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Before satellite navigation became part of our daily lives it was necessary to use celestial navigation when crossing the oceans. The daily taking of sights using the sun by day and the stars at dawn was part of an established routine necessary to determine the position of a ship. Celestial navigation requires a sextant, nautical tables, and a copy of the nautical almanac for the year. When in visual or radar range of the coast it is no longer necessary or possible to use the sun and the stars (sights require a clear horizon). Instead bearings can be taken visually or by radar of known points, supplemented by radar distances to quickly plot a ship’s position on a chart. 

Ocean and coastal navigation require one other thing of the navigator. It is impossible to calculate your exact position without having a good idea of where you are. When crunching the mathematics for celestial navigation it is necessary to use an estimated (or dead reckoning) latitude and longitude. Similarly, a compass bearing of a lighthouse is useless without knowing where the lighthouse is situated and having an up-to-date chart on which to plot the bearing.

Compared with GPS the old ways sound dated. All GPS requires is a small receiver and the relevant software. Oh, and a network of satellites orbiting earth. But does GPS mean it is no longer necessary to have some idea of where you are? Of course not. What happens if a GPS receiver fails? Or the software crashes or has bugs? Or the battery runs out? And how many of us have been taken the wrong way by GPS in a motor vehicle?

Finding your way as a Christian is no different. If you don’t know where you are now then how can you work out where you are going? Christian life is a journey. It has a beginning, but this is where many choose to sit and go no further. There are comparisons with the sea. It is scary heading out into the ocean. There are dangers. While many are charted, some are not. The weather can change. You could spend an entire voyage without seeing the sun or the stars, but it is still possible to reach your destination if you are equipped, if you have trained, and if you lean on others. As a young navigator I had more experienced senior officers and the captain to turn to if necessary. The shipping company provided all the charts and equipment we needed because it was to their advantage for us to arrive without mishap.

God does not send us out ill equipped for our Christian journey, or without charts. Furthermore, He is always there beside us, just like a Captain discreetly watching his young officers. There is one other thing. Every captain was once a cadet. We need to remember that although God was never a cadet, He has been where we are. Two thousand years ago He made the journey Himself. And it was a lot rougher for Him than it will ever be for us.

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