On February 24, 1989, United Flight 811 departed Honolulu en route to New Zealand. The plane had just crested 22,000 feet when the cargo door of the jet blew open, tearing a huge hole in the side of the plane. Nine passengers were immediately sucked out and fell to their deaths. The two right engines were damaged by flying debris, leaving only the two left engines.
They were 100 miles from land.
The captain, David Cronin, had been flying for 38 years and employed every ounce of his experience to try to bring the plane to safety. He slowed the plane to just above stalling, gliding it slowly back to land. When he began his descent, he found that the fuel was 100,000 pounds above recommended landing weight. Not only that, but the flaps which help the plane to slow were also broken and he came in 35 miles faster than the maximum landing speed.
In spite of all of these catastrophes, the flight crew reported that it was one of the smoothest landings they can remember.
Captain Cronin did not just fly the plane and flip some switches. He wasn’t merely clocking in to his job to rack up some hours and get a paycheck.
He possessed the plane.
Robb Bell, in his book Drops Like Stars, writes about a guitar he owns. He paid for it and can play it somewhat well. He can construct chords and align them in a way that makes a discernible melody. He can evoke sound from it.
But Bell has a friend who comes over sometimes, and when he picks up the guitar, he can wring sounds out of it that are not from this world. He can make guitar sing.
Rob may own the guitar, but his friend possesses it.
Last night, I sat in a coffee shop and cracked open my Bible to 1 Thessalonians. As I scanned the pages, one verse in particular jumped out at me. I was in chapter 4, and verse 3 was rather straightforward. Something we’ve all heard before:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;
But then I kept reading and for some reason, verse 4 gave me pause:
that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable
Again, for anyone who has been reading the Bible for a few years, this verse may not be earth shattering. But for some reason, I looked into the Greek behind the verse and was fascinated by what Paul is writing here. In fact, I feel like the modern translations do us somewhat of a disservice in their translation of the passage. The King James Version brings us closer to the target:
that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,
The phrasing is reminiscent of the captain of a ship who has been sailing the seas for most of his life and has sea salt permanently trapped beneath his fingernails, and the north wind tangled into his hair. Paul is urging us to take mastery over our own boats.
He is urging us to take possession of our bodies.
For several years of my life, I dreamed of sailing the world. I had dreams of meeting exotic women on foreign shores and wandering the waves as free as the rolling waves. I wanted to earn the golden hoop earring only worn by seamen who have made the treacherous pass south of Cape Horn. I longed for that breed of adventure. I still do.
As I read that passage in 1 Thessalonians last night, a new longing came over me. A fresh desire to take mastery of my body the same way a captain of the sea did. I want to possess my body the way Captain David Cronin possessed United Flight 811. I want to have control over it the way Rob Bell’s friend possesses his guitar.
To me, this involves a number of things. To continue Paul’s metaphor, when the hard winds of lust or sexual desire wash over me, I am able to have mastery over my ship and sail it to calmer waters.
When the cargo hatch flies off—say, I get rearended or a friend betrays me with gossip—rather than getting angry and punching holes in the wall, I am able to maneuver my plane to smoother air.
I think part of the how here involves orienting our desires, so when the gusts of desire blow, they are slightly less powerful. When we desire holy things, our longings for sexual gratification and other addictions begin to fade.
Another part is simply preparedness. Just as Captain Cronin’s 38 years of flying prepared him for disaster, Jesus was able to resist temptation by having scripture pre-loaded into His mind to dispense when He needed to, and thus combat the attacks of satan.
To some of you, this may seem like just another Purity-Movement-esque call to keep your V-card until you’re married. To me, it seemed more like an artful call to mastery over my own ‘vessel.’
Bruce Lee could break bricks just by touching them because he had such control over his body.
Are you in charge of your own ship?
Do you possess your own vessel, or are you blown hither and yon by every stray breeze of desire that comes over you?
The captain inside of me wants to be able to say Yes, I have mastered myself. I can pilot myself away from the storm and into the holier spaces.