Soon after moving to Florida, I was greeted by several serious looking men as I entered church one Sunday. The men were distributing a large and ominous looking flyer entitled, “Will You Be Ready?” What? Is it the end? Armageddon? Nope, this is Florida and the men were part of my church’s Disaster Recovery Team and the flyer a guide to hurricane preparedness. Hurricanes are serious business in Florida!
Technology can tell us that a major storm is imminent but what about the storms of life? That diagnosis we didn’t expect to hear, the spouse who just walks out, the child who is on the path of self-destruction sometimes we get blind-sided but sometimes we are forced to realize that there have been hints and we just did not recognize the signs.
Paul, the great traveler is now a prisoner in Caesarea and is ordered to Rome; as a Roman citizen he has appealed for a hearing before Caesar. Winter is approaching and sailing conditions are not ideal, Paul warns against the journey but his warning is disregarded. Are you being warned of an approaching storm? A friend tries to confront you about your choices and behavior. The principal of your son or daughter’s school calls you again to discuss their behavior in class. A persistent cough does not go away, your spouse wants you to see your doctor. Your spouse is always angry, never home, unavailable by phone and in person.
Look for a Nugget
The sailors and crew decide that weather conditions seem conducive to sailing, they ignore Paul’s warning and set sail. When criticized or told about a possible problem don’t immediately react defensively or in anger. Not all criticism is valid but sometimes a nugget of truth, a warning, is buried in words that seem harsh or judgmental – not always, but give it some thought before dismissing it.
We Pull Up Our “Big Girl Panties”
Faced with a “life-storm”, we think, “Ok, I can get through this, I’m tough” or maybe we create a plan of action to “solve the problem”. Sometimes we are told, “Keep your chin up.” “You can do it.” “Act like a grown-up.” Any or all of these might work for a short time especially if it is not a big storm. But for Paul and the men on the ship, when the storm hits it hits big – a major Nor’easter. As the ship begins to fall apart they use cables and ropes to undergird the ship, hoping to keep the ship in one piece.
We attempt to make deals with God, “God if you just get me through this I will never ask for anything again, I’ll start going to church again, etc.” We make deals with ourselves, “I will only drink on week-ends.” We make deals with others, “If you just stay in school you can hang out with your friends on week-ends.” “I will only call you in an emergency.” The sailors jettison all the cargo on the ship, hoping to lighten the load.
We Change Our Behavior
Next the sailors toss off all the ship’s tackle; they get rid of the tools they need to sail the ship. We return to church, we pray and read our Bibles. We give up smoking and start jogging. We start cooking elaborate dinners and make sure our spouse knows dinner will on the table at 6. We search the internet looking for 5 easy steps to health, happiness and self-improvement and jump right to step 5. We stop drinking or maybe we start, just to calm down.
God seems silent, our prayers are not being answered. It is too cold, too hot, too rainy, too snowy, my calves hurt too much to jog. The first night our spouse is late, we smile. The second night when our spouse doesn’t arrive until 8, we seethe. The third night we throw out the dinner and eat cereal from the box. We give up. We have tried everything we know to do, everything the internet has advised. We enter the dark pit of abandonment, frustration, and despair. The ship that Paul is traveling on breaks apart completely – all of their effort to save the ship and themselves has failed.
God will sometimes allow the foundation we have constructed to fall apart. The sailors in Acts 27 depended on their ship to get them to Rome, in the midst of the storm, as the ship split and shattered, they abandoned hope. Has your foundation been crumbling? Are you down to one or two bricks? The foundation of “doing the right thing”, “being good enough”, “a big bank account” – if you are building your life on things or appearances it can and will fall apart in the storm.
Paul shares the vision he was given and reminds his ship-mates to hold fast to God’s promises. In the storms of life we need to remember the vision and the promises God has given us. The Bible gives each of us a vision – a picture – of heaven, our future, eternal home. A place full of God, His peace and joy, a place where there are no more tears, suffering or pain. Each of us has also received many promises. Promises that God will be with us through the storms, that He hears our cries, that all things work to our good.
Ultimately, Paul, the other prisoners, the soldiers and sailors reach land, and all of them survive the shipwreck and the storm. I don’t know the storm you are facing today. Some storms are so intense, so devastating that it seems hopeless. But to those who believe in Jesus, we have a sure and certain hope. Don’t despair, cry out to God, trust His promises, the One who calmed the storm and walked on water will run to you!