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A Very Small Rudder  

How large does a rudder need to be to steer a ship?

Perched on the upper deck of the Volunteer, I sensed the hull of our 29,000-pound boat gliding noiselessly through the shaded waters.  The complete ease of our ride belied the sweat equity invested by thousands of workers over 12 years.  Consider—at a pay rate of $1 per day, they dug the 97 miles of the Illinois & Michigan Canal entirely by hand. 

After the canal’s completion in 1848, ships transporting fruits and vegetables and other goods were all hauled by mules.  Calling us back to those simpler days, a single mule tugged our 75-foot boat.  Its hooves dimpled the dust of what is today a bike path, the guide rope briefly dancing in the water now and then.

Strolling to the back of the ship, I studied the man operating the tiller.  Noting that he'd offered a little boy a turn at steering, I wondered if he’d also indulge a bigger boy.

And there I was, hands on the tiller, guiding the boat through the narrow canal. Right away, I noticed how difficult it was to steer because the upper deck blocked most of the forward view.  You had to stick your head over the sidewall to see what was ahead.

Fortunately for me, the captain performed that task rather capably and told me how far to rotate the tiller.  I moved it more frequently and at a greater sweep of range than you might imagine.

At one point, I asked the captain how big the rudder was.  “Two foot by two foot” came the reply.   A mighty small chunk of metal steering a rather large boat, I thought.

But isn't that the very point of the warning in James chapter three, regarding the power of the tongue?  Verse four cautions, "Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs."

That “very small rudder” holds enormous potential for good or evil.  Verse eight summarizes, “No human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” 

You already know life is not a pleasurable ride down a shaded canal.  You alone know the daily moments that tempt you to steer your speech in the wrong direction. I’m with you, for sure. Maybe the prayer of Psalms 141:3 is the one we need most:

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth.  Keep watch over the door of my lips.




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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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