I was reading the other day about an expression that intrigued me. I wondered where the terms “burn your boats,” “burn boats,” or “burn the ships” came from.
The idiom “burn boats” is derived from the story of Hernán Cortés, who, upon arriving in Mexico in 1519, ordered his men to burn their boats, making it clear that there was no turning back. He wanted to motivate his soldiers to conquer the land or die trying without any hope of escape. This bold and decisive act is one of history’s most famous examples of burning boats.
When Cortes and his men landed in Central America to conquer the Aztec Empire, they were walking into uncharted territory. They didn’t have satellite images to find where the Aztec bases were located. Besides, their brand new drones wouldn’t work in all of that rain and humidity. If they caught a glimpse of the big, bad enemy, it might have been a tad enticing to do that little retreat thing, hop on one of those ships, and head back to the motherland. Sometimes you just miss your friends, family, and momma’s cooking, and you just have to go back to get some.
But what if your boats were sunk? What if they were burned? What if there was literally no way to escape, and the only direction was forward and not backward? Would that change your mindset? Would that get you pretty focused? Would it make you so determined that you would conquer whatever was in front of you to make sure you and your buddies survived?
The expression “burn boats” means eliminating all options of returning to a previous state. It is frequently used to depict a situation where someone makes an irreversible decision or takes an irrevocable action.
No Turning Back
No turning back is not a bad way to live. We don’t want to forget the past, so we don’t repeat it, but we also don’t want our past to be a ball and chain around our ankles, holding us back from becoming who we are really supposed to be.
Some different ways to say “burn boats” are the following:
-Cut off all ties
-Sever all connections
-Break all links
-Make a clean break
-Leave no room for doubt
-Put all one’s eggs in one basket
-Go for broke
-Take the plunge
-Take a leap of faith
-Bite the bullet
No Matter What
We see how this concept plays out in a worldly sense. Someone “goes for broke” when they start a business. If it succeeds, great. But regardless, they take the plunge and give it their “all,” no matter the consequences. Some people decide to be the first in their family to go to college, and then they accomplish that objective.
I remember tearing up one of my knees at the end of my junior year in high school. It was the second knee injury I suffered, and it was not good. A few people let me know that my dreams of playing college basketball were probably over. Please. They must not have known who I was or the drive I had. There was a zero percent chance I was not going to get a college scholarship. Well, there was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears over the next year. Plenty of downs and some neat ups along the way. I couldn’t hang out with my friends all the time because I needed to work on my game and get that knee in shape. On the day I signed that scholarship to play at Auburn University, how do you think I felt? Now, you do get some satisfaction from proving the naysayers wrong, but you also know that all the time, effort, and determination was worth it in the end. Accomplishing one of your goals can be extremely rewarding.
But are there also some spiritual applications here as well?
Facing Your Giants
And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.
And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.
Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.
So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.
Is there anything you need to “burn” and get rid of so there is no going back? Any books, music, hobbies, phone apps, etc., that need to go in the dustbin of history and be sunk in an ocean, so you can never return to them?
I was chatting with a guy this week who read one of my books while he was in alcohol and drug rehab. A portion of his life had been totally ruined because of alcohol. He has been sober for many months now. He told me that he only drinks one glass of red wine a day. Wait. What?? He didn’t know what the term teetotaler meant, but I explained it, and it made sense to him. It was time for him to burn that boat of alcohol in his life and never go back.
And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land.
And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.
Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there.
The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan.
And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.
But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.
And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.
And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.
None of us is really big with hanging out with giants! Typically, it wouldn’t be a good day for us. But what if God told you to go and do something? Would you let a few giants in your life stop you? None of that seemed to bother Caleb because he knew Who he was trusting! Any giants you need to extricate from your life?
How about you soul-winners out there? Any giants holding you back? Any excuses you are using that won’t cut it on Judgment Day?
Living for Christ
2 Corinthians 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
Excuses won’t fly on that day. Your obedience to God in seeking and saving the lost is what will matter on that day.
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
1 John 2:15
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Time to take the plunge and burn some boats in your life. Enjoy the journey of trusting God more than you ever have at any other time in your life!
Until the nets are full,
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