Just when you think it can’t get any worse…it does. Who hasn’t felt that way at some point? Luke describes their journey from Caesarea to Rome in Acts 27, and it’s filled with emotion as what should have been a relatively simple trek turned into a life and death battle at sea when they head directly into the perfect storm. I inserted myself into the story while reading the text, and imagined the kind of fear that would come upon me as I observed the crew no longer trying to steer the ship.
The sailors couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale. (Acts 27:15)
How scary to see them tying ropes around the hull, just to keep it from coming apart, and watching helplessly as all the cargo gets thrown overboard. The mission of this ship becomes less and less important as the hours drag into days that then turns into weeks. I’m feeling it with them, hopeless. Are you feeling it too?
The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. (Acts 27:20 emphasis added)
Now imagine that those two weeks of absolute terror and loss could have all been avoided if those in charge had just listened to you. How would you feel? Paul could see all the warning signs of the storm season and had warned the ship’s captain and owner not to sail. He said he could see a shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to life. But the traveling window for the season was closing and the ship’s commanders didn’t want to be stuck in Fair Havens for the entire winter, so they gambled and ignored Paul, to everyone’s detriment. Paul responds.
Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” (Acts 27:21b-26)
When things don’t go the way they should, like this example, where do you allow your attitude and outlook to drift? Do you let it “run the gale” or do you shift it into the best position? I see a theme developing in chapter 27 of trust and love. As I see it, when things don’t go the way they should, we have the option to hold a grudge and become disengaged or to trust and love.
OUR OPTIONS TO TRUST AND LOVE
Trust God’s PROMISE
Through the tumult of wherever we find ourselves, we have the option to trust God’s promises. Although Paul may have seized the opportunity for a little “I told you so” in his speech to the crew, I believe more that Paul was emphasizing his words could be trusted. His words were from a God that was beyond him. They had ignored him once already and he wanted the people to trust his words now. Paul said, “For I believe God. It will be just as he said.” (Acts 27:25)
We have a multitude of promises from scripture at our disposal. We can choose to trust those promises or try to take matters into our own hands. In this passage, we see that shortly after Paul shared God’s promise of survival, the sailors on the boat didn’t trust it. They were caught trying to abandon ship in the lifeboat as they neared land. But before judging these sailors, consider how often we do the exact same thing.
The kind of faith required for trusting God’s promises as Paul said he did, comes from God himself. God told Paul he would preach the Good News in Rome at least two years earlier when he was first arrested (Acts 23), and Paul understood that he would make it to Rome one way or another. But that didn’t keep the angel from reinforcing this word, “Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar!” We see evidence right here of God providing Paul with the faith necessary to continue trusting his promise. God is so faithful to do that for us.
Trust God’s PURPOSE
We have the option to trust God’s purpose regardless of the plan. At this point in Paul’s life he is all too accustomed to disruptions in the plan. He has learned to maintain a healthy flexibility required for the ebb and flow that is certain in God’s story. Scripture tells us that God weaves everything together to work toward his purpose, even if it doesn’t look like the plan we had in our mind. (I’ll talk about loving God’s plan in just a minute.)
A two-week storm, resulting in a completely smashed up ship and stranded on a relatively remote island, would certainly cause me to lose sight of the big picture. But here’s the thing – God’s big picture has as much to do with the journey itself than it does the destination. I am confident Paul understood this truth (even if he needed an angel to encourage him). This shipwreck was used to demonstrate God’s sovereign power to save lives as much, if not more, than would be demonstrated in Rome. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I would have become a believer before that ship sunk.
Love God’s PERSPECTIVE
We have the option to love in all things. We don’t always have eyes to see, but we can always ask for those eyes and to love God’s perspective. Throughout my years I have found myself most frustrated when I felt strong conviction about something, but couldn’t garner a following. I have been known to allow my frustration to grow to the point where my obsession with the truth would overcome my love for it. There is a difference.
Ears to hear and eyes to see – both are gifts from the Lord (Prov 20:12)
God had given Paul the gift to see the future danger and damage that would occur if they continued sailing from Fair Havens. Paul’s love for God’s perspective moved him to share the warning, but he didn’t obsess over it by nagging them repeatedly and allowing it to overshadow their relationship. He allowed space for God to show himself.
The others didn’t have eyes to see because their eyes were clouded with various fears and worries. Can you remember a time in your life when you didn’t have eyes to see and ears to hear? To be sure, there has been a time in ALL our lives when we’ve been there, and we still are on some level. When God chooses to bless us with the gift of sight and hearing, we can love it, share it with those around us, and continue to love it even when it goes unheeded.
Love God’s PEOPLE
We have the option to love the people around us. I am struck with Paul’s ability to love and encourage everyone aboard the ship. Because he didn’t fall victim to obsession over his correctness, he didn’t open himself to the anger that often follows. Anger tends to isolate while building emotional walls of protection, but Paul prioritized those relationships over his correctness and offered great love.
Just as day was dawning, Paul urged everyone to eat. “You have been so worried that you haven’t touched food for two weeks,” he said. “Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish.” Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. Then everyone was encouraged and began to eat – all 276 of us who were on board. (Acts 27:33-37)
When I read this passage, I can totally feel the collective deep breath they all took as they ate. They were encouraged.
Love God’s PLAN
We always have the option to love God’s plan. Very recently I found myself in a situation that I did not like at all, and since I had not been given eyes to see God’s perspective, I was pushing for a plan that was not in line with God’s plan at all. One afternoon, God opened my ears to hear him. He said, “Love where I have placed you and serve.” My situation didn’t change much after that, but my attitude did. I chose the option to love his plan even though I wouldn’t have chosen it.
We see Paul doing the exact same thing here. God’s plan at this point included Paul, not only being shipwrecked on an island, but to be in chains and imprisoned. Paul chose to love where God had placed him and serve. Just before the ship was completely shredded off the coast of Malta, the soldiers wanted to kill all the prisoners so they wouldn’t escape. Julius, the commanding officer, disallowed this plan because he wanted to keep Paul safe. Paul wasn’t going to escape; he loved God’s plan more although I’m confident he wouldn’t have chosen it.
Let’s face it; the comfort of control and the feeling of “getting a handle on things” lures even the most seasoned of believers. So often have I said with my mouth, God is in control, but deep down I doubt as I mentally calculate my next move. Our control is an illusion. God really is in control.
Recognizing his sovereignty is all about our internal attitude adjustment. And please pardon the cliché, attitude affects everything. It’s not that we won’t make a next move, it’s that we are willing to wait for God to tell us the next move. A life like Paul’s, which was a life filled with power, purpose, and promise, requires the right attitude.
Things may not be going the way they should because someone didn’t listen to you. Things may not be going the way they should because you didn’t listen to someone else. If you find yourself in this place right now, ask God to give you eyes to see and ears to hear. Ask him to help you trust his promise and his purpose. Ask him to help you love his perspective, his people, and his plan. Because, you see, it’s going to all work out. It will, whether or not we choose these options. Choosing these options is less about the choice itself and more about positioning yourself. If you steer into the wind (the Holy Spirit is described like wind in Acts 2), you are positioned to then enter His presence, to be IN HIM. And that’s really what this is all about.
So take courage. For I believe God. It will be just as he said. (Acts 27:25)