Sermon Illustrations on Navigation


The Cross at the Heart of the City

At the heart of the city of London is Charing Cross. All distances across the city are measured from its central point. Locals refer to it simply as “the cross.” One day a child became lost in the bustling metropolis.  A city police officer (A “bobby,” as they are referred to in London) came to the child’s aid to try and help him return to his family.

The bobby asked the child a variety of questions in an attempt to discover where the boy lived, to no avail. Finally, with tears streaming down the boy’s face, he said, “If you will take me to the cross I think I can find my way from there.” What an apt description of the Christian life. The cross is both the starting place of our new life in Christ, but also the place we must return to, time and again, to keep our bearings in life.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

A Faulty Compass

In 1914, not long after the sinking of the Titanic, Congress convened a hearing to discern what happened in another nautical tragedy. In January of that year, in thick fog off the Virginia Coast, the steamship Monroe was rammed by the merchant vessel Nantucket and eventually sank. Forty-one Sailors lost their lives in the frigid waters of the Atlantic. While it was Osmyn Berry, captain of the Nantucket who was arraigned on charges, in the course of the trial Captain Edward Johnson was grilled on the stand for over five hours.

During cross-examination it was learned, as the New York Times reported, that Captain Johnson “navigated the Monroe with a steering compass that deviated as much as two degrees from the standard magnetic compass. He said the instrument was sufficiently true to run the ship, and that it was the custom of masters in the coastwise trade to use such compasses.

His steering compass had never been adjusted in the one year he was master of the Monroe.” The faulty compass that seemed adequate for navigation eventually proved otherwise. This realization partly explains a heartrending pictured recorded by the Times: “Later the two Captains met, clasped hands, and sobbed in each other’s shoulders.” The sobs of these two burly seamen are a moving reminder of the tragic consequences of misorientation.

James K.A. Smith, You are What You Love: the Spiritual Power of Habit, Baker Books. 

Making a Reckoning

In navigation, the term reckoning, as in dead reckoning, is the process of calculating where you are. To do that, you have to know where you’ve been and what factors influenced how you got to where you now are (speed, course, wind, etc.). Without reckoning, you can’t chart a future course. In the rising strong process, we can’t chart a brave new course until we recognize exactly where we are, get curious about how we got there, and decide where we want to go.

Ours is an emotional reckoning. There is a clear pattern among the women and men who demonstrate the ability to rise strong from hurt or adversity—they reckon with emotion. The word reckon comes from the Middle English rekenen, meaning to narrate or make an account. The rising strong reckoning has two deceptively simple parts: (1) engaging with our feelings, and (2) getting curious about the story behind the feelings—what emotions we’re experiencing and how they are connected to our thoughts and behaviors.

Brené Brown, Rising Strong, Random House Publishing Group.

Not Giving Way to the Other

In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia. Hundreds of passengers died as they were hurled into the icy waters below. News of the disaster was further darkened when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident.

It wasn’t a technology problem like radar malfunction–or even thick fog. The cause was human stubbornness. Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence nearby. Both could have steered clear, but according to news reports, neither captain wanted to give way to the other. Each was too proud to yield first. By the time they came to their senses, it was too late.

Closer Walk, December 1991.


The Pride of the Titanic

I know most of us have probably heard enough stories about the Titanic, but it does stand as an amazing monument to the famous saying, slightly altered, “pride goes before the fall/destruction.” (Proverbs 16:18)

Did you know that the Titanic took 12,000 men two years to build? When it set sail from Belfast, North Ireland, it was the largest sailing vessel ever made. It was also, of course, considered unsinkable. The Captain of the ship even went on record as saying, “Even God himself cannot sink this ship.” 

Famous last words, wouldn’t you say? And that is of course because the Titanic did sink, because that very same captain would not change course as they crashed into icebergs in the Atlantic. So many lives lost simply because of pride. Think of all the other ways lives are lost, or damaged, because we are too proud to change our minds or our behaviors.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Surrounded By Water With Nothing to Drink

Theologian John S. Dunne tells of a group of early Spanish sailors who reached the continent of South America after an arduous voyage. Their caravels sailed into the headwaters of the Amazon, an expanse of water so wide the sailors presumed it to be a continuation of the Atlantic Ocean. It never occurred to them to drink the water, since they expected it to be saline, and as a result some of these sailors died of thirst. That scene of men dying of thirst even as their ships floated on the world’s largest source of freshwater has become for me a metaphor for our age. Some people starve to death spiritually while all around them manna rots.

Philip Yancey, Finding God in Unexpected Places: Revised and Updated, WaterBrook Press, 2008.


See also Illustrations on Aim. Direction, DisorientationJourney, ProgressTargets, Wisdom