There is something incredibly moving about the faithful testimony of someone who is in the process of being shipwrecked. When faith is shaken and rocked, that's when it is most definitely proven.
Several weeks ago, my wife and I, along with tens of thousands of other North Carolinians watched the weather reports with incredible interest. Bonnie, the hurricane was on the way, and it was headed right for the coast of North Carolina.
Those of you who experienced with us Hurricane Fran no longer take refuge in the fact that Wake County is far enough inland to shelter you. That particular hurricane went directly over us – or through us, I should say.
And now, just a couple of years later, here was another one – getting closer and closer. Fortunately for us in this area, the storm eventually stalled and then was pushed north by another mass of air.
I remember feeling tremendous relief.
No one volunteers to go through storms. You avoid them at all cost. Any storm for that matter. . .including what we call the storms of life. No matter how hard you try, the storms of life, like hurricanes and thunderstorms sometimes hit you with full fury and force.
It may come on the heels of a telephone call, a letter, a medical report or a company that is forced to downsize; suddenly, life is turned upside down, and all you can do is run for cover and ride out the storm.
I find it fascinating that Luke records for us one of the most detailed accounts of a storm in his biography of the early church. In Acts chapter 27 you find one of the most detailed accounts of a hurricane and its effects on the ship and passengers that you’ll find in just about all of ancient maritime history. A passage, by the way that gives us some clues on how to ride out the storms of life.
Let’s pick up our study with chapter 27 as Paul begins his journey to the center of the civilized world – Rome, and to the high court of the emperor, Nero.
Let’s join their journey at verse 7. And when we had sailed slowly for a good many days, and with difficulty had arrived off Cnidus, since the wind did not permit us to go farther, we sailed under the shelter of Crete, off Salmone; 8. and with difficulty sailing past it we came to a certain place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea. 9. And when considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over, Paul began to admonish them,
This by the way gives us a chronological clue – the mention to the fast being over is a reference to the Day of Atonement. In other words, winter is approaching – it’s cold – the weather is turning surly – it’s time to settle in at Fair Havens, not be off sailing the Mediterranean.
10. and (Paul) said to them, “Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be attended with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11. But the centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship, than by what was being said by Paul. 12. And because the harbor was not suitable for wintering, the majority reached a decision to put out to sea from there, if somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.
Now, they’re about to refuse Paul’s advise and provide for every generation hence some practical reasons why we create certain storms of our own.
Reasons for Encountering Some Storms:
1) The first reason they were about to sail right into a storm was the simple fact of impatience. An unwillingness to wait.
If you go back to verse 4b, you read the words, “the winds were contrary.” Then ahead to verse 7, “And when we had sailed slowly for a good many days, and with difficulty had arrived off Cnidus, since the wind did not permit us to go farther. . . verse 8 and with difficulty sailing past it we came to Fair Havens.
On the one hand, you can see why they are impatient and frustrated; it’s been a much longer journey already than usual.
Paul said, “Let’s wait until after winter.” They said, “Now’s our chance; let’s make a run for it.”
You’ve heard those same voices, haven’t you, say, “You’ve got to hurry. . . make your decision now . . . don’t wait . . . you’ll never have a better chance than now!”
Ladies and gentlemen, Satan always shoves you; God leads you. Satan is like a salesman who says, “If you don’t buy it now, you’ll lose it . . . I have someone coming by this afternoon to look at this, and they’re really interested, but I’ll let you have it if you act now.”
Hurry! My friends, we do not have a problem with impulse buying, that’s a symptom. We have a problem with impulse living.
We so willingly cooperate with the flesh, the world and the devil who want us to act on impulse while God wants us to act with insight.
And here in the first century they just don’t want to wait.
2) The second thing they do that sets them up for the storm is this: they followed expert advice.
Paul said in verse 10. “Men, I perceive that the voyage will be attended with damage.” The Greek word means “I perceive from past experience.” And Paul did have experience by the way; according to 2 Corinthians 11:25, he had already experienced three shipwrecks.
But when the centurion looked at Paul and then back at the ship’s captain, he underestimated Paul and overestimated the captain.
3) The third lure into disaster was a desire for comfort.
Verse 12 says “the harbor was not suitable for wintering”
Evidently Fair Havens was not so fair; it was a crummy little port village with little or nothing to do all winter. Evidently the chamber of commerce had named the harbor in hopes of misleading tourists looking for cheap vacations . . . “Come to Fair Havens.”
Fair or foul; they’d soon be happy for that simple village over what they’re about to experience.
In Psalm 23 David said that God restored His soul. That’s shepherd terminology that referred to cast sheep; that is, to sheep who, because of their full coats and some soft hollow they chose to nestle into, rolled over a little too far. Sheep, like insects, are unable to roll themselves aright. So every shepherd each morning looks for the cast sheep and helps them back on their feet. He restores them.
I wonder how many times we say, “I just don’t sense God’s peace about doing this or that.” What we really mean is, “I don’t want to do this or stay here or keep going because it makes me uncomfortable, and I don’t like it.” I think we blame far too much on the peace of God or the lack thereof.
4) The fourth thing they did wrong that sealed their fate was they were listening to the majority opinion.
Verse 12 reads that “The majority reached a decision to put out to sea from there.”
They took a poll!
We’re not the first confused society to take polls; they took a poll, and the majority said, “Let’s sail!”
Can you imagine asking some 200 passengers, “What do you think we ought to do?!” What do they know!
I like the story of the census taker who knocked on the door of a cabin in the backwoods of North Carolina. A fellow came to the door. The census taker cleared his throat and said, “The president has sent us across the country to find out how many people live in the United States.” The man replied, “Well, I’m sorry you came all the way out here to ask me, ‘cause I ain’t got the faintest idea.”
They said, “Let’s set sail!” And they sailed right into a hurricane.
14. But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo. The Greek word euros means east wind, and aquilo is Latin for north wind. This was the northeasterner feared by all who sailed the Mediterranean. A storm with violent winds, the word for wind is the Greek word tuphonikos which gives us the word typhoon. This was a terrifying storm caused by the clashing of opposite air masses creating hurricane winds and pounding rain.
The majority opinion had sent their boat into Hurricane Euro.
Paul's Anchor in the Time of Storm
15. and when the ship was caught in it, and could not face the wind, we gave way to it, and let ourselves be driven along. 16. And running under the shelter of a small island called Clauda, we were scarcely able to get the ship’s boat under control. 17. And after they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor, and so let themselves be driven along. 18. The next day as we were being violently storm-tossed, they began to jettison the cargo; 19. and on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20. And since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.
You notice those heavy words “hope was gradually abandoned.” You ever felt that way? Hope just begins to slide out of your grasp.
Paul evidently believed that now was the teachable moment. So in verse 21 we read that “Paul stood up in their midst and said, “Men, you ought to have followed my advice. . .”
What a word for today. While everyone else wants to know what the majority opinion is, is anybody listening to Paul?!
My friend, you may be smack in the middle of a storm simply because you listened to everyone else but the inspired scriptures, penned by the Apostle Paul.
Now Paul doesn’t stop with that rebuke; he continues on with the revelation.
22. “And yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23. “For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24. saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’
In these brief words you discover Paul’s strong anchor in the time of storm.
First anchor 1) There is a God
Paul said, “This very night an angel of THE GOD….stood before me.”
This is what John Phillips called, “Practicing the presence of God.”
In other words, you don’t see him; you can’t hear him; everything in your life seems to point to the fact that He’s abandoned your boat.
There is something incredibly powerful about the faithful testimony of someone who’s in the process of being shipwrecked. In front of more than 200 people, Paul was composed, steady. And he says, “There is a God.”
That’s the same confidence W.C.Martin wrote about in an old hymn text you may want to commit to memory:
Though the angry surges roll
On my tempest-driven soul
I am peaceful, for I know,
Wildly though the winds may blow,
I’ve an anchor safe and sure,
That can evermore endure.
There is a God.
2) Paul also said, in affect, “I belong to him/He belongs to me”
Notice the phrase in verse 23, “The angel of the God, to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me.”
Underline those words, “to whom I belong!”
Do storms bring that confidence out in you?
Now the fascinating thing to me is that anyone could have said, “If this God is your God, why did He allow the storm? And why is He putting you through this Paul? What could He possibly have in mind?!”
You know something? The Bible doesn’t give us that answer!
A trip that should have taken 2 or 3 weeks, will end up taking Paul 7 months . . . why? We’re not told!
I have every reason to believe that Paul wasn’t told why either. Maybe one of the greatest developments of your faith and mine is that, while we are in the midst of a raging storm, we still muster up the courage to look people in the eye and say, “The God who created this storm – these waves – these winds – is my God. . . I belong to Him and He belongs to me.”
The focus of scripture in this chapter has nothing to do with why shipwrecks are allowed by God or who causes storms to enter our lives; it does focus, however, on the believer's response.
Can we respond like Job, who after a hurricane killed all of his children, said, “Though God slay me, still I will trust him.”
Paul shouts above the howling storm and crashing waves, “My God is alive, I belong to Him; and He belongs to me.”
And that truth is bigger than any storm!
Then Paul goes on to say . . . Notice - 25. “Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. 26. “But we must run aground on a certain island.”
3) That’s another way of saying thirdly - I believe what God says will happen, will happen.
Sometimes God allows shipwrecks so that you can relate that truth to people around you. Storms allow Him to work through us in ways we could never imagine.
Now, let’s just read what happens near the end of the chapter and the end of the storm.
27. But when the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven about in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors began to surmise that they were approaching some land. 28. And they took soundings, and found it to be twenty fathoms; and a little farther on they took another sounding and found it to be fifteen fathoms. 29. And fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. 30. And as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship, and had let down the ship’s boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, 31. Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.” 32. Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat, and let it fall away. 33. And until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing. 34. “Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation; for not a hair from the head of any of you shall perish.” 35. And having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all; and he broke it and began to eat. 36. And all of them were encouraged, and they themselves also took food.
37. And all of us in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six persons. 38. And when they had eaten enough, they began to lighten the ship by throwing out the wheat into the sea. 39. And when day came, they could not recognize the land; but they did observe a certain bay with a beach, and they resolved to drive the ship onto it if they could. 40. And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea while at the same time they were loosening the ropes of the rudders, and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they were heading for the beach. 41. But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern began to be broken up by the force of the waves. 42. And the soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, that none of them should swim away and escape; 43. but the centurion, wanting to bring Paul safely through, kept them from their intention, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, 44. and the rest should follow, some on planks, and others on various things from the ship. And thus it happened that they all were brought safely to land.
- The benefit of Christianity is not the absence of storms; it is the presence of God in the midst of the storm.
- The lesson of Christianity is that, while we want the Lord to deliver us, He wants to develop us.
In I Thessalonians 2:18, Paul said, “For we wanted to come to you, certainly, I, Paul, did again and again, but Satan stopped us.”
Why did God allow Satan to rough up the waters? Why not send the angel to still the water? Why not stop the storm. Why not rescue the boat from destruction? Imagine all the inconvenience God allowed Paul to go through; and for what?
Why allow anything but sunshine and smooth waters?
Ladies and gentlemen, we are simply too interested in getting to Rome. God is interested in who we’ll be when we get there.
- The perspective of Christianity is that even the worst storms cannot derail the plan of God for your life.
What’s your storm today; where are you turning for help?
Are you meditating on God’s word, or has the storm driven you away from these pages? Have the winds and high waves spun you away from prayer? Have you lost sight of the fact that God is alive?
The most important time in your life to practice the presence of God is in the middle of a storm.
Though the angry surges roll
On my tempest-driven soul
I am peaceful, for I know,
Wildly though the winds may blow,
I’ve an anchor safe and sure,
That can evermore endure.
While you’re bracing for the worst of the storm, hold on to the anchor; God is alive; I belong to Him; He belongs to me; I believe His purposes for my life will be accomplished; what He has said in His word will come true.
Then be still . . . and know, that He is God.
Can you think of a storm or two in your life? Is it something you’ve encountered because of your own doing?
Let’s mentally run through the checklist:
- Was it because of impatience - unwillingness to wait?
- Was it listening to the wrong advice – are you still listening to it or will you begin to listen to God’s Word?
- Was it a desire for comfort that clouded your perspective?
- Or maybe you followed the crowd – the majority opinion – and the majority opinion was wrong.
Maybe the storm isn’t of your own doing? Did it occur to you, as we studied this passage, that Paul was having to go through a storm because of the decisions someone else made against his own advice.
Did Paul act like a victim – if anybody had a right to rage it was Paul.
Yet, he’s encouraging the crew . . . with the facts.
And he’s clinging to three unmovable truths that you should as well:
1) God is alive.
2) You belong to Him and He belongs to you.
3) God’s plans for your life cannot be blown off course by a storm. In fact, His plans for your life included the storm.
Will you verbally whisper to Him, “Father, I cannot see Your hand at this moment in my life, but I will trust Your heart. I do believe that what Your word says is indeed the truth.”