How to Build a Ship


24, September, 2021Posted by :Zach Ellsworth

 “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

This quote is attributed to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a French author and philosopher most well known for his book The Little Prince. That being said, this is not an endorsement of the man or his work. Although I did quickly skim his Wikipedia page while writing this, I know next to nothing about him. What I do know is that The Little Prince is an eccentric story—and that I love this quote.

Unfortunately, this quote is hard to pin down. The closest Saint-Exupéry ever comes to saying the above is when he writes, “Building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, forging nails, or reading the sky. It’s about giving a shared taste for the sea.” What we have above at the beginning of this post then is more like a paraphrase than a direct quote. But like any good paraphrase, the truth of the matter is preserved even if the words themselves are not.

A desire for adventure and a love for the sea can unite the tedious monotony of all the little details that go into building a ship—and the hard labor of the big details—into a joy-filled task. Not because there’s something inherently joyful about building a ship, but because the ship is the surest way to enjoy the sea. Every weave is made, every piece of lumber cut and carried, every nail struck, not for their own sake, but for the sake of setting out at sea.

The same principle applies across all of life: small and uninspiring tasks become full of life when swept up into a grander vision. Whether it’s the measuring of flour by a baker or the picking of flowers by a smitten young man, love gives us lenses to see as delightful what was once unappealing.

The life of faith and discipleship—following Jesus Christ—is also full of various tasks. We are to pray. We are to read and meditate upon God’s Word. We are to regularly gather with one another for worship. We are to give. We are to forgive. Each one of these tasks rightly deserves our attention and further understanding.

But we will not sustain any of these good, God-honoring behaviors if we do them for their own sakes. Just like building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, Being a Christian isn’t about praying. It isn’t about reading the Bible. It isn’t about forgiveness. Yes, there are better (and worse) ways of reading Scripture and praying that we do well to heed. But if we tear these branches from their roots they can’t live long—or at all. If they are taken as ends in themselves we will all surely end up looking for other ways to spend our time. But if these things are rooted in a deep love for Jesus Christ, nothing will keep us from them. 

My hope as a Christian, and particularly as a pastor, is that you might be made to long for God (Psalm 42:1) and to have a taste for him (Psalm 34:8). Yes, you need to “weave the canvases” and “forge the nails” and “read the sky” of the Christian life, but more than that, you need to be bound by an abiding love for Jesus Christ that moves you to pursue him through all these things (and more). It is only when we love him that all of these activities—whether prayer or forgiveness or fellowship meals—find their place. We must fix our eyes on Christ (Hebrews 12:1–2).