Nail Your Colors to the Mast

Over a decade ago, I heard an elderly British gentleman by the name of Stuart Briscoe speak
some very influential words at Capernwray Bible School in northern England. When he was a
young recruit in the Royal Marines he received some words of wisdom from a captain in the
Royal Artillery. Upon hearing of Stuarts recruitment, the captain said “Make absolutely certain
you nail your colors to the mast.” He went on to explain that historically, when marine ships set
out they raised the flag, or the colors, of the king or queen up the mast to indicate whose
authority they sail under and whom they serve. But if they were defeated and had to surrender,
they would lower the colors of the sovereign and raise the white flag in surrender. But some
weathered captains would, upon initial raising of the colors, send someone up the mast with a
hammer and nails, and nail the colors to the mast. The concept being, as followers of Christ, we
should be so loyal to his rule and reign in our lives that we are willing to declare his sovereignty
our lives and be unwilling to dethrone him. As Stuart explained, “It means when you go into a
new situation the first thing you do is let people you whose you are and whom you serve, the
longer you leave it the harder it will become. Once you identify your colors, whose authority
you sail under, keep it there. Nail your colors to the mast.” Practically, I think this looks like
speaking words that clearly align us with Christ, early on and often, in all relationships.

When we nail our colors to the mast it involves risk. When a captain nails his colors to the mast,
there is no removal of the colors to navigate hostile waters unmarked, to slip by under the
radar. There is no surrender, no ability to remove the colors and raise the white flag. When we
proclaim our allegiance to Jesus clearly to the world around us, that changes the way we are
viewed and holds us accountable to what we have declared.

However, the permanency of nailing your colors to the mast is also a great freedom. Once your
non-Christian co-workers, family and friends know you are a Christian, you are free to bring up
God into your normal conversations because it is no longer a surprise. It can take some of the
nervousness away of bringing Jesus up in conversation. You can share deeply about how your
church family has encouraged you lately. You can express joy over a new worship album you
have been listening to. You can freely demonstrate what a life in Christ is like, because they
already know whose allegiance you sail under. And all of these seemingly small conversations
that give the glory back to God demonstrate to others how influential Jesus is in our lives.
Lukewarm Christianity is not winning anyone to Christ. Colossians 3:17 says “And whatever you
do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the
Father through him.” Words and deeds. We are captivated by the gospel because of the love
and actions of the person of Jesus. Allowing your words and actions to be clearly motivated by
and tied to your love for Jesus, reveals the transforming person of Christ to the watching world.

I recently had new neighbors move in next door in my condo building. With anticipation and
excitement, I had several conversations with them over the first few weeks, getting to know
how social they were and gauging how willing they would be to build a friendship. I spend a lot
of time on my deck in the summer, both because its lovely, and to be available for
conversations with my neighbors. One of these nights I was on the deck my neighbor popped out and asked if I had eaten dinner, and if I’d like to join them. Hooray! A literal open door. We
ate and talked for hours into the night and at one point, God came up. An offhanded and joking
comment was made about the nature of God and how he could not possibly be loving due to all
of the suffering in the world. I knew in that moment there was an opportunity. To laugh along
and let the comment slide away would, in my neighbor’s eyes, align me with her worldview. So
instead I stopped, took a breath, and nailed my colors to the mast. With my heart pounding I
responded to her joke with empathy and a statement of my faith and how my worldview in
Christ allows me to see suffering in a different light. Phew, I did it! Now to see how they
respond. My comment led to my neighbors vulnerably sharing an overview of their spiritual
journeys, and allowed me to listen and hold space for their experiences. What a gift! I now have
more of an understanding of where they come from and can continue to share my experience
and listen to theirs as we grow in friendship. There no guessing or beating around the bush
now. There is a freedom to speak clearly about the way Christ influences my life as I live it out
with my neighbors.

Nailing our colors to the mast is not just about witness to those who don’t yet know Jesus, it is
also encouraging to those already in Gods family. Some of my very closest and most
encouraging Christian friendships came from speaking up early on in my college classes to
indicate that I was a Christian. I nailed my colors to the mast when I spoke up and labeled
myself as a believer early on in my undergrad degree cohort. Soon after, I was approached by a
peer who said she also was a believer. We would go on to be very close friends, and eventually
housemates for two years, we still connect and encourage each other to this day. That friend
and I found another person in our cohort was a Christian and the three of us began to gather
and pray regularly for our professors and our cohort, something our other peers were aware of.
Not only was this encouraging for us, but when questions of religious nature arose in class, we
were consulted and happy to discuss. This transparency led to greater freedom to share the
Christian worldview and demonstrate the power of Christ in our lives amidst the culture of this
liberal arts college.

We are called to be set apart as followers of Jesus (1 Peter 2:9). We are not to be ashamed of
him (Romans 1:16). We are empowered to live differently by Christ’s love. We are tasked with
doing this in word and deed (Colossians 3:17). We are to nail our colors to the mast. There are
people around you who have never seen a life lived openly for Christ. There are Christians
around you who would be encouraged by your outspoken transparency of faith. The Lord is
willing and able to guide you through tough conversations and embolden you to speak his

- Amelia Jones

1 Comment

Allie Tormanen - September 19th, 2023 at 8:32pm

Reading this post has been such an engagement to me. As I begin to settle into my new job I find that my Christianity has come up naturally with a few but not all of my new coworkers. Its something I've been trying to figure out how to navigate and this post has helped clarify how I should handle it. I will nail my colors to the mast.