William Earnest Henley was born in Gloucester, England. He became an editor, poet and literary critic.  His father was a struggling bookseller who died when Henley was a teenager.  At twelve years of age, Henley was diagnosed with tubular arthritis that necessitated the amputation of one of his legs just below the knee. The other foot was saved by a miraculous surgery but it deeply affected his movement. As Henley was healing from these surgeries, he began to write poetry. One of the poems he wrote during this time of challenge is called “Invictus.” It has remained a famous poem, not only for its rhyme but also because of its message. I first heard the poem when I was in high school.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole’
I thank whatever god’s may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My heart is bloody but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul”.

This poem, written many years ago, still has a significant impact on our thinking. While Nelson Mandela was in prison in South Africa many years ago, it was this poem that kept his spirit from breaking. He was released from prison and eventually became the president of South Africa. A movie was released showing the journey of his life, and it was entitled “Invictus.” His spirit was unbreakable, he was the master of his fate.

As you read this, do you observe anything questionable to your faith?  Are you the master of your fate? Are you the captain of your soul? Is it up to you to set sail for the destination in life that you decide to pursue? This is popular thinking in our culture today. In fact, this concept was the guide of my life until I was nineteen years old. I had set my sails for where life was to take me, and I was on my way. My will was “Unconquerable,”  and I was the captain of my ship.

But then God…what do we do when God has another plan that is different than mine?

Let’s ask Moses. We ask, “Moses, how did you become the leader of three million people? What qualifies you to be doing what you are doing? Moses thinks awhile and says, I was caring for my father-in-law’s livestock. I was following the sheep and saw a bush on fire. I thought it strange for a bush to burn and not be consumed. I walked towards it, and as I came close, a voice came out of the bush, calling me by name and telling me that my life was about to change. This was not my idea. However, an unconquerable power conquered my will and I returned to Egypt to do what I was doing. The eternal God is master of my fate and the captain of my soul”.

I call one more person to the stand. I say, “Paul, you are a blue-blooded Jew. You are a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jewish religion. You have consented to imprison and murder those who would destroy the Jewish Faith. What are you doing out here in a Greek world teaching about Jesus, the very ones you had been trying to destroy”?

He tells me that he had an unconquerable quest to promote the Jewish faith. The Law of Moses was to be kept, and these Christ’s Followers were polluting what he called sacred. But he continues, “I was on my way to Damascus to incarcerate these heretics, but a voice came, and a light shone brighter than the noonday sun. I was blinded and lay paralyzed. This voice instructed me to do exactly the opposite of what I was attempting to do. My unconquerable soul was conquered by a greater power. I found I was not the master of my own fate, but the eternal God changed me into something far beyond what I ever expected”.

Please understand that I am not belittling the power of our own will and the desire to better my life and my career. I have followed this pursuit all my life. However, at the same time, I realize that there is a power beyond me that controls my life and destiny.

Beyond being master of my fate and captain of my soul, where does this leave the spirit? We are beyond being mere physical beings with a mind, but the Eternal  God breathed His breath into me and gave me spirit. This is beyond my control. Only God can take the broken body and soul and breathe new life into us. We become “…new creatures in Christ Jesus..’ and we are born anew from heaven.

Are you living as your own captain, or have you turned the reins of your life to the Eternal God?

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