Bill McFarland

October 9, 2005


You may have noticed that Lake George, New York has been very much in the news.  Last weekend a tour boat on Lake George loaded with 48 adults capsized.  Twenty of those passengers did not survive.  Something else happened on Lake George 230 years ago, in the late fall and early winter of 1775/76.  At that time the powerful British forces of General Howe occupied the town of Boston.  The Continental Army was camped against them. Washington’s army, though, was very ill-equipped, lacking in supplies and gun powder and other things that were needed.  The soldiers were pretty much untrained.  They were dirty. Many of them were sick.  They were unable to act against the British at all.  The commission of many of the soldiers was about to run out.  Washington was writing to friends that few people knew the true condition in which his army found itself

In the midst of that sad situation, 25 year old Colonel Henry Knox, who was actually only a book seller from Boston, came to Washington and suggested the idea of going after the cannon at far off Fort Ticonderoga, which had been captured from the British in May of that same year.  It was, as one writer described it, “An undertaking so enormous, so fraught with certain difficulties, that many thought it impossible.”  But Washington agreed to it, and he put Henry Knox in charge of the project. 

By November 16 Knox was on his way, accompanied by his 19-year old brother, William.  By December 5 they arrived at Fort Ticonderoga which was located where Lake Champlain met the northern edge of Lake George.  Knox selected 58 mortars and cannons which fired balls ranging from 12 lbs. to 24 lbs.  Three of the mortars weighed a ton each, and the biggest cannon, more than 5000 lbs.  Altogether they weighed more than 120,000 lbs.  Without roads, without equipment to move them over mountains and through forest and other kinds of hardships, the task of moving them to Boston was unimaginable.  Just moving them from the Fort to the boat landing proved to be a tremendous task in itself.  Then the passage down Lake George, not quite 40 miles, took them 8 days.  Three boats and their immense cargo set sail on December 9, 1775, and for the first hour, Knox wrote, “they had a fair wind.”  One hour out of eight days!  And after that the progress came, as he put it, “only with utmost difficulty.”  Knox later wrote to Washington, “It is not easy to conceive the difficulties we have had.” 

With these kinds of boats with that kind of a load – he recorded days of heavy rowing against unrelenting head winds.  Four hours of “rowing exceeding hard,” as he put it one day.  Six hours of “exceeding hard rowing” on another.  If you have ever even tried to row a canoe against the wind or upstream, you know that it makes you tired after a short while.  In places the boats had to cut through ice.   Knox’s brother William wrote at day’s end on December 14 of “beating all the way against the wind,” and he finished his entry with, “God send us a fair wind.” 

That’s where our hearts and theirs intersect.  All people who love the Lord, all who want to live for him now in this world and then to live with him in heaven finally, long for God to send us a fair wind - circumstances that make it possible for us to reach the goal.

The New Testament Illustrations

When I read that story I couldn’t help but be reminded of two New Testament illustrations of that longing for the fair wind.  One of them is recorded for us in Mark 6, beginning at verse 45.  It happens at the close of the day when Jesus feed the 5,000.  John lets us know that people are wanting to take him by force and make him king.  Mark says, “Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.  And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.  And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them.”  (The older versions say “the wind was contrary unto them.”)  “And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.  He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified.  But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.’  And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.  And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

Observe a few of the details.  First off, notice that they are doing what the Lord told them to do.  Contrary winds sometimes happen to people who are in the process of obeying the Lord and doing exactly what he sent them to do.  The boat was out in the middle of the sea.  John says in that they had gone three or four miles in those hours of hard rowing, and Mark lets us see here that it was now between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. in the morning.  They had been at it awhile.  Progress had been slow and difficult.  The wind was against them, making the process such that Mark could say they were “making headway painfully.”  That is a vivid phrase.  The Lord saw what was going on and came to them, walking on the sea.  He got into the boat with them and when he did the wind that was against them ceased, making progress possible.  You can see people battling tough circumstances and needing a fair wind, and you can see it arrive with the presence.

The other story that comes to my mind is from Acts 27.  This is the account of the journey of Paul toward Rome.  Notice in verse 4 Luke says, “And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us.”  Again, the wind was contrary.  Verse 7 says, “We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone.”  Then notice beginning at verse 13 it says, “Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore.  But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land.  And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.  Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat.  And hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship.  Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along.  Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo.  And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.  When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”  It is such a vivid account by somebody who was there. 

Notice again a few of the details that are here.  The Lord had promised that the apostle Paul would bear witness of him in Rome (Acts 23:11).  So again, Paul is going where the Lord intended for him to go.  Look at some of the phrases that describe the trip: “The wind was against them… they went slowly with difficulty because the wind didn’t allow them to go farther… A gentle wind” they supposed they had turned instead into a hurricane force wind which “struck down from the land.”  They couldn’t “face the wind” and they were “driven along … violently storm-tossed,” Paul says.  It went like this for fourteen nights, verse 27 says.  You know these people must have been thinking like William Knox did, “God send us a fair wind ...Make it possible for us to get where we need to go, and where you have said we would go, in our lives.” 

These two Bible illustrations, I think, help us to see that people who are trying to do what the Lord has given them to do can expect to face some contrary winds, and they need to be prepared to survive such things, and to be steadfast in the midst of them, and still to do what the Lord has given them to do.

A Fair Wind

In thinking about these events, I want to suggest four ways in which we need God to send us a fair wind, both as individual Christians and then as a congregation.

First, God send us the fair wind of truth to guide us.  There are always the confusing contrary winds of philosophies and ideologies and doctrines around us that can puzzle us about what it is that we are expected to do as Christians, what the Lord wants us to be, what he would have us to think and believe.  What’s needed in an environment like this is the fair wind of the spiritual maturity that comes from basic truth which is known and held by people who love it.  It is always right for us to be trying to get back to that basic truth that God has made known through his Son.  In Ephesians 4:14-15, Paul is talking about coming to mature manhood in Christ.  He says, “So that we may no longer be children tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”  What he is saying is that we, in facing these winds that may blow around, to avoid being tossed about, need to be people who have a good hold on truth and let it be the standard in our lives. 

The effect this commitment to truth can have can be observed in Paul’s experience aboard that ship.  In Acts 27, when all hope had already been abandoned, Paul stands before shipmates and says “to take heart.”  He explains, “For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar.  And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’”  That tells you that Paul has been praying, even for the people who were taking him to Rome on that ship.  Paul then says in verse 25, “So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”  That is the fair wind that was needed aboard that ship!  That was even better than just having the wind outside on the sea calm down.  Having in their hearts the belief that they could depend on what the Lord said was what they needed.  That is what we need, too.  In this world we need to be people who believe it will be as the Lord said it would be, and who therefore remain loyal to the truth.

In the second place we might learn from this that we need God to send us the fair wind of faith to steady us.  Where are we to find the steadfastness life requires?  It is interesting in this story in Acts 27 that they had to throw the ship’s tackle overboard just to avoid being broken up.  That’s the situation when we face contrary winds.  What will give us the steadiness?  We all meet winds of some sort.  If you listened to our prayers this morning you may have noticed the presence of world problems and sometimes sickness or loss.  In our private lives there are family difficulties sometimes or financial reverses or unjust criticisms or other kinds of things like that.  What do we do? 

In James 1, James is discussing the need for us to pray for wisdom.  He says it is appropriate if any man lacks wisdom for him to ask God.  And then he says in verse 6, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”  In the midst of those winds that would toss us about, the choice that has to be made in our lives is whether we trust God.  Is our faith in him?  Do we believe that he can do what is best for us, and that he wants to do what is best for us?  I was reading a book that a fellow had written for parents.  He pointed out that in his college days he had been given his very first opportunity ever to go sailing.  This fellow said that the first thing that surprised him about that process was that the boats did not go in the direction of the wind, but instead in the direction that their sails were set for.  We can face contrary winds if our sail is set in the direction of faith in God.  Faith protects us from the rocks and keeps us headed in the right direction.

In the third place, we need God to send us the fair wind of fellowship to strengthen us.  Fellowship means joint participation, or a common experience or sharing in something.  I am thinking especially here of the realization that the Lord is with us.  That is the kind of fellowship that is needed in our keeping on and overcoming contrary winds.  The Lord apparently knew very well that we would always need to be reminded of his presence with us as his people.  I think that one of the reasons that story in Mark 6 happens is because of his awareness of this need.  In verse 50 it says that he walked to them and that when they were terrified, he immediately said, “Take heart (be of good cheer); it is I.  Do not be afraid.”  In other words, he is saying, “I am with you.”  And then Mark explains at the end of this little passage that the reason for this needed reminder was that these disciples did not understand about the loaves.  He had fed 5,000 people earlier.  He had broken the loaves and the fishes and handed to these disciples to give to the people.  He was trying to tell them he would be with them and would strengthen to do what he gave them to do.  He would provide for their sufficiency.  But they hadn’t gotten the point. 

Sometimes we don’t get the point that the Lord has promised to be with us while we are doing what he sent us to do.  We need fellowship with each other to be reminded of that.  We need to know that when we are involved in the service in his kingdom we are involved in fellowship with him.  At the end of Matthew when Jesus, after his resurrection, commissioned his disciples to go teach all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and then teaching them to observe all things whatever he had commanded, you will remember that he finished that with the promise, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”  There is that comforting assurance again of fellowship with Jesus.  There is the breeze of truth, the refreshing wind of faith, and the strengthening of fellowship with the Lord.

Fourth, God send us the fair wind of reassurance to encourage us.  It is human to need to know that your life is meaningful, and that your efforts count for something, and that you are making a difference in life.  When people find themselves like these folks on Lake George we talked about earlier, beating against the wind for hours and not seeming to make much progress, that is when the problem of discouragement becomes real. 

In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes there is the record of a man’s search for meaning in his life.  In Ecclesiastes 5:15-16 he said of man’s experience, “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toll that he may carry away in his hand.  This also is a grievous evil; just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind?”  That thought provoking statement is how things look from the under-the-sun view.  To rise above that or to see it differently, there needs to be the perspective from above the sun, from God’s viewpoint, to let us know that it is possible for our lives and efforts to count for something. 

In I Cor. 15, after showing that death is an enemy that will be overcome, the apostle Paul concludes, “Be ye therefore steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”  Someone may ask, “Why?”  And he says, “forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

There are four ways in which our desires could be summed up.  God send us a fair wind!  Send us truth to guide us, faith to steady us, fellowship to strengthen us, and reassurance to encourage us.

The Knox brothers made their incredible trip from Boston to Fort Ticonderoga and back in two months.  David McCullough in his book 1776 says of this event, “Knox’s noble train arrived intact.  Not a gun had been lost.  Hundreds of men had taken part, and their labors and resilience had been exceptional.  But it was the daring and determination of Knox himself that counted above all.  The 25-year-old Boston book seller had proven himself a leader of remarkable ability, a man not only of enterprising ideas but with the staying power to carry them out.”  (p.85)  That kind of spirit made a difference in your life and mine because what gave us the freedom we have might not have ever happened without it. 

I have made the points that I have made today not only because I think we need them generally, but because I would like you to apply them to why we are having David here starting next Sunday.  This series on “Jesus, For Times Like These” is a chance for us to allow God to send a fair wind into our lives.  I want to encourage you not to miss it. 

It may be that you are here today and you need to remember what God has done for us all through Jesus.  If you need to overcome the contrary winds that have prevented you from responding to him, maybe you need to actually get up and confess that you believe Jesus is the Christ and then be baptized into him for your forgiveness.  Maybe you have made that beginning and you have let the winds against you overcome you and you need to get turned back in the right direction.  If we can help you in either of those ways, won’t you let it be known by coming right now?