Rudder Control: on heavy winds and the heart of the helmsman

rudder 2

“…For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way…a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.”

James 3:2, 4


The lesson of James 3: if I were to choose one thing to adjust, attention to my words would make the biggest difference. I cannot control the winds, but I can improve how I manage the rudder.

The Amplified version says it this way:

“…Look at the ships, even though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the impulse of the helmsman determines.”

Perhaps that is why James describes it as such a feat. It’s not just the technique of adjusting the rudder, but the impulse of the helmsman that is so difficult to master. It is not only choosing the right words that is so challenging, but gaining mastery over the impulses of the heart.

“…For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

Matthew 12:34

The tongue is the vessel of the heart’s impulses, and so it comes back to this: I must diligently tend to my heart (Proverbs 4:23). Its desires and leanings steer the whole ship. It is well worth my time to take stock of them.

This morning, my heart’s impulses are selfish. I feel starved for time with friends, hungry for emotional connection, jealous of people who can get into a comfortable position (oh pregnancy…), frustrated with how little it takes to wear me out, eager for the independence of a vehicle, and unsettled without a home of my own. In short, I feel dissatisfied.

My heart says, “Go after these things! You cannot be happy until you have them!” And no matter what the current situation is, that seems to be its theme song.

I have people pouring into me, caring for me, giving me a place to stay, lending me their vehicles, rearranging their schedules for me. I have a baby on the way that we prayed and prayed and prayed for. I have so much and yet I want more. The heart’s natural impulses are rarely thankful.

But God says to give my body as a living sacrifice, not demand sacrifices from others. His words challenge me not to get my circumstances to transform until I have all I want, but to let Him transform me, so that all I want is Him, even if my circumstances do not change at all.

“I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice…Don’t copy the behavior and customs of the world, but Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think…”

Romans 12:1-2

The winds may blow strong, but the One who could alter the wind with a whisper still places more emphasis on changing the helmsman.


Teach me to let you transform me.

Change my heart to be thankful rather than dissatisfied, willing to lay down comfort and preference to see that the needs of others are met, eager to offer my words even if I have little else to offer – words from a heart that has its eyes on you and its impulses in check.

And may I learn that I don’t change in any lasting way because of my determination to improve, but because of your power, your work, and the growth that you give in my life. I do not transform myself. I let you transform me.

So change me, Lord. I want you to teach me good rudder control. But beyond that, I want you to transform the impulses of the helmsman. My words, my tone, my facial expressions: may they not be a polite mask over my impatient, grasping turmoil, but the gentle and easy outflow of a heart that sees its Savior and knows it has all it needs.

Set this restless heart on you so that it  words may be helpful and good, no matter what the winds are like.

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