a pilot ship coming to guide our ship to port
We took a cruise in the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean this last February to celebrate our forthcoming 50th wedding anniversary.
One thought that I had while traveling is how something small can be so important to something big.
The ship we took was 14 levels high and could have 1250 passengers and 800 staff. This time it was ½ full. It cost 500 million dollars to build and weighs 66,084 tons. Yet the ship could not arrive or leave at any port without a small pilot boat. At every port we arrived, a pilot ship was waiting for us to guide the ship in, often early in the morning, even before dawn.
The captain of Oceania gave us “guests” or passengers a brief talk one afternoon about the importance of the pilot ship. Chris Cos, a Christian sister at Pilgrim Church, in addition told me that her grandfather was a pilot captain and that he needed to have expert maritime knowledge. Harbor pilots have been used since ancient times to guide vessels into port. Even Marco Polo had help from ancient harbor pilots. Pilot boats are small ships that take maritime pilots to vessels that are arriving at the port. The pilots know about the harbor depths, wind speeds, tide levels, visibility, weather conditions, traffic, berthing and dock infrastructure. The pilot provides the larger vessels safe passage through the port and protects people, property, and land. Becoming a harbor pilot takes years of training and maritime experience. The captain of the vessel must give a harbor pilot complete trust.
The pilot ship can provide us several important lessons. On the one hand, we may be reminded of the classic gospel song:
“Jesus, Savior, pilot me Over life’s tempestuous sea; Unknown waves before me roll, Hiding rock and treach’rous shoal; Chart and compass came from Thee: Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”…
“When at last I near the shore, And the fearful breakers roar ‘Twixt me and the peaceful rest, Then, while leaning on Thy breast, May I hear Thee say to me, 'Fear not, I will pilot thee.'”
We may enter a new area of life, such as the cruise ship entering a port, and think we can maneuver ourselves through all the depths and tides. Yet we forget our Harbor Pilot, God, who can lead the blind by a way they do not know, by currents they have not known God can guide them (paraphrase of Isaiah 42:16). We are “blind” when it comes to the new.
In addition, God can use the body of believers to guide us. The less impressive members of the body may appear less crucial or important. Paul explains to the Corinthians: “As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Cor 12:20-26 NRSV).
As well, the cruise ship cannot say to the pilot ship: “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the sea that seem to be weaker or smaller are indispensable and those members of the sea that we think less honorable we grant with greater honor. Through thousands of years, cruise captains have relied on harbor pilots.
Similarly, in the church, Christ wants everyone of us to share with others our spiritual gift so the whole body can function well. What would happen if the harbor pilot refused to come out to help the cruise ship? We would have many crashes! The rest of us, moreover, need to trust those with special gifts granted by the Creator of all harbors, tides, and winds.
 Edward Hopper, Hymns for the living church (Carol Stream, IL: Hope, 1974), 446.