Acts: 27: 32: So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let if fall away.
Today’s devotional is about a shipwreck. Have you felt like you have shipwrecked some aspect of your life before? I think to some degree we all have…either by a poor choice, unfortunate circumstances, the sin of someone else, or some other reason; it’s not that difficult for us to have that “sinking feeling” in life. But I want to encourage you today, especially if you’re going through your own personal shipwreck right now…God can make a miraculous situation out of a shipwreck. With His help, you can survive the storm! You can even use that storm and ensuing shipwreck as a turning point in your life to make the proclamation that God brought you through! Picture us saying, “Yes, I went through the storm; and yes, I was shipwrecked; but in the end, by the grace of God, I’m a product of what God can do with a shipwrecked person! Amen! Let’s look at the story.
Today’s scripture comes to us in an extremely trying time in the lives of nearly 300 individuals; 276 to be exact, as the story points out. The story is that of Paul, his companion prisoners, and the guards and soldiers assigned to maintain order. Paul had been arrested and was being transported to Rome to have his appeal heard by Caesar. They had been sailing for several days and had come to harbor in a place called Fair Havens. And now, against Paul’s advice, the Roman centurion in charge had decided to sail on, instead of “wintering” in the port at Fair Havens…apparently it was very late in the sailing season and bad weather was common. It’s in this setting that great turmoil strikes those on this fateful trip.
As they left the port in Fair Havens, they were met by a gentle breeze. It wasn’t long before this breeze became a “northeaster” that began to drive their ship uncontrollably. The scripture says in verse 15 that they “were driven along.” Isn’t that how a lot of our shipwrecks in life start? At first a sin or circumstance seems like it’s a gentle breeze. It’s inviting and seems like it’s not that big of a deal. But soon the gentle breeze turns into a raging nor’easter and by then, it’s too late to get off the ship…we’ve already left the port. With that said, perhaps we could avoid some (not all) life shipwrecks by making God-directed decisions to begin with, especially those that are temptation-based, right? Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
As the men on this ship began to realize the dire situation they had gotten into, they began to throw things off the ship to lighten the load. It says in verse 19 that “they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.” It struck me when I read this that this is exactly how we usually act in our storms too. We start to try to fix it ourselves, with “our own hands.” And really, God wants us to turn to Him in those times. I heard a pastor speaking about how we often feel God turns away from us when we make mistakes and says, “Well, they’ll just have to suffer, I tried to tell them;” or “You turned your back on me, so I’m going to do the same to you.” But this is not how God seems to work. There are many stories where Jesus goes TO the one who has sinned and has made bad choices. He lets them know that He still loves them. Read the story of the woman at the well in John 4: 1-26; the story of the disciple Peter’s denial of Jesus and how Jesus specifically sought him out after the resurrection. The same could be said of Thomas after the resurrection; remember, the other disciples had faith, but Thomas “doubted.” But Jesus came TO Thomas to show him His scars. Jesus didn’t scorn these people, he sought them out. So don’t let the devil trick you into thinking that God is mad at you and doesn’t want to hear from you. No, God loves you dearly and wants a relationship with you, with all of us.
Back to the story. Part of verse 20 says, “we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” But it is here that I want us to take hold of a different way of looking at things. It seems that we have a choice to make in the midst of our personal shipwrecks. We can give up hope, start throwing things overboard, and go down with the ship; or we can be like Paul, and become an encourager. Paul makes a proclamation (Given to him by an angel) to those onboard the ship, that “no one was going to be lost, so keep up your courage.” That’s easy to say, but tough to do, right? If you’re like me, it’s a whole lot easier to “take fear” vs. take courage. I need to ask God to help me change my mindset and heart in these situations and let God take care of the situation, not me.
After 14 days they were still being driven across the sea. In fact, they had lost all sight of the sun or stars. It seemed as if they were at the mercy of the storm, but really God was in control. He’s still in control today too. It says in verse 32 that as the ship was approaching land, basically out of control, some of the sailors tried to pretend they were putting out anchors, but were actually trying to get into one of the lifeboats. When Paul noticed this he told the centurion that “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” So the centurion had the ropes to the lifeboat cut and the lifeboat fell away. I think maybe that’s what we need to do, we need to quit holding on to the usual pattern of behavior when it comes to a lot of situations, especially the shipwreck situations. The usual pattern of trying to get into our own “lifeboat” doesn’t work. Maybe God is urging us to cut away the “lifeboats” that we are so dependent on in this world and start depending more on him. The lifeboats of financial security, materialism, etc. Do we depend on these things more than God? Something to think about…
During this whole time of struggle, Paul was encouraging the men onboard to take courage. He encouraged them to eat and reminded them again of what God had promised through the angel that had visited him earlier. “Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head,” Paul would say. Maybe that’s a good strategy for us in the storms too. Go back and read God’s promises. Proclaim those promises to those around us. Encourage those who need encouraging. We’re all sensitive people and we all get scared when the ship is heading towards disaster. But think about what that situation would have been like if Paul hadn’t been onboard. I wonder how it would have been different without his encouragement and calm direction. I also wonder if God has placed us in certain situations so that we might be the encourager and helper.
Finally, it says in verse 35, that “He (Paul) took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.” Isn’t that a great example of how God can use a shipwreck to bring folks to him? Paul was a “doer” of the word, not just a proclaimer or listener. The story doesn’t say this, but I bet a lot of people on that ship came to know the Lord that day. After it was all over, I bet they reflected on Paul’s calmness in the midst of the storm. It’s a calmness that sounds and looks pretty familiar to another person that had been through quite a few storms himself…Jesus. Remember the story from the gospel of Matthew? Matthew 8: 24 says,” Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.” He was sleeping! When this storm came suddenly, like the storms of life tend to do, Jesus was there with the disciples and He’s with us too. He asked the disciples that day why they were so afraid? And then He calmed the storm. The tough part to understand is that sometimes Jesus calms the storm and sometimes he allows us to go through the shipwreck. But take comfort in this, either way, Jesus is there and He loves and cares for you.
I pray that we would grow in our faith to become encouragers to those around us going through their storms and shipwrecks of this life. They’re going to happen, we all know that…but what we need to remember is that we don’t have to “go it alone.” How did Paul’s shipwreck turn out? Well, they all made it safely to shore, all 276 of them. Did they lose their ship? Yes. Did they lose their cargo? Yes. Did their faith in God grow because of the experience? Undoubtedly, YES. Storms aren’t pleasant, but they’re a part of life. Through the strength, wisdom, and grace God gives us, let’s weather the storm knowing full well the final outcome. Land Hooooooo! We will all make it together!
Father, thank you for bringing us closer to you through the storms and shipwrecks that we go through in this life. Lord, You know that we’re scared of the storms; help us understand that that you know what’s best for us, and that all things work together for the good of those who love you. We do love you Lord, help us to love you more and be an encourager to those around us. Thank you for bringing us closer to you. Amen.
Memory Verse: Psalm 42:1: As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.