Sunday, February 8, 2015

Boats that Won't Float

In the early seventeenth century the king of Sweden, Gustav II Adolf, wanted to build the most powerful gun ship ever. He commissioned the best ship builders and used the best materials. The ship was called the Vasa and was to be made of oak, a very valuable wood. If someone would cut down an oak tree without a permit they would be guilty of a capital crime. The wood from the oak trees was cut and prepared for the width called for in the design.

“After construction had begun, Gustav Adolf ordered the Vasa to be made longer. Because the width supports had already been built from precious oak, the king directed the builders to increase the ship’s length without increasing its width. Although the shipwrights knew that doing so would compromise the Vasa’s seaworthiness, they were hesitant to tell the king something they knew he did not want to hear. They complied. Gustav Adolf also insisted that this ship have not simply the customary single deck of guns but cannons on three decks, with the heaviest cannons on the upper deck. Again, against their better judgment, the shipwrights complied.
“Over the course of several years, shipwrights, carpenters, rope makers, and others worked diligently to build the Vasa. Over one thousand oak trees were used to complete the ship. It had sixty-four cannons and masts taller than 150 feet. To give the ship the opulence befitting a king’s flagship, several hundred gilded and painted sculptures were added.
“On August 10, 1628, the Vasa began its maiden voyage. In view of countless spectators, the ship left its mooring directly below the royal castle in Stockholm. After being pulled along by anchors for the first several hundred feet, the Vasa left the shelter of the harbor. A stronger wind entered its sails, and the ship began to tip. The Vasa righted itself slightly, but only temporarily. Before long, as recorded by an observer, “she heeled right over and water gushed in through the gun ports until she slowly went to the bottom under sail, pennants and all.”1 The Vasa’s maiden voyage was about 4,200 feet.
“Despite the Vasa’s magnificent appearance, the ship was not seaworthy. The alterations in its construction resulted in it not having sufficient lateral stability to enable safe seafaring. Gustav Adolf’s desire for an extravagant status symbol ruined the design of what would have been a magnificent sailing vessel, the mightiest warship of its time. The shipbuilders’ reluctance to speak up—their fear of the king’s displeasure—deprived the king of their knowledge and insight. All involved lost sight of the goals of the enterprise: to protect Sweden and to promote its interests abroad. A ship that attempts to defy the laws of physics is simply a boat that won’t float.” (“Constructing Spiritual Stability”, Dale G. Renlund, BYU Devotional, September 16, 2014)

If we are to navigate the waters of our mortality and be worthy to enter back into the presence of God we need to have spiritual stability. Brother Renlund explains that there are four things we need to do to build spiritual stability:

1.              Obeying God’s Commandments
2.              Heading Counsel and Becoming Lifelong Learners
3.              Serving Others
4.              Make Jesus Christ Our Foundation

The Savior speaking to his disciples said: “If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15). Keeping God’s commandments is the best thing we can do to give us spiritual stability. There are so many voices in the world today teaching that it does not matter what we do, as long as we don’t infringe on someone else’s rights or break the law we are ok. There are also many that are teaching that evil is good and good is evil. How do we know what is right and wrong. We can know through the teachings of the scriptures. The scriptures teach that wickedness never was happiness (Alma 41:10). Bro. Renlund said:

“Working with the physical laws related to lateral stability in the ship’s construction might have felt restrictive to Gustav Adolf, but the Vasa would not have sunk before its mission started had it complied with these laws. Instead, it would have had the freedom and flexibility to accomplish what it was intended to do.
“So, too, obedience to God’s laws preserves our freedom, flexibility, and ability to achieve our potential. The commandments are not intended to restrict us. Rather, obedience leads to increased spiritual stability and long-term happiness.” (“Constructing Spiritual Stability”, Dale G. Renlund, BYU Devotional, September 16, 2014)

The second principle for spiritual stability is to head the counsel of church leaders and be lifelong learners of the truth.  If we do not heed to counsel of our church leaders we are like King Gustav who ignored the laws of physics when constructing the Vasa. We risk sinking spiritually and becoming subject to the Devil if we ignore the inspired counsel of our leaders. We also must always be seeking to know the truth on all matters both spiritually and temporally.

Third we must be willing to serve. It is through selfless service to others that we become closest to the Savior and the example he set for us. In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin taught,  “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are in the service of God”. (Mosiah 2:16)  Brother Renlund had this to say about service:

“Eternity stays in clearer focus when we focus on others as we seek to help Heavenly Father’s children in some way. I have always found it much easier to receive inspiration when I am praying to find out how I can help another than when I am simply praying for myself.(“Constructing Spiritual Stability”, Dale G. Renlund, BYU Devotional, September 16, 2014)

The final principle for spiritual stability is making Jesus Christ our foundation. The Apostle Paul taught that we would be “children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14) unless we were built on the “foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner.” (Ephesians 2:20).

Again Bro. Renlund counseled:

Without Christ, we are driven like a vessel tossed about upon the waves. We have no power because we have no sail. We have no stability, especially in times of storm, because we have no anchor. We have no direction or purpose because we don’t have anything with which to steer.

If we wish to avoid navigating through life in a long, skinny, top-heavy ship, we must make Christ our foundation and seek His counsel. The ultimate in educational hubris is to believe ourselves to be so wise that we do not need to seek direction from the Lord through the Holy Ghost. Remember, “to be learned is good if [we] hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Nephi 9:29; see also verse 28).

In order to face, overcome, and be prepared for the crosswinds and crosscurrents of life, we must obey God’s commandments; become humble, willing, and determined lifelong learners; serve others; and establish Jesus Christ as the foundation of our lives. As we do so we dramatically increase our spiritual stability. Unlike the Vasa,we will be able to return to safe harbor, having fulfilled our destiny. (“Constructing Spiritual Stability”, Dale G. Renlund, BYU Devotional, September 16, 2014)

We live in a world that is constantly being tossed around by the winds of secularism and evil. If we are to navigate these turbulent waters safely we must have spiritual stability. We will never make it if we break God’s commandments, ignore the counsel of our priesthood leaders, fail to have charity for others by provide meaningful service and have Jesus Christ as the foundation of our lives. Without these things we like, the Vasa are a boat that won’t float.

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