I had never worked so hard in my life. Jan and I had our beloved sailboat, Santa Teresa, hauled out and put in the boatyard, where we proceeded to strip off forty years of old paint to take her down to bare wood. The mahogany was magnificent, and it seemed a shame to cover up such beautiful wood, but once the inspections were over, we put on fresh paint and had her put back into the bay. The only problem was that the seams on a wooden boat are filled with “oakum,” a fibrous material that swells up to ten times its size when exposed to water. The swollen oakum then keeps the water out of the boat.
After Santa Teresa had been sitting out of the water in the boatyard for three weeks, the seams had dried out. That meant when they lowered our boat back into the bay, water jetted through the seams! When I went below, it looked like the Bellagio Fountains inside. Water was shooting up through the seams between the planks, and the bilge was filling up fast!
No problem, I thought, flipping the switch to turn on the bilge pump. But then, nothing happened. It was a brand-new bilge pump—the largest one the chandlery sold—and it didn’t work. I grabbed the pump handle for the manual pump and rushed up on deck to begin pumping furiously. Meanwhile, Jan and the cats were rolling with laughter, and videotaping the whole fiasco. Finally, I realized when I installed the new electric pump, I had installed a one-way valve backward—it allowed the water in, but not out. Equipped with a swim mask and a screwdriver, I jumped in the bilge and fixed the offending valve. Jan flipped the switch, and the problem was solved. The water went back into the ocean, where it belonged, and we were safe. A few hours later, after the oakum had soaked up enough water, the seams were sealed again. The only thing injured was my pride.
That night, we drank a cup of hot tea and thought about the oakum. When it’s dry, it’s just so much frail fiber. For it to do its job, it needs to soak a while. Christians can be the same way. If we don’t take time to be with God—especially in worship—we dry out and become brittle. No wonder the Hebrew writer advised, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24, 25).