Capture the Wind!

Until the 1800s, sailing ships were the primary mode of intercontinental transport. No matter what the design, they were entirely dependent on the invisible yet powerful force of the wind. But this free, renewable source of power was productive only if the mast and sails were in good operational condition. The captain’s priority, therefore, was to repair any broken masts or torn sails as quickly as possible. Without them, his navigational and leadership skills would be irrelevant.

Sailing ships are a picture of discipleship. When Christ ascended, discipleship took on a new dimension. His physical presence was exchanged for the power of His Spirit. This exchange was so important that Jesus told His disciples to wait for the Spirit’s arrival before they attempted to carry out their mission (Acts 1:8). The book of Acts records the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s dramatic empowerment of the disciples.

That same power of the Spirit is available to us today. It is the power to live as an apprentice of the Master, experience real life change, and fulfill our mission. But just as sailing ships are dependent on the mast and sails to capture the power of the wind, we too must raise our spiritual sails to capture the invisible wind of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, we will be like a rowboat drifting on the cultural currents of the sea. We must learn to raise our sails and tap into His invisible, renewable power.

Authentic discipleship is a life of apprenticeship to Jesus and His kingdom. It requires the intentional pursuit of knowing, reflecting, and sharing Christ by means of critical spiritual disciplines: the sails on our ship.

On a sailing ship, the mast is the structure that holds the sails in place. Masts do not capture the wind but give support to the sails so they can function effectively. In the same way we capture the spiritual wind of the Holy Spirit as our mast of discipline (self-control) holds up the sails of spiritual practices (disciplines).

Discipline is the ability to do what we should do even when we don’t have to. In my infantry training with the U.S. Army, I didn’t have to be disciplined to do calisthenics. It was a mandatory 5:00 a.m. formation every day. Now, however, it takes discipline to stay in shape physically. I should exercise, but I don’t have to.

Being disciplined does not mean being rigid, automatic, or mechanical. A disciplined person is one who is able to direct his or her mind and body to perform a chosen action. When a task is repeated over time it can become a habit or practice. This is true for both harmful and healthy habits. Spiritual disciplines are simply healthy habits of our heart and soul.

The focus is not the practice, however, but the anticipated result of the practice. In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard wrote,“Discipline, strictly speaking, is activity carried on to prepare us indirectly for some activity other than itself.” Spiritually, the anticipated result (the purpose of discipline and disciplines) is to grow in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). We exercise effort and commitment in order to bring the mind and body into alignment with Christ and His kingdom. Paul’s own life was an example as he disciplined himself like a boxer or a runner so that he could finish his race well (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, 2 Tim. 4:7).

Could the lack of spiritual discipline in our Christian culture imply that we really don’t value the goal of godliness and finishing our race well? Are we content with our current level of maturity or spiritual condition? Do we become disciplined only when we are in pain or discomfort, but once the pain is gone, return once again to spiritual passivity?

If we are to live as lifelong apprentices of Christ, we must learn to capture the power of the wind of the Spirit. We must value His purposes for our lives enough to exercise self-control, intentionally raising our spiritual sails on the mast of self-discipline.


Ron Bennett, senior staff with The Navigators, has led discipleship ministries in many settings in the United States. He and his wife, Mary, are currently serving with Navigators Encore in Raymore, Missouri. While on the national leadership team of Navigator Church Ministries he wrote Intentional Disciplemaking and coauthored The Adventure of Discipling Others and Beginning the Walk (NavPress); also, more recently, The Highquest Discipleship Series. This article is adapted from Ron’s blogThe Adventure of Discipleship, February 21, 2018.

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