The second officer (second mate) on my first ship was ancient. Not as ancient as the chief officer or the captain, but at twenty-three years of age compared with my mere sixteen years, I considered him old. Out of all the officers on that ship he was the one I respected the most. He wasn’t the most experienced, but he was the most approachable. This was why a pattern developed of me spending a proportion of my spare time on the bridge when the second mate was on watch.
The fact that the second mate welcomed my company was probably due to the fact that the bridge of a ship can be a lonely place during a four-hour navigational watch, especially the 12-4 watch. I enjoyed being regaled with stories of far off places I had yet to visit, of adventures on ship and on shore. I soaked it up. But it was during those spare moments of time spent on the bridge with the second mate that I began to learn aspects of practical navigation.
My duties mostly involved working alongside the deck crew at that stage in my career, while a good proportion of my limited free time was spent completing units of the correspondence course that formed part of my cadet training. Despite this, I never considered time on the bridge talking with the second mate to be wasted. I guess that to some extent we were both using each other. He enjoyed having someone to talk to, while I enjoyed learning all manner of things from him.
I don’t know how I stumbled upon this memory or train of thought, but I think it came out of considering the ways in which followers of Jesus somehow avoid allowing God to use them. God is infinitely more approachable than the second mate on the m.v. Sheaf Royal, so why is it such a challenge to spend time alone with Him? If my relationship with God consists of nothing more than a garbled shopping list masquerading as prayer, followed by a quick scan of some printed Bible reading notes and a couple of verses of Scripture, then both God and I end up as losers. I believe that God wants us to use Him and the many resources He has placed at our disposal. If we don’t use our time to connect meaningfully with God then how can we expect him to use us?
Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. (Mark 1:35 NLT)