The Storms of Life
The Bible teaches us that there are three kinds of storms in life: storms that we bring on ourselves (like Samson and his self-induced troubles), storms that God causes (like the one that Jesus stilled on Lake Galilee), and storms that other people cause (as when Paul and Silas were thrown into prison). When you are the innocent party in a crisis, that last kind of storm is especially hard to take.
So how do we deal with these crises? How do we stay calm and maintain our confidence and courage, regardless of what happens?
God put the apostle Paul, as a prisoner, on board a ship headed from Palestine to Rome. (Actually, Paul had a great desire to go to Rome and preach, but he hadn’t planned on this being the means of getting there.) After the ship ventured through the Mediterranean Sea and docked at the island of Crete, God told Paul to advise the crew not to leave the harbor because there was going to be a great storm. But the sailors were impatient to get to a better harbor, so they ignored what God had told them through Paul (Acts 27:9-12).
Paul told the sailors, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also” (v. 10). But they sailed into the storm anyway. Why? Because they were following human nature.
Impatience often gets us into trouble. When we allow ourselves to become impatient, we find ourselves faced with a storm. I have spoken with many crisis-ridden people who were impatient: impatient to get married, impatient to get a new job, or impatient to move to the other side of town. They didn’t take time to check things out with God, and they sailed right off into the awaiting storms.
There are three common reasons why people get themselves in a mess. These reasons hold true, whether the mess happened about two thousand years ago in the book of Acts or happens today, because human nature has not changed!
How We Get Into A Crisis
Wrong Guidance from the Experts
The centurion who had charge over Paul ignored his plea and instead followed the advice given by both the captain and the owner of the ship. They left the harbor. This points up the first reason we get ourselves into a mess: we listen to the wrong experts.
The world is full of people with crazy ideas, and it seems as if every week someone is proposing a new therapy or a new cult. One person will say, “The key to life is to eat bananas and yogurt.” Someone else will say, “No, the key to life is to put yourself in some strange position and go ‘ommm.’” A third person will say, “No, the key to life is to buy our seminar tapes.” It seems that everybody has a way; everybody has an expert opinion. But the fact is that experts are often wrong. Some people go around asking experts what they think until they find a person who agrees with them, just to substantiate their own biases. When you start asking the wrong experts, you are going to get yourself into a mess – or a storm. The only truly reliable expert is God.
Wrong Guidance from a Vote
The second reason we get ourselves in trouble is that we take a vote. The fact is that the majority can be wrong. Because the harbor where they were docked was unsuitable in winter, the majority of the crew decided that the ship should sail on. They hoped to reach Phoenix and its safe harbor on the other side of Crete (v. 12). Do you remember what happened when Moses first started to lead the children of Israel toward the Promised Land? The majority wanted to return to Egypt, but they were wrong. We can get ourselves into a real mess by following the prevailing opinion, the most popular ideas. If we listen to God, we will go in the right direction.
Wrong Guidance from Circumstances
The story continues: “When a gentle south wind began to blow, they [the ship’s crew] thought they had obtained what they wanted; so, they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete” (v. 13). It proved to be a bad decision. Why else do we get ourselves into trouble? Because we rely on circumstances. Notice that the Bible says there was a gentle south wind. What could be better for a nice, gentle Mediterranean cruise? The sailors thought they had gotten their wish because the circumstances looked favorable. But it is foolish and unwise to ignore what God says, even if circumstances tend to contradict it. Things may look good right now, but you may be sailing right into a storm.
I have heard people say, “Well, the decision must be okay because I feel so good about it.” A popular song from the 1970s say, “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right.” As we saw in Chapter 3, the fact is that feelings often lie. If God says, “Wait in the harbor,” you had better wait in the harbor, because the devil can arrange undesirable circumstances if you put out to sea.
As I talk with people in counseling, I hear over and over again that they thought they had obtained what they wanted but then went sailing right into a storm, just as the sailors in the book of Acts did. They found themselves caught in “a wind of hurricane force, called the ‘northeaster’” (v. 14). The ship – like so many couples – became caught in the storm and could not head into the wind.
What Not To Do In A Crisis
When we are caught in a crisis, we typically react in three ways – the same three ways the sailors did. Their reactions were typical of people under pressure. Because the sailors couldn’t head into the wind, they “gave way to it and were driven along” (v. 15). Later, “they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along” (v. 17). The first thing the storms tend to do is to cause us to drift. We let go of our goals. We forget where we are headed. We forget our values and start drifting.
Because they were not equipped with compasses and the stars were completely obscured by the storm, the sailors were in total darkness. When you are in a dark situation in which you can’t see the stars and don’t have a compass, what do you do? You drift. The waves beat you back and forth, and you are led wherever they take you. Your problems batter you back and forth. These strong currents in your life can make you feel like asking, “What’s the use? Why fight it?” And we just go with the flow.
Things don’t get any better on the apostle Paul’s voyage to Rome. “We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands” (v. 18-19). When a crisis emerges for us, first we start drifting, and then we start discarding things from our lives. With the sailors it was first the cargo, then the ship’s tackle, eventually their food (v. 38), and finally themselves (vv. 43-44)! They all jumped overboard and started swimming to shore.
Often, when we find ourselves in a crisis of life, we are tempted to throw out the very things that are important to us, the values that we have hung onto in better times. We have a tendency to throw things out because we are under pressure and want to get rid of it all. We become impulsive. We give up on our dreams. We run out on relationships. We throw away values that we learned as children.
The third thing that the sailors did was to give up hope. “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved” (v. 20). In an extreme crisis, we eventually get to the point of despair and give up all hope. The last thing we throw out when we have a problem is hope, and when we have thrown that away, we have “had it.”
The sailors spent fourteen days in total darkness on a little ship in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. They were bashed back and forth by the storm until the threw out everything and gave up all hope. Perhaps you feel like that right now. Have you been going through a problem the past week or month or past year that has been batting you back and forth? Have you come to the point where you have thrown things out, and now you have come to the point of despair? Remember the sailors. They gave up hope because they had forgotten that God was in control. They forgot that God had a plan. They forgot that God can inject hope into an absolutely hopeless situation.
Paul’s Reaction to the Crisis
The amazing part of this story is Paul’s reaction. It is completely polar opposite from the way the sailors responded to this crisis. The sailors were in despair; they said the situation was hopeless. They were discouraged and depressed and tossed everything overboard to try to keep the ship afloat. But Paul provides a different model for us. He was calm and confident. He had courage in the crisis. Absolutely nothing fazed him. The sailor’s reactions were the natural responses that we tend to have in a crisis, but they do not have to be our reactions.
One test of our faith is how we handle a crisis. When the problems come, we are tempted to despair, to drift, and to throw out the things that are really important in life. It is much easier to live like a Christian when things are going great, when all our prayers are being answered, when we are in good health, and when our income is rising. Character is revealed in a crisis, not made in a crisis. Character is made in the day-by-day, seemingly mundane, trivial things of life – the routine. Character is developed in your daily habits, but it is revealed when we get into a shipwreck, into a situation that threatens to swallow us up.
What should we do when things looks as if they are falling apart and the ship is going to crash and disintegrate? What should we do when we are battered by big problems? Look what the sailors did: “Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight” (v. 29). The safest thing to do when we get in a storm is to drop our anchors. Just stand still. Situations change, and the sands of time shift. But the Bible says that those who put their trust in God are immovable like Mount Zion (Ps. 125:1).
Often when people encounter a major problem, they want to change everything else in their lives at the same time, because the situation feels overwhelming and they can’t stand still. A person will lose his or her spouse by death or divorce, and the typical reaction is, “I’m going to quit my job. I’m going to sell everything and move to a whole new location and start over.” But that is exactly what they do not need – more change. What they need to do is put down anchors and gain some stability.
Anchors for the Soul
Why was Paul so confident? Because he was encouraged by three tremendous truths, three foundational beliefs of the Christian life that serve as anchors of the soul. These three truths can anchor you on the rock of stability, so that when the winds of crisis blow you back and forth, you will have confidence. These are truths that you can build your life on, that will stabilize you in the storm.
The first anchor in a crisis is the presence of God. In the midst of the storm Paul said, “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul” (Acts 27:23-24). From this we learn that storms can never hide us from God. We may not see him, but he sees us. We may think God is a million miles away, but he is with us and is watching us. God sent a personal representative, an angel, to tell Paul, “I am with you. I see you in the stormy Mediterranean Sea in that little ship.”
God promises in the Bible: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). “Surely I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (John 14:16).
Over and over the Bible says that wherever we are, God is right there with us. We never go through anything by ourselves, because God is always with us. No matter what situation you are going through right now, God is with you. He is the anchor that you can fully trust.
The second anchor in a crisis is found in Acts 27:24, where Paul quotes God’s angel: “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.” God told Paul, “I have a plan for your life. You are on board this ship because I have a purpose for your life that is greater than the temporary storm you are in.” The second anchor in a crisis is God’s purpose.
Every Christian ought to have a sense of destiny. No person is born by accident, regardless of the circumstances of one’s birth. You are not here on earth just to take up space; God has a specific purpose and plan for your life. Storms are simply temporary setbacks toward fulfilling that purpose. Absolutely nothing can change God’s ultimate purpose for your life unless you choose to disobey him. If you choose to reject his plan, he will allow you to do that, but the Scriptures teach that no outside person can change God’s plan for your life. God leaves that up to you. You can either accept it or you can reject it. No matter what happens on the outside, however, external forces cannot alter God’s purpose for your life as long as you say, “God, I want to do your will.”
God’s purpose is greater than any situation you will ever experience. God has a plan beyond the problems you are facing right now. The point is this: It is dangerous to focus on your problems more than on your purpose for living. If you do that, you will start drifting and discarding. You will start despairing if you keep your eyes on your problem rather than on God’s purpose for your life. Once you lose your goal, you will lose sight of the very meaning for which you exist, and you will become purposeless.
The third anchor that gives us confidence in a crisis is found in verse 25, where Paul says, “Keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.” The third anchor is God’s promise. God keeps his promises without fail. Storms cannot hide our faces from God, because God is always with us. Storms cannot change the purpose of God, because it is ultimate. Storms cannot destroy the child of God, because God’s promise is sure.
Some of us are going through devastating crises right now. Our problems are overwhelming, and we think we are going under for the last time. God says this to you: You may lose the cargo; you may lose the tackle of the ship; you may lose the ship; you may even get wet – but you are going to make it because of the promise of God. As the old saying goes, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” So, what do you do? Relax. Be confident in your crisis.
While You Wait
What should we do while we are waiting for the crisis to end? The same thing the sailors did: “Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight” (Acts 27:29). Anchor yourself on the truths of God and pray for daylight.
What was the result aboard the ship? Morning came! When daylight came, the sailors didn’t recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach where they decided to run the ship aground. All 276 people jumped overboard and got safely to land (vs. 39-44).
In the storms of your life God says, “I am with you.” Let his truth stabilize your life and give you the confidence you need in every crisis you face. Storms cannot hide God from you or you from God. You may be going through some difficult times right now, but God has a purpose for your life. There is a reason for it all, and you are going to make it safely to land!
Putting Thoughts into Action
What was one occasion when you made a decision more typical of the sailors than of the apostle Paul? How have you experienced that first anchor – the presence of God – during a recent crisis?