Shackle, Stake, or Anchor?

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
Hebrews 6:19 (NIV)


How restrictive is an anchor? Not much. It’s an optional item of marine equipment, but not in the sense that it’s dispensable. It would be a foolhardy sailor who set out without one. But an anchor doesn’t get used while the vessel is on the move. The New Testament doesn’t use the word “anchor” much but, when it does, it usually means a literal anchor. In the above quotation, “anchor” is a translation of the same Greek word that the book of Acts used in the story of Paul’s tempest-struck voyage to Rome. Our English word is derived directly from the Greek.


In the Hebrews text (above) the writer was saying that our hope is firmly secured in God’s promises. What other word could he have used? You can fix things down securely with a stake (that’s what I use to stop plants being blown down in my garden). On several occasions the apostle Paul was tightly secured with a shackle in prison. But an anchor doesn’t work like either of those. It’s a device to be used by choice. You sail safely into harbour and put down the anchor to stop you getting swept away when you’re asleep or while your attention is elsewhere. Boats are sometimes tied to a stake set in a river or canal bank. Compared with a stake, an anchor permits freer movement. It allows the boat to move up and down with the tide and, to some extent, drift with the current.


Our spiritual anchor is fixed to God’s promises. That’s what we learn from the context of the above text. In our journey of life, we are protected by those promises but, most of the time, we don’t actively think about them. Not that we forget them. It’s just that they’re not front of mind as we engage in our daily tasks. But, when the storm clouds roll in, we need the extra security of a harbour, with our anchor our safely fixed in God’s promises.


It is comforting to have the anchor image in the background of our thinking; but it has a more active application. Thankfully, for most of us, danger doesn’t threaten us each time we leave the comforts of home. But our days benefit if we have spent time consciously at anchor in God’s presence. For some people a traditional daily “Quiet Time” may feel more like a shackle or a stake than an anchor. It felt like that to me when I treated that daily habit as a duty. Living under Law always hinders the effectiveness of Grace. But prayer became more meaningful for me when it stopped being an obligation. When, as a child, I was told to wash my hands before eating, it felt like a chore. As I grew up, I realised that washing my hands was best for my health, so it became a beneficial habit.


Our daily time-with-God becomes an anchor, rather than a shackle when we learn that it’s voluntary. The time we spend in prayer and Bible reading is not for God’s benefit, but ours. God doesn’t get bigger or better when we pray. He never changes – but we do. When we put down the anchor it is for our own protection and refreshment, but we have to pull it in when we step out into the world. Meanwhile, the memory of that time gives us strength and peace to face the challenges of the day. We do not, and should not, all pray in the same way, rather than as individuals We benefit most when our conversation with God is authentic to our individual nature – our personality. If you pray best when you’re out walking, go walking. If meditating with music is your thing, put on the headphones. If sitting quietly works for you, or kneeling in silence, do that. Perhaps you focus on God as you go for a jog or a cycle ride? That’s better than not focusing on God. Try different things and discover what works for you. And, once the habit is established, experiment with alternative approaches.


Prayer is a place of safety, a place of peace, and a place where we can recharge our spiritual batteries and equip ourselves for the stresses of life. Prayer is rooted in God’s promises. He promised to hear our prayers, and the time we spend in his presence is our anchor. So, however you do it, make time in your day to pull into harbour and drop your anchor into God’s promises. Enjoy him – thank him – talk with him – confide in him.


Don’t feel obligated to pray. Pray because you want to. Don’t measure the time you spend in your devotions – this is not a way of scoring points or winning trophies. The time you spend in God’s presence is an anchor point in your day when you can refresh yourself and find strength for life’s journey. Stay at anchor until you feel ready to cast off. Then set off with confidence that God is with you.

© Derrick Phillips 2019

To explore ideas for enjoying voluntary prayer suited to your own personality read my book, “Still digging – scratching the surface and plumbing the depths of prayer”, available from Amazon as a paperback or a Kindle eBook.