In our home we often gathered around the piano to sing hymns. One of them was Edward Hopper's sailor's hymn, which calls on the saving power of God to pilot people "over life's tempestuous sea." I took special delight in lifting my voice to bellow the last few lines:
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treacherous shoal.
Chart and compass come from Thee....
I knew quite a lot about ships, because my Uncle Theo was a marine surveyor. Occasionally he introduced me to ship's pilots with whom he was working, which was a special thrill for a 10-year-old. I stood in awe of those who shouldered the responsibility of guiding oceangoing liners safely through harbor entrances or into rock-ribbed channels where they could safely drop anchor.
I was reminded of this only last year when I enjoyed a Caribbean cruise on a 77,000-ton liner that docked at several ports of call. I made a point of getting up early to watch the local pilots spring aboard to take us safely into harbor. In the dawn quietness, they swung a leg onto the ladder that was dropped to them, and within moments were on board, their crisp white uniforms unsoiled by their maneuvers.
Those pilots readily shared their local knowledge, special skills, and experience of those waters with our crew. And what they did for me was to strengthen my appreciation for God's piloting of my life. They reminded me of my college days, when I was wrestling with courses and career choices.
At that time my dream was to work for this newspaper, and I wanted to major in journalism. My parents had some reservations about the media and wanted me to "play it safe" by becoming a schoolteacher "like the rest of the family."
That's when I fell back on the sailor's hymn, with its promise of an infallible "chart and compass," which I knew to be God. As I prayed, I imagined what it would be like to stand at the wheel of an oceangoing liner and hear a firm, clear voice beside me saying: "This is the way, [sail] ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left" (Isa. 30:21).
Such direction could come only from God, I thought. Whether you substitute the word sail for walk (as I did there) - or run or even think - the guidance is firm, reliable, rooted in loving concern. And one doesn't have to be on board a ship to hear that comforting voice. God's commitment to guide us through every situation is stated and restated throughout the Scriptures. We learn there that God is all-knowing and all-seeing. The way is abundantly clear to Him, and He wants us to follow Him and see that way.
For example, the Israelites would not have escaped the clutches of Pharoah's armies without the direction God gave to Moses. Later, they were further protected when "the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night" (Ex. 13:21).
Not many of us get a pillar of cloud or fire to lead us, but we need never lack God's direction - and I soon experienced it. At university, I felt guided to major in two subjects, mathematics (for teaching) and English literature (for journalism). My postgraduate work was in math and radio. Seven years later my first article was published in this newspaper, and some years after that I was welcomed onto the full-time staff of Monitor Radio.
Experiences of this kind strengthen my conviction that the lives of all of us are completely in the hands of the finest Pilot we could wish to know. God leaves no room for anxiety, accident, poor judgment, harm of any kind. And if we find ourselves on choppy seas, we can sing expectantly with the sailor,
When at last I near the shore,
And the fearful breakers roar ...
May I hear Thee say to me,
"Fear not, I will pilot thee."