When the storm blows

There are many things of which we can be certain in this life.  One of those certainties is that we will encounter storms.  Although the storms of life can be varied in nature and magnitude, there are certain similarities we can expect to find.  Let us take a journey through one of the many storms illustrated in scripture to help us understand how to prevail when we encounter them ourselves.  Here is the storm of Acts 27 weathered by the Apostle Paul while imprisoned at sea.

v. 13-15

Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.

If there is one thing that most storms have in common, it is that we have not planned for them to blow in and change things.  Plan A normally is not accompanied by Plan B.  We see this in such mundane tasks as scheduling out the week or planning for a vacation.  We expect things to turn out a certain way, and we plan according to those expectations. This passage gives us some insight into how we should respond when that storm begins to blow and change those plans.

There is a fight going on here between the ship and the wind.  Initially, they tried to fight the force that wanted to pull them along.  Eventually, they could fight the wind no longer.  When that realization was made and the circumstance accepted, they had no choice but to relent and be carried along.  It is no different with the storms we encounter in life.  At some point, we may not be able to fight the current.  When that occurs, the best we can do is let ourselves be taken along and trust that God has made a way.  Instead of fighting the storm, we sometimes must simply embrace it.

v. 16-19

Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat.  After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship.  Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along.  Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo.  And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.

For a journey scheduled to last months, weeks or even simply days, the ship must be stocked with everything necessary to survive that trip.  If a storm comes, and the ship begins to take on water, it may be necessary to alleviate some of the load.  That is when decisions must be made regarding what is truly necessary for the voyage.  It takes wisdom to decide what should be thrown overboard and what must be kept for survival.

The storms we encounter in life will challenge our focus.  We may be faced with deciding what will be a priority and what can be left by the wayside.  When doing that, we need wisdom from God to make sound decisions.  If we turn to scripture, we can learn what God dictates is necessary and valuable in life.  Learning that will help us make the right decisions regarding where to turn our focus.  If we understand what truly matters in life and what is truly valuable, then we will know where our focus should be during those tumultuous times.  It is important not to be distracted by things that we can do without.

v. 20

When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.

What we are able to see and feel often can seem much more real than what we know but cannot see.  The force of the wind and water striking against the vessel and against their skin was too much to ignore.  Their circumstance seemed to outweigh anything of a non-physical nature that they could have relied on.  This dangerous and relentless situation drew them to only one conclusion: they were doomed.  There was no physical force or effort that could combat what came against them at that time.

We cannot let physical circumstances cloud sound judgment during times of adversity.  Regardless of what we see before us and what we experience in those times, we must be faithful to hold to the spiritual truths that we know.  Even if we do not see God’s mercy in that moment, it does not mean that it is not there.  We must remain focused on believing that God will provide and deliver just as He promises.  We cannot let the storm before us become greater and stronger than the hope within us.  Our calling is to harness faith in the hope that God has given us and place the storm in submission to that faith.

v. 22-26

Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.”

When our plans are interrupted, and we are not prepared for a change, all is not lost.  Luckily, we are not the masters of our own fate.  We have a heavenly Father who has plans of his own, and those are the plans that matter.  When God ordains that we do a good work for him, we can trust that it will be made possible.  While storms can stop us in our tracks, they certainly cannot stop him.  In fact, it is not beyond God to bring the storms himself so that we may be further built and developed.

Sometimes, an actual word from God will come to assure us of his power to see us through.  Other times, we receive no such word.  What we must do is rely on the general promises that we find in his written word.  Just like Paul, we must have faith that God will carry out his will exactly as He has told us.  His purposes will be accomplished.  His plans will be fulfilled.  His people will be protected.  He will work all things out for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes.  We can lay hold of these promises and simply trust that God will be faithful to keep them and keep us.

v. 28-32

So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.

Oh, had I a nickel for every time I had tried to jump ship when God wanted me to remain steadfast and await his deliverance.  We so often have our own idea of how to survive the storm.  More times than not, this idea is really a method of avoiding the storm altogether instead of riding it out and trusting that we will learn and grow from it.  Our default seems to be self-preservation at the expense of the true value of experiencing and overcoming trial and discomfort.  However, when we avoid the storm, we avoid the growth that comes with it.

If we review our lives, we will see storms that had the potential to completely ruin us yet ended in great triumph and spiritual development.  If we analyze these storms, we will see that those benefits only came from weathering the entire ordeal.  Had we escaped earlier in the process, we would have missed some of the blessings to come from those experiences.  We must remain steadfast and trust that God will deliver us in his timing and for his purposes.  It is not easy, but we must allow the storms to do their full good work in us because they exist for a purpose beyond mere pain and discomfort.  These storms help make us what God wants us to be.

v. 41-44

But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

The cards surely seemed to be stacked against Paul’s favor.  First, he was a prisoner on this ship.  As if that were not bad enough, the ship then encountered a storm of epic proportions and threatened its sinking with everyone on board.  Then, having survived imprisonment and the great storm, men had decided that Paul’s life should end.  It all seemed like there was no hope for his survival.  However, things did not end up to be as they seemed.

Paul had gained favor in the eyes of an improbable one.  Because of that favor, we see that Paul was spared.  Not only Paul, but everyone aboard that ship, soldier and prisoner alike, survived the great storm. Although we may see this as favor from men, it truly is favor from God. This is divine intervention through man that we should come to accept and expect when we serve God.  The hope that He will carry us through the storm should give way to faith that it is already done.  We should rely on his favor bringing deliverance however that may look.  And when it appears that all hope is lost, and men have conspired to bring about the dark end that the storm could not accomplish, we must remember that God can show his favor through those very men and spare us all the same.

No storm comes our way without reason and purpose.  Ultimately, every storm should bring us closer to God through greater development of our faith and trust in him.  More than that, his deliverance through these times will serve as a reminder for us and a testimony to others of his mercy and favor.  If we can recognize the errors we typically commit when faced with such trials, it will help us to be more faithful to handle these times the way God prefers.  Let us engage these storms head-on and believe that God will accomplish his plans and purposes regardless of how the circumstances may appear.