A Parable of a Pastor: Have you ever doubted your value or accomplishments?
In an old harbor by the sea, several ships sat tied to the docks as they were loaded with cargo and passengers ready for a journey. Many of the passengers had already settled into their cabins on board, even though the ships were not scheduled to sail until the following morning. When evening came, the captains and crewmen all headed back to the local inns for a final night of rest before setting sail.
That night, a storm blew in. It wasn’t a storm that most people would take notice of – just an average passing summer storm. But the waves grew just big enough to pull several of the ships free from their moorings. Under the cover of the dark night, they were blown out of the harbor onto the open water.
As the sun rose early the following morning, the captains and crewmen arrived at the docks to make their final preparations for departure. Much to their surprise, the ships were gone. They quickly dispatched smaller faster ships to locate them; but as time would tell, they would never be rediscovered – except for one.
That morning, the same sun rose over the vast ocean and the wayward vessels. They were no longer in sight of the shore, and far from sight of each other. As the passengers awoke, a similar scenario played out on each ship. The people frantically searched the ship for the captain, the crewmen, or anyone who could tell them what to do. One by one, each found themselves adrift, lost out on the open sea. On each ship, fear turned into panic, and panic turned into chaos – except for one.
In one of the cabins, on one of the ships was a man similar in most ways to the others. Yet, as the fear on this particular ship began to rise, this man stepped out from the crowd of a hundred or so to offer some wisdom and comfort. He explained his training and experience, and offered to help guide the ship along with the help of any willing passengers. Before the stars came out that night, he was appointed as captain, formed a crew of volunteers, and charted a course to find land.
This first night was peaceful. There were no clouds; so the stars and moon seemed brighter than usual. Several of the passengers gathered out on the open deck around the newly appointed captain to press him for more of his story. He was a tall rugged man – old enough to have gained much wisdom; yet youthful, strong, and full of life. Early in his life, he had trained to be a captain; but his life had taken a different path. He had become a skilled tradesman, and spent much of his life building large beautiful homes. Over the years, his success grew; and he was now in the prime of his building profession. As it happened, this current voyage was a move with his wife and family to expand his business in a new town.
This skilled tradesman would prove to be the right man for leading this ship and the passengers through the trials headed their way. There was no shortages of challenges for this ship to overcome. In the weeks that followed, they were twice attacked by pirates, a few angry passengers attempted a mutiny, a fire below deck destroyed a section of the passenger quarters, and supplies were quickly dwindling. The days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months. Unbeknownst to the captain or crewmen, the other ships that had inadvertently sailed out to sea on that first night succumbed one by one to many of the same kinds of challenges.
One morning, 4 months into their voyage, the sun broke over the horizon with red and purple streaks coloring the sky. It was a beautiful sight; but a sure sign to experienced sailors that rough weather was gathering. Within a few hours, the passengers, makeshift crew, and unlikely captain were in the throws of violent waves, relentless winds, and icy cold rain. Any experienced crew would have had a difficult time keeping the ship upright during such conditions; yet this unlikely captain and the volunteer crew were able to hold their own for much of the storm. As the winds intensified, they were forced to throw any unnecessary cargo overboard. The captain had been at the helm for hours when one of the crewmen offered him a few minutes of reprieve. He cautiously made his way across the rain soaked, slippery deck, and down the stairs to the cargo hold. There, the passengers were huddled together. It was only slightly quieter below deck. Only a few sounds could be heard above the noise of the storm – the moans from several who had become seasick, the whimpers of a few small children, and a few who had gathered together to pray for the captain and crew.
The captain made his way through the dark and crowded space towards his family. They were huddled in a corner. His beautiful wife was sitting cross legged on the floor, and their seven children were circled around her, each clambering to find a place to hold tight to her for reassurance. She looked up at him with big reassuring eyes and smiled. He didn’t dare show any signs of fear to his wife and children; so he mustered up a reassuring return smile. She winked at him, then whispered the words, “I’m praying for you, my love.” That was all the rugged man needed to warm his soul. He squeezed her hand, and then returned to his post above board.
Before his wet boots had disappeared at the top of the stairs, his youngest daughter called out, “Daddy!” The tiny voice was no match for the powerful sounds of the storm. The little girl broke free from her mother and rushed up the stairs. The woman called desperately to her, but to no avail. As quickly as she could, she pried free from the small arms and legs clinging to her, and rushed up the stairs after her daughter. With her head above deck, but feet still on the stairs, she was met by the same fierce wind and rain the crewmen were battling. She saw her little girl slipping and staggering as she ran after father. The captain was unaware of the chase taking place just ten feet behind him. The woman frantically called again to her daughter; then reluctantly finished the last few stairs up to the open deck. But before she could take two steps, a massive wave crashed over the side of the ship. It was as if a wall of angry water rushed past with no regard for anything in its path. She saw her little girl grab tightly to her father’s leg, and less than a second later, the woman was engulfed by the wave. Instantly, the deafening sounds became silent, and what little light there had been was snuffed out. The angry wave dove below the surface and down to the depths, quietly taking the woman with it.
The storm passed within a few hours. The ship had weathered the storm with only minor damage to the sails and riggings. The passengers gathered on the deck and began to celebrate. The captain searched the joyous faces for his wife’s reassuring smile, but she could not be found. Within a few agonizing moments, the full weight of what happened was discovered. The celebration quieted as the captain sank to his knees in the stern of the ship. No one spoke for hours. Little did they know, during this same storm, the few remaining ships that had drifted out to sea on the same night capsized and sank.
The captain remained at the helm – although brokenhearted and empty. Sadly, it was only days later that some of the passengers spotted a group of pelicans flying overhead. Land was near. Finally, after nearly twenty weeks out on the open sea, they could see the distant lights of a harbor town. The beaten and weathered ship had made it to shore.
As evening came, the rugged and weathered sea captain found a corner table in dining room of a small local inn. Although the atmosphere in the room was loud and bustling with hungry townspeople; his children were fast asleep – his youngest daughter on his lap, and the others sprawled out across the chairs. All around him were many captains and sailors from all parts of the world. They were a diverse and colorful bunch. Most were sharing stories one after the other, trying to top the previous one with tales of adventure and amazing feats of strength. They bragged of the treasure they had found, and the influential people they transported. They told of discovering mermaids and battling sea monsters. The captain sat quietly taking in the scene. He began to think about his own adventure as an unlikely captain. As he weighed the events of the previous weeks through his own eyes, he didn’t feel he had much of a story to tell. The stories of these salty sailors all seemed bigger and brighter than his. The more he listened, the smaller his own adventure seemed. He sat in silent reflection, still feeling the empty hole left by the loss of his wife, and unconvinced of his skills or accomplishments as a sea captain.
Across street was another inn. Unbeknownst to the captain, over the past few hours the crowds had been growing, and an excited commotion had been building. One by one, the passengers from his ship began to congregate together. One by one they shared the exciting tales of their journey, and how on that first day a brave passenger had stepped up to lead them to safety. One by one they told of how they would never been alive to tell their stories if it were not for their brave and faithful captain.
By Eddie Zdanio
“Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.”
1 Peter 5:2–4 (NLT)