“I would hurry to my place of shelter far from the tempest and storm” Psalm 55:8 NIV
A key element of a safe harbor is that the water is deep. This is vital to mariners. Every wise captain, no matter how large or small their vessel, knows exactly how much of their craft is below the water line and they always ensure that the vulnerable underside of the ship is well above the sea floor.
Experienced boaters know that the floor of any body of water is strewn with rocks and debris and is made of hills and valleys similar to those on land. Unlike the hills and valleys on land, those that are under the water can change quite quickly.
Proficient watermen are constantly monitoring the environment under the water’s surface. They study charts. They listen to weather bulletins. They scan the water’s surface for signs of change. They pay close attention to radioed “Warnings To Mariners” coming from different agencies such as the Coast Guard. They communicate with other captains and watch the electronic devices on their boats. They are aware and alert at all times. This is particularly true in a setting such as the coast of North Carolina where the water is turbulent and powerful.
It is in this setting that the safety of a deep water harbor is especially prized. Captains and crew need rest from the constant concern and vigilance that is necessary in the waters beyond. In the harbor captains find peace and a chance to catch their breath. Captains moor their boats in the harbor and enjoy some respite.
In a Harbor Home faith provides the deep, still waters in which we can safely moor our families. It is faith, when it is deep and strong beneath us, that keeps us buoyed up and confident that we are cared for by an eternal love. Faith in God provides a unifying power not only within our families, but with the community in which we live. The faith that we carry through our lives gives us a common ground that binds us to those faithful ones who have gone before us and the faithful yet to be born. We are a part of a rich heritage that has been an integral part of civilization for centuries, and will remain so until we are called home. In our faith we are a link in a strong and mighty chain. I enjoy that connectivity very much.
Faith is cultivated best when it is shared with those in your home and with those you connect with in a community of believers. As theologians across the centuries have observed, a Christian worshiping alone is like an ember taken out of the fire; it cools very quickly. Maintaining a strong faith is much more meaningful when you are connected to a community of believers who encourage each other to enlarge their faith and keep it alive. The same is true for children and adolescents. They are more likely to enjoy their faith if they are surrounded by adults who encourage them and friends that are making the journey with them.
Faith that sustains a Harbor Home also requires private attention. It is in the moments that you spend alone with God that you can really get close to Him. We read in the New Testament book of James 4:8 “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” It really is that simple. Just begin to draw near to Him in your heart and He will miraculously meet you there to increase your faith with His love. The mysterious and almighty God wants to spend time with you just as you want to spend time with those that you love. This same God who sees all the secrets of your heart longs for you to know Him. There are many mysteries associated with God, and many things about Him that we as His children cannot understand, but there is much about our heavenly Father that we can know and experience, and He wants us to understand as much of Him as we possibly can. He delights in us. We are His children.
Think back again to the moment when you held your child for the very first time. If you were like me, you couldn’t tear your eyes away from the sight of this tiny life in your arms. Whenever you held your child, you instinctively locked eyes and smiled. For just a moment, imagine that God is looking at you just like that. God is looking at you and smiling with an unspeakable joy because you are His precious treasure. If you have experienced God as a distant onlooker to the world or an impersonal Creator, or a harsh taskmaster waiting to correct your mistakes, please know now that those perceptions have nothing to do with the One True God. He loves you. It is as simple as that. You are loved, your children are loved, your spouse and friends and siblings and co workers and neighbors and the guy in the big truck repairing the traffic light are loved beyond all measure and all reason by the God of the universe. God Almighty. El Shaddai. He loves you.
Faith in God has an incalculable value in a Harbor Home. Just as the deep water is what makes the harbor and the cove a place of safety, so faith creates stability and safety. It is the stabilizing force that provides the rest from the turmoil we see in the rest of the world. On the next several pages we will examine what you can do in your Harbor Home to develop the kind of faith that sustains. We will look at two areas of faith in any Harbor Home. Individual faith as it is developed inside you, and the faith of a family as they practice it together. As in chapter one, we will begin with the only thing that we can control, and that is ourselves The faith inside of you Faith is a significant force in your Harbor Home, but it is a thing to be developed and grown and securely grasped privately in the secret places of your own heart. Even though faith can not and should not be lived in a private manner, for it does no good locked inside you, the fine work of developing faith is done alone. In a faith community, we publicly declare and celebrate the faith we have developed privately. There are many ancient and time honored disciplines that Christians have practiced that brought them to a deep and abiding faith in God. They will do the same for you. Some of the greatest of these teachers wrote down some guides that, when followed, lead to a faith in God that will undergird your Harbor Home. The following methods were prescribed by John Wesley, (1703-1791). He was a great reformation minister in the Anglican Church (Church Of England) and the founder, along with his brother Charles, of the Methodist Movement. The largest modern denomination that emerged from that movement is the United Methodist Church.
Meditation- Listening to God. Meditation differs from prayer in that it is an act of listening. Prayer can easily slip into a list of requests similar to a wish list to Santa Claus. Meditation is hearing what the Lord of Heaven and earth has to say to you. He wants to speak into your life and He wants you to take the time to listen. In order to grasp this, you must accept that God has a plan for you that is part of His overall plan for the universe. You must also accept that He will make His will known to you if you will take the time to meditate on Him. If you’ve never just been still and quiet while listening for God, try setting a timer on your watch or phone for five minutes. Sit in a quiet place alone and repeat softly a one word prayer. Something like “peace” or “love” or, my favorite, “shalom”. If your thoughts drift to the laundry, meal planning, co workers, gossip, or other distractions, set the timer again. Do this until you can meditate for five minutes. Then increase the time. Do not be fooled: the enemy will try to interrupt this process. Satan does not want you to draw near to God. He wants you to be tied in knots and feeling unsure of your value to God. Never forget God’s love for you.
Prayer- pouring your heart out to God. God knows the secrets of our hearts. The Psalmist makes this very clear: “would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart?” Psalm 44:21 NIV. Since this is true, prayer should be an act of pure honesty with yourself and with God. You are scared? Angry? Intimidated? Arrogant? Frustrated? Bitter? Discouraged? Elated? Hopeful? Confused? God knows all this. Go ahead and speak this to Him in prayer. There is no need for fancy religious words or over the top spiritual language. God speaks your language. He hears the heart, not the words. Pour your soul into your prayer and do not stop praying until you are satisfied that you have told it all and have held nothing back. Tell God your deepest fears, your greatest desire, your gravest disappointment. Ask Him to come and replace these overwrought emotions with His perfect peace. This is a peace that surpasses our understanding.
Lectio Divina- This is a Latin phrase that translates to “divine reading”. This is the practice of reading the works of Christians who have a strong relationship with God and the gift of teaching His ways through writing. These books often take the form of someone telling about their faith ‘s journey or a Bible study about certain aspects of God’s divine nature. You don’t have to read great scholarly works to be engaging in lectio divina, although they can be really interesting, and challenge your faith to move beyond a casual one. The act of reading about God will draw Him near. Words of faith give encouragement to your heart and mind and help you to see God in new ways. As time passes, you will be able to see how much your faith has grown through the act of lectio divina.
Reading scripture- The Holy Bible has no substitute, and there is no substitute for reading these holy words and planting them in your heart. The words of scripture tell us about the God who is the same yesterday, today, and always and who is all love. God loves you. But how will you know this if you don’t read and digest for yourself His own word? To paraphrase the great American author Mark Twain, If you don’t read your Bible you are no better off than those who can not read the Bible. There are literally hundreds of Bible reading plans available for free in print and on the internet. Choose one that seems to suit your habits and attention span. If you can sit and read for an hour or two a day, then, by all means, jump into a one year Bible reading plan. There were a few years when I was in my late twenties to early thirties when I devoted that much time to scripture reading and read the Bible through in a year a few times. Now, I spend less time reading and more time meditating on what I read. Ask the Lord how He wants you to approach His word. Use only a plan that brings you joy and fulfillment. If you dread your bible reading time and it feels like a chore, switch to something else but continue to read the Bible.
Live Simply- Gandhi famously said that we should all “live simply so that others may simply live”. I’ve meditated on this seemingly straightforward quote many times and every time I think I’ve wrapped my heart and mind around it, the true depth of it slips away. But the real truth is that great faith leaders of the world’s major religions (Gandhi was Hindu, The Dalai Lama is Buddist, John Wesley a Christian) all encourage people to live a simple life: food, shelter, love of family and neighbor, using less while giving more. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. It doesn’t seem practical for most of us to move to India and spin our own thread to make our own cloth for our clothes. It is even less practical to move to a monastery in Tibet since these are male only places. Even living the spartan lifestyle that John Wesley and other eighteenth and nineteenth century Christian leaders did seems out of place. Living simply could mean arranging your life and expectations so that you have more time between scheduled obligations. Allow for margin space in your home. Consider how many activities you and the others in your Harbor Home really need. Carefully choose a limited number of these to avoid the frantic pace of going from swim lessons to karate to music to scouts to book club to service club to church committees to cooking class and then home again to do the laundry, get showers and start it all again. Harbor Homes are joyful places free from constant chaos and frenetic pacing. Some seasonal chaos, (read Christmas) is harder to avoid, but you are in charge of general scheduling. Be purposefully simple. Choose quality over quantity. Slow down and simplify a little. Own fewer clothes, wait longer between new cars, stay out of the shopping emporiums that insist that we need more than we really do. Keep it simple.
There are a lot more items on John Wesley’s list of personal practices for holiness including fasting, self denial and practicing silence regularly. This shorter list should get you started if you just need a nudge. Even if you are doing many of these things, a loving reminder of what we can do to draw closer to the God that loves us is never a bad idea. Consider taking on one or more of these practices for the benefit of your own faith and those around you..
2. The Faith Of You Harbor Home
Worship First of all, understand that the word “worship” is a verb. An action word. A word that implies doing. When you are truly going to worship, you are going to offer your love and devotion to God Almighty who created the heavens and the earth. There are many different thoughts, opinions, worship styles, and personal expressions of faith. But honestly, God has a very short list of expectations concerning this, and The Bible is quite succinct: “God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24 NIV. In other words liturgical readings and practices that do not draw us into the spirit is not true worship. Neither is joyous hand clapping while jumping to the rhythm of a dynamic praise band. If you are not already doing so, worship with a congregation that is not just going through the motions of “traditional” or “contemporary” worship. Worship regularly in a community which values worship and not just their rituals. Even rituals that were instated very recently can still be dead rituals. Don’t assume that a great band, a dark worship space and vivid videos means that the Holy Spirit is present in the hearts of the worshipers. Equally, don’t assume that stained glass, time honored hymns and scripted group prayer means that the Holy Spirit is there. Worship in a carefully chosen community. Here are some thoughts about this.
Finding A Faith Community
Certainly an individual can and should worship alone. But there is an important call to community worship that goes back thousands of years. The ancient Hebrews worshiped together, the earliest Christians did as well; even when doing so jeopardized their lives. But consider it well. There are a lot of factors to consider when you are looking for a group of believers. This can be a very important relationship, so be aware and make your selection with intention. One of these factors is how close it is. I know people who drive a long way to worship at the church they love, and if that works for you, that’s great. But the hard truth is, if you have a long drive to get there you may not be as motivated to be active. If your parents or friends have a church that is important to them and they invite you, certainly go visit, but don’t feel obligated to stay if it doesn’t fit your family’s needs. Instead, choose your community of worship by the way that community produces the fruit of the spirit. By this I mean the list provided for us by Paul: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 Look at that list closely. Love. Are the worshipers loving towards newcomers as well as each other? Do they love and respect their pastor? Joy. Are smiles and laughter present in the halls? Peace. Are there conflicts about carpet color, menus or how to make pancakes? Forbearance. How much patience toward children or church leadership is displayed by the community? KIndness. Goodness. It is easy to assess these. Faithfulness. Gentleness. These are also easily recognized. Self Control. This last one is the most challenging for us all, so be gracious in assessing this. If you have a music preference, by all means, worship where you enjoy the music that is offered. But check out the other issues much more closely for they matter far more than the surface issue of the genre of music we enjoy.
Make Regular Worship A Habit By attending worship regularly, I mean once a week. I know that sounds unreasonable to many. I know several people who believe that five or six visits to their church per year, including Christmas Eve, constitutes regular attendance. But the Word of God asks us to remember to gather together. As the Bible teaches, “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” Hebrews 10:25 Clearly many of us have forgotten this teaching. Many Americans say that they are “too busy” or even self identify as “too lazy” to attend church on Sundays. The Pew Research Center is a great think tank that researches and analyses all things religion related. There are a lot of interesting little tidbits that come to light about American worship practices. Particularly how seldom many Americans attend worship services even though they identify as Christians. (Why Americans go to religious and church services 2020) I understand that on Sunday mornings getting out of the house seems inconvenient. When you work full time, even if weekend hours are not included, Sunday seems like a day to relax or do other things. In order to resolve this very real issue, two of my children take their children to a five o'clock pm worship service on Sundays. They spend the entire day together relaxing and playing as a family, then wind down the day by worshiping. They attend a large urban church where there is no particular or unspoken dress code, the children’s education program is run by child friendly people who know the Bible and passionately pass on the faith. The worship experience beckons in the Holy Spirit. The evening ends for their families with a treat such as a drive through fast food meal. This sort of arrangement can work for you too. Be creative. Research the options in your area. Even if you don’t live in a major metropolitan area, you should be able to locate a worship schedule that allows your family to participate. This allows worship to be a regular part of each week, and your Harbor Homes will be blessed.
The culture outside of our homes is similar in many ways to the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Opposing currents batter and compete with one another for control. Our world now, as it always has been, is full of turmoil and confusion. Like the waters of this coast, the world is unreliable and requires much from us when we set out upon it. We must have the tools we need to navigate and a safe harbor to which we can turn. A deep faith beneath you and your family is like a deep water harbor beneath a large ocean going vessel. It will hold you up and keep you from running aground. Invest in this. It will take time and attention, but you will never regret it.