by Richard Mansel
Priscilla J. Owens wrote the lyrics for “We Have an Anchor” in 1882. William James Kirkpatrick composed the music. We can learn many lessons from this hymn.
The first stanza reads,
“Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain,
Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?”/1
Christians are “strangers and pilgrims” in a foreign land (Hebrews 11:13). While we desire a “better country,” we remain on earth to work diligently in the fields of the Lord (Hebrews 11:16; 2 Corinthians 5:1-6).
Despite our desire for heaven, Satan resists us every day. God warns, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NKJV).
God tells his children to don spiritual armor because physical armor will be worthless (Ephesians 6:11-17). Despite these resources, the daily ravages of battle weigh heavily on our mind, body and spirit.
“Roman armor was designed to protect the soldier’s body from the enemy’s weapons. Christian armor was designed to protect the soul. God does not throw us unprotected into the battle against Satan’s empire. God has provided all that we need for complete protection of mind, heart, soul, spirit, conscience and will.”/2
In Ephesians 6:10, we find that we are “to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” The phrase, “be strong” is passive, meaning that God strengthens us by his power (Ephesians 3:16)./3 In Ephesians 1:19, Paul had explained that God’s power was great and available to them through faith. Paul urges them to use this power. “The passive imperative [in “be strong”] indicates that the believer receives the action of being strengthened and the present tense argues for a customary or habitual action.”/4 Only through his power, strength and materials can we hope to survive.
Realization of our helplessness and complete submission to God is the separating line between heaven and hell for many people. Many cannot imagine yielding their will totally to God. However, it is indispensable. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6; James 4:10).
Owens’ lyrics remind us how a ship on the stormy sea closely resembles the struggles of life. The stresses of temptations, career, parenting, relationships, finances and health pound on us relentlessly like the wind and waves. The storms come suddenly and powerfully. Even if we are experienced, death and destruction still result (Mark 6:45-50). At the least, they consume all of our attention, thus pulling our focus from God. We must find a way to handle them better.
Owens’ lyrics ask if our “anchor [will] hold in the storms of life.” This timeless question goes to the heart of the issue. Will our anchor “firm remain?”
Everyone seeks an anchor to moor them so they can survive the storms of life. They search in the hearts of lovers, in bottles, vials, needles, wealth and fun. While they seek deeper levels of pleasure and debauchery, their goal perennially eludes them. “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).
Men are incapable of finding answers to salvation and surviving the war with Satan, within themselves. We are helpless fighting a spiritual enemy with human wealth, wisdom or weaponry. Without spiritual armor and an anchor, we drift far away from our intended destination and have no means to do battle (Hebrews 2:1).
3/ John Phillips, Exploring Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993), 185-186.
4/ Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 460.
5/ Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 822.
God helps us survive the storms of life.