Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The True Captain of My Soul

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

These are the last two lines from the poem, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley. It's been quoted by many people throughout history as an expression of the tenacity and triumph of the human spirit. It also invokes the idea that no matter the odds, we have the ability to control our own destinies. While some may find this inspiring, this is terrifying to me.

During a past trial, I was faced with the grim possibility that the outcome of my future was solely up to me. There was no one nearby who could give me the help I needed. The loneliness and being at a complete loss felt worse than the situation itself. What if I made a wrong decision? Not only could I ruin my life but also the lives of others. I was a believer, and my concept of God was better than the absent deity in Invictus, but not by much. He was just one of many players in the drama with slightly more power but not enough to be fully in charge. But then in God's mercy, his sovereignty dawned on my soul like the sun breaking through months of emotional gloom. I began to cling to the hope that God was really in control even though circumstances wanted to convince me otherwise. There was a growing security I had never known before -  the knowledge that my life was in his hands instead of my own. 

Fast forward to a week ago. I may be facing another big change in my life. Nothing on the scale as my previous trial but with enough similarity to resurrect the past. Anxiety is also good at taking bad memories and extrapolating them into present day worst-case scenarios. The fear of being alone, yet again, was overwhelming, and my stomach began to knot up with the same visceral response. I knew objectively that God was, is, and will be faithful, but it was a struggle as the fears would rise, abate, and rise again. Stiff-upper-lipping one's self out of worry is impossible. I've tried it more times than I can count. But God is a compassionate Father who is able to minister to his children in just the right way and at just the right time.

My pastor was out of town, so the pulpit was filled Sunday evening by another brother who spoke on Psalm 139. These are familiar verses, but this time, they were fresh, living, and active, as the Holy Spirit took them and applied them straight to my heart.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.

God's knowledge of us isn't detached but intimate and bound up with his love and care. He knows our concerns before we voice them. He knows our sitting down and rising up and every mundane detail of our lives. He knows where we've been, where we are right now, and where we are headed in the future. Nothing is hidden from his gaze. He has seen us at our worst, and yet he has saved us. Time, distance, and even space cannot separate us from him. And as I heard these truths, the knot in my stomach began to loosen, and relief washed over my soul.

Afterwards, I thanked this brother and told him that his sermon was exactly what I needed to hear. He then shared that he had originally intended to speak on a different text, but Psalm 139 kept coming back to mind. All I can say is that this is further evidence of the Father's kindness to his poor struggling child.

So while there may be merit to Invictus as a literary work, thanks but no thanks to its worldview. I still don't know what my future will hold, but I am glad to be reminded again of who is the real Master of my fate and the true Captain of my soul. And I praise him that he knows me. It's no wonder that David writes:
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.

Update: Here is the link to Will Brown's sermon


  1. Have you seen the poem inspired by Invictus called “Conquered By Christ” by Dorothea Day?