How to Weather the Storms of Life
I was born in Florida near the Atlantic Ocean and lived there most of my life. My blood is about 95% salt water! That's why I love the wonderful story of the sea in Acts 27. It's so graphic that when you open the Bible to this chapter, you can almost feel the salt spray in your face.
As you read this eyewitness account of a great shipwreck, use your imagination and you will be able to taste the salt. You will feel the swell of this ship as it rises and falls on the billows. You will hear the wind as it moans and groans and screams, hear the booming claps of thunder, and see the fingers of lightning as they play across the sky.
Not only that, but you will see the stark terror on the faces of these mariners as they say to themselves, "Tonight we die. We'll perish at sea." Finally, you will see how God delivered them--and what this deliverance means for us today.
The Lessons of the Storm
Have you ever wondered why an entire chapter of the Bible is devoted to a shipwreck? While it is history, it is much more. I believe the Holy Spirit through Luke is using this storm as an illustration of how we can weather the storms of life.
You see, life is like a voyage, and the circumstances of life are like the weather. Sometimes there is smooth sailing. But at other times we will encounter storms because we are sailing on the sea of time between two eternities.
Often we get caught in storms that are not our fault. That's the way it was for the Apostle Paul in Acts 27. He was a prisoner on this ship, traveling from Caesarea to Rome to be judged--and he did not want to sail. In verses 9-11 a decision is being made whether to continue the voyage despite bad weather:
"Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them, And said unto them, 'Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives.' Nevertheless [a very important word!] the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship more than those things which were spoken by Paul."
So they set sail, and verses 12-14 describe a howling hurricane that suddenly began to pound the sea with its fist and swept that little boat to disaster. No wonder Paul did not want to set sail!
Many times we find ourselves caught in disastrous circumstances. For example, a marriage partner may say, "I want out of this marriage," and walk away. That home is suddenly thrown upon the winds and the rocks. Even though he or she didn't choose to break up the marriage, the other partner is caught up in that storm.
During your lifetime, you will find yourself in all kinds of storms. Sometimes it will be because you're sailing contrary to God's will, as these mariners were. But other times, like Paul, you will be caught up in circumstances beyond your control.
Five Ways to Sink Your Ship in Life's Storms
As we examine Acts 27:9-14, I believe we find five good reasons that these seamen sailed contrary to the will of God. I call them five ways to sink your ship in life's storms.
The Compulsive Way
The first of these ship-sinking ways is found in verse 9. Notice the first phrase: "Now when much time was spent." These men were trying to decide whether to sail, so they said basically, "We've stayed here long enough. Let's do something, even if it's wrong." There are a lot of people who act out of compulsion. They quit school, get divorced, drop a job, move from one church to another out of compulsion. They're just doing something without either the peace or the will of God.
We need to stay where God put us until He tells us to move. We are not wasting time when we wait on God. Sometimes people will ask me to do this or that. I tell them I want to pray about it. They say, "No, I need an answer right now."
So I say, "Okay, the answer is no." The Holy Spirit leads you, but He never drives you. Don't make your decisions until you soak them in prayer.
The Consultation Way
Another way to sink your ship is through consultation. The Roman centurion who was in charge of the prisoners heard the Apostle Paul warning him not to go (v. 10). On the other side, the master and the owner of the ship wanted to go full steam ahead. The centurion had to make up his mind.
We can imagine him thinking, "Am I going to listen to this preacher and his so-called revelation from God, or am I going to listen to the shipping expert?" So, in consultation with an expert, the centurion made a decision which was contrary to the Word of God (v. 1l).
There is nothing wrong with experts. Thank God for people who know their business. But you had better learn to go to the Word of God. When you consult with other people and get advice that is contrary to His will, you are on the way to sinking your ship!
The Comfortable Way
The third way to sink your ship in the storms of life is the way of comfort. Notice that comfort was one of the reasons which caused them to want to sail (v. 12). The port they were in wasn't a good place to spend the winter; it wasn't "commodious." So they said, "We want to do what will be best for us. Let's take the easy way."
The easy way is almost always the wrong way! As Christians, we are called to endure hardness. The devil always says, "Take the easy way. Don't do anything that will cause you any discipline or require restraint. That's too hard. Don't do it."
So many people make their decisions on an animal level. An animal eats, drinks, sleeps, and cohabits whenever he feels like it. That's what I mean by animal living, and too many people in today's America make their choices this way. But when you make your decisions based on comfort, before long you are going to be uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.
The Consensus Way
Acts 27:12 shows us a fourth way to sink your ship: "Because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence."
The centurion had already consulted with the ship master rather than with the soul master, and evidently there was a big debate on the ship. Finally the centurion said, "Let's put it to a vote. How many people think we ought to sail?" And about 272 hands went up. The "more part," the majority, said, "Let's go."
Do not make your decisions by majority vote! The majority is almost always wrong. Even in the average church the majority is almost always wrong. The majority of church members don't even come to prayer meeting. The majority are not soul winners. It breaks my heart to say it, but that is true.
Of course, the majority is going to be right sometimes, but you better learn not simply to do what most folks are doing. Fifty million Frenchmen can be wrong. The fact that "the more part" voted to sail did not mean that it was the will of God. Don't settle for majority opinion and fail to consult the mind, the Word, and the will of God.
The Circumstances Way
You can also cause yourself a shipwreck by making your decisions on the basis of circumstances. Look at verse 13:
"And when the south wind blew softly, supposing they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete."
What does that mean? By compulsion, consultation, comfort, and consensus they had made up their minds to sail. Then came the coup de grace. Somebody said, "Would you look at that? I'm certain we ought to sail now. There's the south wind blowing softly. What a wonderful time to sail!" In other words, the circumstances were just right.
But circumstances are the most deceiving way of all to sink life's ship. So many people say to me, "I knew what I did was God's will because the opportunity was there. God just gave me that opportunity." But these people don't check with God. They just check the wind.
When you take off whichever way the wind is blowing, depending on signs or circumstances instead of God's will, you may find that soothing south wind turning into a horrible, howling cyclone. That's exactly what happened to the ship carrying the Apostle Paul.
Compulsion, consultation, comfort, consensus, and circumstances. They all lined up, so the centurion decided to set sail. It was not Paul's will, nor was it God's will, but they sailed anyway . . . right into the teeth of a terrible storm.
But there are other lessons for us in this passage. I want to share with you three glorious truths that will help you weather the storms of life.
Guarded from the Storm
As a child of God, the first thing you need to know is that God guarded Paul from the storm. In verses 22-24 Paul told the terrified crew that no one's life would be lost despite the fury of the storm. God still had plans for His man.
What God said to Paul in effect was, ''I know that you didn't want to sail. I know you wanted to do My will. I know you were swept up in circumstances beyond your control, and I'm going to take care of you.
"Furthermore, not only am I going to take care of you, Paul, but I'm also going to give you the lives of these other people on board." The passengers and crew didn't realize it, but Paul actually saved their lives.
My friend, the people of this world don't realize it, but it is Christians who keep God from sending judgment on this earth. Did you know that before the tribulation horrors can take place, God will take the Christians out of this world? Before God destroyed Sodom with fire and brimstone, He took Lot out of Sodom.
Some people say, "These Christians are troublemakers." One of these days, those people will be rid of us Christians and then their ship is surely going to sink. When the saints are taken home in the rapture, you might as well try to dam up Niagara Falls with a moonbeam as to try and keep back the power of evil that will sweep across this world.
God guarded Paul from that storm, and I know that when I get caught in storms beyond my control God is going to take care of me. You might object, "But what about all of the Christians who are martyred? What about those who are put in prison?"
The answer is that God takes care of them, too. Luke 21:16-18 is an amazing passage that ought to put some steel in your backbone. Our Lord is talking about what His people will suffer: "Ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends." Sounds pretty dangerous, doesn't it? But read on: "And some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake."
I really believe that some Christians who are living today are going to die for Jesus. You may die for being a Christian. Those are the kind of days we are living in. So where is all of this protection I've been talking about? It's in verse 18: "But there shall not an hair of your head perish."
Jesus is saying that though unbelievers may kill your body and bury you in the ground for a little while, they can't really hurt you. Why? Because Jesus also said, "Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" (John 11:26).
They may put you to death, but not a hair of your head will perish. Death isn't the end, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Just as God took Paul through that storm, He is going to take us through every storm of life.
Gladness in the Storm
Not only did God guard Paul from the storm, He gladdened Paul in the storm. Paul was calm on the deck of that ship; he may have even had a smile on his face.
"But after long abstinence" [Paul had been praying] Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, 'Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer" (vv. 21-22). Had Paul lost his cork? The others must have thought so. When he said that, they probably felt like hitting him. Here the ship is about to sink and Paul is saying, "Cheer up. I believe God."
Thank God for a faith that can praise in the middle of a storm. When the storms of life are raging, Lord stand by me. Paul had the joy of the Lord down in his heart in the midst of the storm. Friend, that is real Christianity.
If I had seen Paul walking on the deck of that ship, I might have asked, "Paul, who puts that smile on your face in the middle of this storm?"
He would answer, "The same God who gave me songs in the night when I was in the dungeon at Philippi and began praising my Lord."
If you know the Lord, there is no storm that can take the joy out of your life. But if you are not saved, here is what the storms of life will do to you. Those poor people who were sailing with Paul lost all hope as the storm raged (v. 20). It's a sad scene.
People of that day didn't have radar or radio, of course. They sailed by the stars at night and by the sun at day. But this terrible tempest blew them off course and it got so dark they couldn't even see the stars.
Life is easy when the gentle south winds are blowing and you can chart your course. Right now, you may be doing fine. You may be able to get out your "chart" and see that your finances are fine, your retirement plans are on track, and you know how you're going to pay for your kids' education.
But what are you going to do when the storm hits and you can't see the sky? You had better learn to trust something that no storm can blot out.
Wandering Out of Control
What do the unsaved do when the stars disappear from their sky? They wander out of control. Look back at Acts 27:15: "When the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive." The rudder didn't mean anything. The set of the sail didn't mean anything. As their dreams dissolve, many people realize to their dismay that they have no control.
Let's face it. The man without God is going to get blown off course! All the dreams, all the plans, all the ideals, and all the visions of his manhood and his youth dissolve. Then all he can do is "let her drive," let his life wander out of control.
Transgression Is Hard Work
Not only do the unsaved wander without direction when the storms of life hit. They also double their efforts. "And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat" (v. 16).
Those mariners were working hard. They were pulling on the boat. They were pushing on the beams. They were bailing water. They were undergirding the ship. They were working, striving, straining to keep things together.
Some people think it's hard to be a Christian. Friend, it's hard not to be a Christian! The Bible says the way of the transgressor is hard. People take more pains to go to hell than the Christian does to go to heaven. Sin is a cruel taskmaster. People strive and work when they're sailing contrary to God.
Sin Is Wasteful
People without God also waste. "And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship; And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship" (vv. 18-19).
First they tossed out all the cargo. When that was not enough, they tossed out the furniture and the tools, the tackling, everything. Why? They were trying to lighten the ship to help it stay afloat.
Profit was not the motive here. Survival was the motive. That's what happens to folks when the storms of life come and they are driven by the wind. They are laboring hard, but they are sinking deeper and deeper in the water. Sin begins to cost them everything. They just start throwing it all overboard.
There are people today who refused to listen to God. Now they would give everything they own to have their son sober again, to have their wife sane again, to have their marriage back again, or to have their health back again. But sin is costly; it is terribly wasteful.
Wishing Won't Work
So the sailors on this ship poured its cargo into the sea. Then they did something sad: they began wishing. "Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day" (v. 29).
Don't you feel sorry for them? Here they are like scared little children, wishing the sun would come up, wishing they could see the stars. But Paul knew how to get alone and get with God. He knew how to pray. We have a generation that has nothing to hold onto when the storms come. People are in hospital rooms in pain, or in divorce court, and somebody says, "Well, good luck. Hope things work out."
There is an old song which says, "Wishing will make it so." But it won't! What substance is there in a wish? It is like walking on eggshells and Jell-O. We need something substantive to survive the storms of life.
No Withdrawal from the Storm
The mariners of Acts 27 wandered and worked and wasted and wished. Then what did they do? They withdrew. "And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea . . . Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, 'Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved' " (vv. 30-31).
Some of those sailors figured they could get out of that little mess by just pretending to let out some anchors while letting down the lifeboat. But we can't escape the storms of life by withdrawing in a lifeboat.
The unsaved certainly try. When the stars fall out of their sky and they are blown off course by life's storms, unbelievers withdraw into alcohol, drugs, or divorce. They withdraw by running away from home. They withdraw by dropping out of society. Some even withdraw by suicide. That's all they know how to do.
But as the storm raged in Acts 27, there was a man of God there who had a smile on his face and could say, "Be of good cheer, for I believe in God." God guarded Paul from this storm. God gladdened Paul in this storm. And finally, God guided Paul through this storm.
Guidance through the Storm
In verse 24 God said to Paul, "Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar."
What was God saying to Paul? "Paul, you are in a storm. But I have a will for you. My sovereign will is that you testify before Caesar. My sovereign will is that Caesar hear what Paul has to say."
Look back at Acts 23:11 and mark this verse: "Thou [must] bear witness also at Rome." Then mark Acts 28:14 where Luke wrote: "And so we went toward Rome." In between was this awful storm. But before the storm God had said, "Paul, you are going to Rome." After the storm Luke said, "We went toward Rome."
Now remember that the journey of Acts 27 was not the will of God. Those sailors were out out of the will of God, but they did not stop the will of God. Where man rules, God overrules. A sovereign God is going to have His will done.
Let me tell you how that applies to me and to you. As a Christian I may disobey God. As a Christian I may stumble, I may falter, I may even fail. But one thing is certain. Because I am saved, God has predestined me to be like Jesus and all hell can't stop that! I am going to be like Jesus, because that is the sovereign will of God.
Yes, I have a free will. Sometimes I backslide, sometimes I disobey, sometimes I get in a storm. But one day I am going to stand faultless before the throne--and hell can't prevent it!
God guided Paul through the storm. The church may falter, flounder, or seem to fail. But one day our Lord will present it to Himself a glorious church without spot or wrinkle. Jesus said, "I will build my church.'' And all hell can't stop it.
The kings and the rulers of this world can meet and plan. They can plan in the Pentagon and in the White House. They can plan in the Kremlin and in Red China. The armies of this earth can march. But that is only where man rules. Where God rules, the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ! And all hell can't stop it.
"Jesus shall reign where'er the sun, doth his successive journeys run. His kingdom spread from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more." Planet earth is going through a terrible storm, but one day the kingdoms of this world are going to become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. Amen!
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