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Have You Burned Your Ships?

burning ship symbolizes permanence

We heard an interesting story recently. When the Spanish explorer Cortes lead his expedition into Mexico to conquer the Aztec nation, he was concerned about the fear and reticence of his soldiers to fight the numerous and fierce Aztecs. So he did something very smart and very decisive. He gathered his men on the shore and then set fire to his ships in the harbor. The Spanish soldiers no longer vacillated in their purpose. They were committed — because they had to be. And they realized victory, even though they were greatly outnumbered.

That’s commitment! When we, as Christian couples, decisively remove all options except permanency…when we burn our ships…something happens to our attitudes. We become adamantly determined to make our marriage work. And that’s what God meant for marriage to be – a permanent, exclusive and loving union depicting Christ and His Church. Anything less mars that picture.

The saddest of all perversions of this picture is when one partner burns her or his ship, and the other one leaves theirs anchored in the harbor…just in case. You may be the one who has kept your options open. You think you can go back on board if things get tough and sail off into the sunset. But how many married people do you know who have left and sailed off to something better? Most sail into a sea of endless pain. Or you may be the one, left shivering on the shore, with no ship and no partner any longer, looking around in confusion and disbelief. You did what you were supposed to do. You burned your ship. But now you find that your partner never did. If this is you, our hearts break for you and we want to encourage you. If you are the one who obeyed the Lord, then YOU are the one who did what was right and YOU are the one who will receive His grace to endure and His blessing – – no matter what it may look like now.

But what joy there is for the couple who choose — both choose — permanency! Because within that permanent boundary is found freedom. Freedom to PRACTICE becoming like Christ. Freedom to explore the depths of your partner’s person. Freedom to become all we can be. God did not command marriages to be permanent in order to somehow stifle us. He did it to bring us joy and fulfillment.

When Harold was in seminary, there were so many stresses on us as a couple. We were going in too many directions at one time. Well, one afternoon, it all caught up with us and we had a big blow-up. Neither one of us can remember what we argued about, but we both remember the outcome. Bette walked away, sobbing her intention to leave and take the children with her. That declaration woke us both up. We couldn’t be doing this. We had made vows. We were supposed to be committed.

Right then and there, we sat down and talked about what we as a couple were all about. We restated our commitment to one another. We made a decisive choice to burn our ships. We’ve had a lot of arguments since that day in 1972, many bigger than that one, but since then, even through the rough times, we’ve never again threatened to leave. We are committed — and that leaves us no other choice than to work things out. And you know what? When you know you have to, you do!

It’s been over forty years since we chose to burn our ships. And within the permanent boundary of our marriage, we constantly learn what love and fulfillment really are. We learn how safe we are in each other’s trust. Six years ago when I could only TAKE because I was too sick to GIVE, I knew that no matter how physically needy I was, I could depend on Harold to love me. And when we went through financial failure, we knew our marriage wouldn’t fail. Whatever we went through, we were in it together. And even when we were faced with severe opposition and character defamation from our “neighbors,” we knew we would go through it together by God’s grace. We’re not saying these things to hold ourselves up to you as a great couple…but merely as a couple who have found great peace in proving God’s plan of permanency.

If you haven’t burned your ships, don’t waste anymore time. Burn them! And together, celebrate the flames…celebrate your commitment!

Steve and Annie Chapman sing a wonderful song called “The Ships Are Burning.” We close with these lyrics:

We made this journey
We sailed here together.
We made a promise
We’d stay here forever.
And when we reached the shore
We kissed the ground
You took my hand and we turned around
And we smiled
While we watched the flames
Light up the night.

‘Cause the ships are burning
There’ll be no turning back for you and me.
Whatever we find here
We’ve made it clear
This is where we’ll always be
On this island of pleasure
There’ll be some danger
And we might think about returning
But we both know
We won’t go
That’s why the ships are burning.

Too many lovers
Are keeping their ships anchored in the bay
And one by lonely one we’ve seen them sail away.
But when we reached the shore we kissed the ground
You took my hand and we turned around
And we smiled
While we watched the flames
Light up the night.

‘Cause the ships are burning
There’ll be no turning back for you and me.
Whatever we find here
We’ve made it clear
This is where we’ll always be.
On this island of pleasure
There’ll be some danger
And we might think about returning
But we both know
We won’t go
That’s why the ships are burning

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Have You Burned Your Ships?

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  1. Avatar for Harold Gillogly

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