the Lord’s blessed will bloweth across your desires,
it is best, in humility, to strike sail to Him, and to be willing to be led any way our Lord pleaseth.”
Samuel Rutherford

“Jesus was in the stern, sleeping.”
Mark 4:38

Bear with me as I start off by defining some nautical expressions.

If there is no movement, no wind to push the sailing vessel, we would say that the vessel is becalmed. There are many places in scripture where we read the Lord “shifts” the wind or “causes” the wind. All He has to do is speak.

“The Lord merely spoke, and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word, and all the stars were born.”
Psalm 33:6 NLT

“The heavens were made by the word of the Lord,
and all the stars, by the breath of his mouth.”
Psalm 33:6 CSB

A ballast is a heavy material, like gravel or water, situated in the belly of a vessel. If it was filled with fresh water, passengers could use it for cooking and drinking. Once emptied, however, the barrel would need to be filled with sea water to fulfill another essential function, which was to improve the stability of the ship if it were to encounter turbulent waves. “Without the ballast the ship could be capsized; it would be difficult to keep its course and arrive safely at its destination” (“Ballast for the Soul” by Albert N. Martin). If a ship were to unloads its goods, the ship would no longer have the extra weight, resulting in a higher ride on the waves without its extra cargo but still have enough stability to sail “in ballast”.

To “strike sail” means to lower the sails, signaling submission. It’s basically a salute to another passing ship that has more authority or higher rank. In another circumstance, if there is a sudden gust of overpowering wind, sailors would ultimately lower the sail and surrender to the squall in attempts to prevent torn sails.

Sailing by ash breeze is best described by Jean Lee Latham in her biographical novel, Carry on Mr. Bowditch. Nat Bowditch is a patient instructor, explaining that “When a ship is becalmed—the wind died down—she can’t move—sometimes the sailors break out their oars. They’ll row a boat ahead of the ship and tow her. Oars are made of ash…so when you get ahead by your own get-up-and-get, that’s when you sail by ash breeze” (p. 48).

We can relate these principles metaphorically to our life, both in circumstances and in our spiritual walk. Sometimes it feels like we have strong momentum and are sailing in the wake of His Holy Spirit:  things are going well; we feel spiritually connected; we feel we have purpose. At times, we feel we are just coasting along:  we are content, circumstances are at peace, but we are on alert lest any doldrums set in. Then there are the seasons where we find ourselves sailing by ash breeze:  things take a bit of elbow grease, and we have to get out the oars and start rowing. Sometimes, we are the ones rowing and at other times, we must tether ourselves to someone else and, as Bill Johnson says, “actually get to step into their momentum.” Whatever the season, it is our worship of the Father that will strengthen us on our journey.

In his book The Other Side of Heaven, John Groberg writes that “Sometimes God calms the storm and sometimes He calms his child.” I have likened the following verses of stormy Psalms to my own emotional upheavals, metaphors in the midst of my personal maelstroms. My emotions can mount up like great waves, threatening to drown me in the chaotic waters when life’s circumstances grow stormy. It helps my soul feel calm when I place myself in command of His word He commands, “shrinking my…troubles down to size.”

You still the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves,
and the tumult of the peoples.
Psalm 65:6

They…who do business on great waters
…see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.
He commands and raises the stormy wind,
Which lifts the waves of the sea.
They mount up to the heavens,
they go down again to the depths;
Their soul melts because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
and are at their wits’ end.
Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble,
and He brings them out of their distresses.
He calms the storm, so that its waves are still,
Then they are glad because they are quiet;
so He guides them to their desired haven.
Psalm 107:23-30 NKJV

The point is, we don’t have to live at our wits’ end when we adjust our mentality, when we step into a new paradigm shift, when we “step into the momentum” of his Holy Spirit and sail by ash breeze, allowing our souls to be nurtured in His rest, which Jesus himself modeled for us when he fell asleep in the stern of the ship that was tossing about in the waves. He becomes the ballast to which we not only cling but rest upon, until we find that He has brought us to our destination

“Thy heart will still rise and sink, but it will rise and sink not restlessly,
nor waywardly, not in violent gusts of passion;
but resting in stillness on the bosom of the ocean of the Love of God.”
Edward B. Pusey

“If You can calm the raging sea
You can calm the storm in me
You’re never too far away
You never show up too late
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars”
Skillet, “Stars”

“This is believing indeed;
the rolling of all our desires and burdens over upon an almighty God; and where this is, it cannot choose but establish the heart
in the midst of troubles,
and give it a calm within the midst of the greatest storms.”
Robert Leighton

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