I have always fancied going on a cruise in the sun and 15 years ago I got my chance. In 2004, I was invited to co-lead a late Autumn Cruise through the Mediterranean for MasterSun, a Christian travel company. It was billed as the “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem” cruise. We visited some of the Biblical sites on Crete, Jerusalem and Galilee, and some of the sites of churches planted by Paul and the Apostles in Turkey, Patmos and Greece.
There were daily lectures to give about the significance of the places being visited the next day and the situation of Christian communities today. And we did indeed pray for the peace of Jerusalem. MasterSun had already invited a host from Christian Friends of Israel and they wanted someone to provide another perspective – hence me. When my name appeared in the publicity for the cruise, however, a rather eccentric Pentecostal minister warned in a prophecy that the ship would sink. MasterSun didn’t seem too worried but I did some research on the kind of whales that live in the Mediterranean.
The cruise actually went very smoothly. Apart from the last night. We encountered a rather violent electrical storm in the Aegean Sea not far from where Paul encountered his. This one had everyone on deck taking photos of the impressive thunder and lightning display. All except me. Being a little deaf without my hearing aids, I slept soundly right through the night. I heard all about it the next day at breakfast. It is the nearest I have come to experiencing the kind of crisis Paul describes in Acts 27. You may like to turn to it with me (and check out the outline in your weekly News)
The fact is, all of us, at one time or another, will find ourselves in a crisis. Sometimes we cause our own problems, sometimes we have no choice, but everyone experiences times of crisis. And it doesn’t seem to matter how good we’re trying to be. As the Scriptures say, “The rain falls on both the just and the unjust.” So how do we deal with a crisis? Like Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army crying “Don’t panic, don’t panic”? How can we stay calm? How can we maintain our confidence and courage, regardless of what happens?
The Apostle Paul was on a ship headed for Rome. He was a prisoner. While on board, God told Paul to tell the crew not to leave the harbour because there was going to be a great storm in the Mediterranean Sea. But the sailors – like the rest of us – were impatient. They ignored what God had told them through Paul and sailed right off into the storm. (Acts 27:9-12). In the opening verses we discover three reasons people get into a crisis. I wonder if you can identify with any of them.
Three common reasons people get into a mess
There are three common reasons why people get themselves in a mess in Acts 27:10-13:
1. Listen to the experts
‘Paul warned them, “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.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship.”’ (Acts 27:10-11)
The centurion, instead of listening to Paul, followed the advice given by the ship’s pilot and owner – they had a vested interest – the cargo was probably worth more than the ship. It seems that everyone’s got an “expert” opinion. When you start asking the wrong experts, you’re going to get yourself into a mess.
2. Go with the majority
“Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.” (Acts 27:12)
Since the harbour was unsuitable in winter, they took a vote. The majority decided that the ship should sail on, hoping to harbour in Crete instead. The fact is – the majority view is often wrong. We can get ourselves into all kinds of trouble by following the prevailing opinion. By going along with the most popular ideas. If you want to encounter a crisis, listen to so called ‘experts’ and go with the majority.
3. Let circumstances decide
“When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete.” (Acts 27:13)
When a gentle south wind began to blow, the sailors thought the circumstances looked favourable. But it is crazy to ignore what God says, even if circumstances look good. If God says, “Wait in the harbour,” you’d better wait in the harbour. Three common reasons people get into a mess. Listen to experts. Go with the majority. Let circumstances decide. If that is how we often get into a crisis, see if you can identify with three common mistakes people make once they are in a crisis.
Three common mistakes people make once in a crisis
When the sailors found themselves caught in a storm, they made three mistakes that the rest of us also often make when we also find ourselves in crisis:
1. We let ourselves drift
“Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.” (Acts 27:14-15)
The first thing that storms tend to do is to cause us to let go of our goals. We forget where we’re headed. We forget our values and just start drifting. You just let the waves beat you back and forth, and you go wherever your problems take you. Helpless. We let ourselves drift hoping the problem will just go away. But it doesn’t. How often have you heard someone excuse their behaviour “I couldn’t help myself” Avoid drifting. Stay out of danger zones where you lose self control. But if we let ourselves drift, what happens next?
2. We start throwing things overboard
“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.” (Acts 27:18-19)
The ship was in danger of being overwhelmed by the waves, so they dumped the valuable cargo overboard to lighten the ship. When that was not enough, they began to throw overboard some of the essential equipment needed to sail the vessel. Isn’t that what we are tempted to do in a crisis? To throw caution to the wind. In a crisis we are tempted to jettison the very things that are important to us. The ship was full of grain. A valuable cargo but to survive they dumped it into the sea. What do you value most? Your reputation? Your credibility? Your character?
In a crisis, first we are tempted to drift, hoping the problem will go away. When it doesn’t we are tempted to jettison our values, we rationalise, we get pragmatic, we try and cut our losses and run. When that happens we are vulnerable because we have nothing to hang on to. They were drifting helplessly and tempted to throw overboard everything of value. When that fails to remedy our situation what happens next? Finally,
3. We 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.” (Acts 26:20)
In an extreme crisis, we eventually get to the point of despair and give up hope. When we’ve thrown that away, we have nothing left. Imagine the scene. The sailors were in total darkness after 14 days and nights. They were without food and without sleep. They were exhausted, fearful, terrified. They were in a tiny ship in the middle of the raging Mediterranean Sea, drifting in a storm. No life raft, no safety equipment, no buoyancy aids, no radio, no distress flares, no rescue services. No hope.
Afraid of sinking, they were drifting helplessly. They had already thrown everything of value overboard and with nothing left, they had given up all hope. Perhaps you feel like that right now. Maybe you’ve been going through a problem that’s been tossing you back and forth, and you’ve been ditching the things you value and now you’re at the point of despair: “What’s the use? There’s no hope. This is an impossible situation.” But remember the sailors: They gave up hope because they had forgotten that God is in control. They had forgotten that God had a plan. They had forgotten that God can inject hope into an absolutely hopeless situation.
Three common reasons people get into a mess. Listen to experts. Go with the majority. Let circumstances guide.
Three common mistakes people make in a crisis. We let ourselves drift. We ditch the things we value. We give up hope.
The amazing part of this story is Paul’s reaction: Despite being ignored and rejected, despite being in great danger, sharing the same plight as everyone else on board – he remains calm and confident. He displays courage in the crisis. Absolutely nothing is fazing him.
The sailors’ reactions were the natural responses that we tend to have in a crisis, but anybody can be a Christian when things are going great. The test of our faith is when the problems come. What should you do when things look like they’re falling apart and your ship appears to be about to disintegrate? 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.” (Acts 27:29)
The safest thing to do when you get in a storm is to drop your anchors. Slow down. Stand still. Situations change, but the Bible says that the person who puts his trust in God is immovable. (Psalm 125:1)
Paul displayed such rare courage because he was secured by three tremendous truths that serve as anchors for the soul. When the winds of crisis blow you back and forth, these three truths will stabilize you in the storm:
1. Trust in God’s Presence
In the midst of the storm Paul says,
“Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me.” (Acts 27:23)
God sent a personal representative, an angel, to say to Paul, “I’m with you. I see you in the stormy Mediterranean Sea in that little ship.” We need to remember that while we may not see God, he sees us. God promises in the Scriptures, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) Over and over the Bible says that wherever we are, God is right there with us. I never go through anything all by myself because God is always with me. No matter what situation you’re going through right now, God is with you. He is the Anchor that you can fully trust. Trust in God’s presence. Secondly,
2. Trust in God’s Purpose
In verse 24, God’s angel tells Paul that God has a plan for his life that is greater than the temporary storm he was in.
‘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.’ (Acts 27:24)
You are not an accident. You’re not here on earth just to take up space; God has a specific purpose and plan for your life – beyond the problems you’re facing right now. No matter what happens on the outside, external forces cannot alter God’s purpose for your life, as long as you say, “Lord, I want to do your will.” If you need stability right now, trust in God’s presence. Trust in God’s purposes. Thirdly.
3. Trust in God’s Promises
In verse 25, Paul says,
“So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as He told me.” (Acts 27:25)
Does God keep His promises? Without fail. You may be going through a crises right now. It is not an accident that you are here. Your problems may seem overwhelming, and you think you’re going under for the last time. But appearances are deceptive. Its true – for what ever reason, you may lose the cargo. You may lose the tackle of the ship. You may lose your ship. You may even get wet, but you’re going to make it, because of the promises of God.
Three common reasons people get into a mess. Listen to experts. Go with the majority. Let circumstances guide. Three common mistakes people make in a crisis. We let ourselves drift. We ditch the things we value. We give up hope.
Three truths that will stabilise you in the storms. Trust in God’s presence. Trust in God’s purposes. Trust in God’s promises.
What should we do while we’re waiting for God to keep his promise? 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 truth of God’s word and pray for daylight. What was the result? Morning came! Verse 39 says,
“When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could.” (Acts 27:39).
And at the end of this particular crisis, in the last verse, we read, “In this way everyone reached land safely.” (Acts 27:44)
All 276 people jumped overboard and got safely to land. In the storms of your life, God says, “I’m with you.” Let his truth stabilize your life and give you the confidence you need in every crisis you face. You may be going through some difficult times right now, but God has a purpose for your life. There’s a reason for it all, and by God’s grace, you’re going to make it!
With grateful thanks to Rick Warren and his book, God’s Answers to Life’s Difficult Questions for inspiration and wisdom.