In The Rutter, you will find passages from Scripture and excerpts from the writings of believers over the centuries whose encounters with “difficult waters” are instructive for us as we navigate through “life’s perilous seas.”

Storm_Rising_at_Sea (1)
Storm Rising at Sea, Washington Allston, 1804.

The title for this section was inspired by an entry in the Our Daily Bread devotional guide which reads as follows: “During the era of great sea exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries, sailing ships traversed vast, hazardous oceans and navigated dangerous coastlines. Pilots used various navigation techniques – including a book called a ‘rutter’ (not the ‘rudder,’ the ship’s steering device). This was a log of events kept by earlier voyagers who chronicled their encounters with previously unknown and difficult waters. By reading the sailing details in a rutter, captains could avoid hazards and make it through difficult waters. In many ways, the Christian life is like a voyage, and the believer needs help in navigating life’s perilous seas. We have that help because God has given us His Word as a ‘spiritual rutter.’ Often when we reflect on a meaningful passage, we can recall God’s faithfulness through trying circumstances. As the psalmist suggests, perils are found not only in life situations but also in our inner tendency toward sin.”


From L.B. Cowman’s Streams in the Desert:

“He hath made me a polished shaft” (Isa. 49:2).

There is a very famous “Pebble Beach” at Pescadero, on the California coast. The long line of white surf comes up with its everlasting roar, and rattles and thunders among the stones on the shore. They are caught in the arms of the pitiless waves, and tossed and rolled, and rubbed together, and ground against the sharp-grained cliffs. Day and night forever the ceaseless attrition goes on–never any rest. And the result?

Tourists from all the world flock thither to gather the round and beautiful stones. They are laid up in cabinets; they ornament the parlor mantels. But go yonder, around the point of the cliff that breaks off the force of the sea; and up in that quiet cove, sheltered from the storms, and lying ever in the sun, you shall find abundance of pebbles that have never been chosen by the traveler.

Why are these left all the years through unsought? For the simple reason that they have escaped all the turmoil and attrition of the waves, and the quiet and peace have left them as they found them, rough and angular and devoid of beauty. Polish comes through trouble.

Since God knows what niche we are to fill, let us trust Him to shape us to it. Since He knows what work we are to do, let us trust Him to drill us to the proper preparation.

“O blows that smite! O hurts that pierce This shrinking heart of mine! What are ye but the Master’s tools Forming a work Divine?”

“Nearly all God’s jewels are crystallized tears.”


From Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest:

“The typical view of the Christian life is that it means being delivered from all adversity. But it actually means being delivered in adversity, which is something very different…If you are a child of God, you will certainly encounter adversities, but Jesus says you should not be surprised when they come. ‘In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ He is saying, ‘There is nothing for you to fear’…God does not give us overcoming life – He gives us life as we overcome. The strain of life is what builds our strength. If there is no strain, there will be no strength.”



“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”


Philippians 4:4-13 (NIV):

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.


Matthew 24:44:

Be vigilant…You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up (Matthew 24:44, The Message).


From Mark Twain:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” (NOTE: Twain often took Christians and the “organized religion” of Christianity to task when he saw failures to live up to the teachings of Christ. Debates persist today on whether he was an atheist or a believer. I am using the foregoing quote here as I think it offers some good advice as we enter into this new year.)


From Luke 2:

The Birth of Jesus

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place whileQuirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.


From John Wesley’s Christian Perfection:

Beware of schism, of making a tear in the Church of Christ. Ceasing to have a reciprocal love “for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25), is inner disunity which is at the very root of all outward separation. Beware of everything which leads to this separation. Beware of a dividing spirit . . . Do not despise or run down any preacher . . . Do not bear hard upon any preacher . . .”


From Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Morning by Morning:

His plea for prayer for pastors:

“As officers in Christ’s army, we are the special mark of the enmity of men and devils; they watch for our halting, and labour to take us by the heels . . . We meet with many knotty cases, and our wits are at a non plus; we observe very sad backslidings, and our hearts are wounded; we see millions perishing, and our spirits sink. We wish to profit you by our preaching; we desire to be blest to your children; we long to be useful both to saints and sinners; therefore, dear friends, intercede for us with our God. Miserable are we if we miss the aid of your prayers, but happy are we if we live in your supplications. You do not look to us but to your Master for spiritual blessings, and yet how many times has He given those blessings through His ministers; ask then, again and again, that we may be the earthen vessels into which the Lord may put the treasure of the gospel. We, the whole company of missionaries, ministers, city missionaries, and students, do in the name of Jesus beseech you.”


From Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest:

“He went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).

Have you ever gone out in this way? If so, there is no logical answer possible when anyone asks you what you are doing. One of the most difficult questions in Christian work is, “What do you expect to do?” You don’t know what you are going to do. The only thing you know is that God knows what He is doing. Continually examine your attitude toward God to see if you are willing to “go out” in every area of your life, trusting in God entirely. It is this attitude that keeps you in constant wonder, because you don’t know what God is going to do next. Each morning as you wake, there is a new opportunity to “go out,” building your confidence in God. “[D]o not worry about your life…nor about the body” (Luke 12:22). In other words, don’t worry about the things that concerned you before you did “go out.” Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do – He reveals to you who He is. Do you believe in a miracle-working God, and will you “go out” in complete surrender to Him until you are not surprised one iota by anything He does? Believe God is always the God you know Him to be when you are nearest to Him. Then think how unnecessary and disrespectful worry is! Let the attitude of your life be a continual willingness to “go out” in dependence upon God, and your life will have a sacred and inexpressible charm about it that is very satisfying to Jesus. You must learn to “go out” through your convictions, creeds, or experiences until you come to the point in your faith where there is nothing between yourself and God.


From Charles Spurgeon’s Spiritual Revival, the Want of the Church:

I will lay this charge before us: we Christians need a revival of piety in our lives. I have abundant grounds to prove it. In the first place, look at the conduct and conversation of too many of us who profess to be children of God . . . The lives of too many of the men and women of the Church give the world cause to wonder if there is godliness in any of us. We reach after money, we covet, we follow the wicked ways of this world  we oppress the poor and deny rights to the working class – and yet we profess to be people of God! The Church lacks revival in the lives of its members . . . Let us take a look at the conversation of many professing Christians . . You might spend from the first of January to the end of December and never hear them speak about their faith. They will scarcely even mention the name of Jesus Christ at all. On Sunday afternoon what will they talk about at the dinner table? It will not be about the minister’s sermon, unless they want to point out some faults. Do they ever talk about what Jesus said and did? What He suffered for us? . . . I have concluded this: you will not know how to get to heaven simply by eavesdropping on the conversation of the members of the Church! We talk too little about our Lord. Is this not the truth? Many of us need to pray, ‘O Lord, revive your work in my soul, that my conversation may be more Christ-like, seasoned with salt, and kept by the Holy Spirit.’


In Mark 11, we read these words of Jesus: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” And in Luke 11, we find these words of Jesus: “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks fora fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”


Martin Luther asks, in relation to these passages: “Are we so hard of heart that these words of Jesus do not move us to pray with confidence, joyfully and gladly? So many of our prayers must be reformed if we are to pray according to these words. To be sure, all of the churches across the land are filled with people praying and singing, but why is it there is so little improvement, so few results from so many prayers? The reason is none other than the one which James speaks of when he says, “You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss” (James 4:3). For where this faith and confidence is not in the prayer, the prayer is dead.”


From Elizabeth’s O’Connor’s Letters to Scattered Pilgrims:

As we become exposed to the poor and their needs, the rich young ruler and the widow and her mite lose the storybook quality of our childhood faith, and become figures in the counter-culture literature of a revolutionary leader – the very one whom we call Saviour. The First Commandment and all the Scriptures on the worship of idols begin to lay bare our own primitive selves. Some of us have looked into the face of our idols and found that one of them is money. Though we along with millions of other churchgoers are saying that Jesus saves, we ask ourselves if we are not in practice acting as though it were money that saves. We say that money gives power, money corrupts, money talks. Like the ancients with their molten calf we have endowed money with our own psychic energy, given it arms and legs, and have told ourselves that it can work for us. More than this we enshrine it in a secret place, give it a heart and a mind and the power to grant us peace and mercy.


From Catherine of Genoa’s Life and Teachings:

If we could see what we will receive in the life to come . . . we would cease to occupy ourselves with anything but the things of heaven. But God, who desires that we see by faith and who desires that we not do good because of selfish motives, gives us this vision little by little, sufficient to the level of faith of which we are capable. In this manner, God leads us into a greater vision of that which is to come until faith is no longer needed. On the other hand, if we were somehow informed that we were about to die, and that the life that awaits us will be miserable because of our sins, and that we would have to suffer eternally, I feel sure that we – for fear of it – would rather let ourselves be killed than commit one single sin! But God – as unwilling as he is that we avoid sin out of the motive of fear and therefore never lets us see it – will show it in part to souls who are clothed and occupied with him.


From Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life comes the following:

Many Christians . . . love God’s will in the abstract, but carry great burdens in connection with it. From this also there is deliverance in the wonderful life of faith. For in this way of life no burdens are carried, no anxieties felt. The Lord is our burden-bearer, and upon Him we must lay off every care. He says, in effect, ‘Be careful for nothing, but make your requests known to me, and I will attend to them all.’ Be careful for nothing, He says, not even your service. Why? Because we are so utterly helpless that no matter how careful we were, our service would amount to nothing! What have we to do with thinking whether we are fit or not fit for service? The Master-workman surely has a right to use any tool He pleases for His own work, and it is plainly not the business of the tool to decide whether it is the right one to be used or not. He knows; and if He chooses to use us, of course we must be fit. And in truth, if we only knew it, our chief fitness is in our utter helplessness. His strength is made perfect, not in our strength, but in our weakness. Our strength is only a hindrance.


From Isaac Pennington’s Letters on Spiritual Virtues comes the following:

Who is able to undergo the crosses and afflictions – inward or outward – that come upon us? The Lord is able to uphold the one who feels his weakness and daily waits on him for support, even under the heaviness of the cross. I know, dear heart, that your outward trials are painful and bitter. And I know also that the Lord is able to sustain you through them and make you able to stand your ground. O that you could dwell in the knowledge and sense of this: the Lord sees your sufferings with an eye of pity and also is able to achieve some good through them. He is able to bring life and wisdom to you through your trials. He will one day give you dominion over that which grieves and afflicts you.

Therefore, do not be grieved at your situation or be discontented. Do not look at the difficulty of your conditions, but instead, when the storm rages against you, look up to him who can give you patience and can lift your head over it all and cause you to grow. If the Lord did not help us with his mighty arm, how often would we fall! If God helps you in proportion to your problems, you should have no reason to complain, but rather, to bless his name!

God is exceedingly good and gracious and tenderhearted. He does not turn away from the affliction of his people in any way. This I share in tender love towards you, with breathings to our Father, that his pleasant plant may not be crushed in you by the foot of pride or violence, but instead, may overgrow it and flourish the more because of it.


From Gregory of Nyssa’s The Life of Moses comes the following:

This is true perfection: not to avoid a wicked life because like slaves we servilely fear punishment, nor to do good because we hope for rewards, as if cashing in on the virtuous life by some business-like arrangement. On the contrary, disregarding all those things for which we hope and which have been reserved by promise, we regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire. This is . . . the perfection of life.”


From Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines comes the following:

In 1937 Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave the world his book The Cost of Discipleship. It was a masterful attack on ‘easy Christianity’ or ‘cheap grace,’ but it did not set aside – perhaps it even enforced – the view of discipleship as a costly spiritual excess, and only for those especially driven or called to it. It was right to point out that one cannot be a disciple of Christ without forfeiting things normally sought in human life, and that one who pays little in the world’s coinage to bear his name has reason to wonder where he or she stands with God. But the cost of nondiscipleship is far greater – even when this life alone is considered – than the price paid to walk with Jesus.

Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10). The cross-shaped yoke of Christ is after all an instrument of liberation and power to those who live in it with him and learn the meekness and lowliness of heart that brings rest to the soul . . . The correct perspective is to see following Christ not only as the necessity it is, but as the fulfillment of the highest human possibilities and as life on the highest plane.


From Sadhu Sundar Singh’s With and Without Christ comes the following:

We ought to make the best possible use of God-given opportunities and should not waste our precious time by neglect or carelessness. Many people say there is plenty of time to do this or that; don’t worry. But they do not realize that if they do not make good use of this short time, the habit formed now will be so ingrained that when more time is given to us, this habit will become our second nature and we shall waste that time also. ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much’ (Luke 16:10).


From Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek comes the following:

When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw ‘the tree with the lights in it.’ It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed.

It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with the lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.

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