A rudder is a tiny part of a boat. It is tiny compared to the tall sails and amounts to only a fraction of the size of the keel, but big things often come in small packages.
Jan and I were sailing in our first boat, a little 22-foot sloop, in the northern Sea of Cortez in Mexico. I had been up all night when Jan started her watch. There was hardly any wind, and our destination was nearly twenty miles away. I settled into a bunk below and left Jan and her big straw hat at the tiller. When I woke four hours later, she was grinning from ear to ear. Wanda Sue was heeled far over, and we were charging ahead like a racehorse. It was time to “reef the sails.” (Reefing makes the sails smaller so the wind can’t push the boat over on her side or perhaps even capsize her.)
I climbed up on top of the cabin and began to lower the mainsail. Suddenly Wanda Sue swerved out of control. It knocked me down, and I glared at Jan. She looked back in surprise. I was sure the erratic maneuver was her fault, but Jan hadn’t moved the tiller at all. The rudder had snapped, leaving the boat out of control! (Later, we discovered it was my fault. I repaired the rudder after I broke it, backing down a trailer ramp. My first attempt at fiberglass repairs was a disaster, and the strong waves and winds had snapped the rudder in two.)
Without a rudder and with a storm bearing down on us, we were in serious trouble. I started up the little Johnson outboard motor and used it to steer us safely across the sea. We ended up in a little bay fifty miles from the nearest village. It took two days to patch together a new rudder from hatch boards, duct tape, lashings, and a pair of aluminum oar handles.
The rudder may be a tiny part of your boat, but it does great things. James, the brother of Jesus, compared our tongues to the rudder of a ship:
We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts (James 3:2-5).
Many people might have given up on sailing after an experience like that, but together, Jan and I made it back to Puerto Penasco (“Rocky Point”). Since this was Jan’s first long trip, I was afraid it would be our last. (Not only did we lose the rudder, but we also lost two anchors and ended up hard aground in the middle of a giant mudflat at low tide!) Jan didn’t let it curb her enthusiasm. As we limped back to Rocky Point, she looked at me with a big smile and declared, “We’ve got to get a bigger boat!”