wrecked: biblical truths to hold onto when life seems overwhelming
Remember summer vacations? What did you do as a child? I spent most of my summers in upper Wisconsin at my grandparents cozy cottage on Alma Lake. I loved it up there. The swims in the spring-fed lake were refreshing, fishing was superb, and fresh coniferous air was bountiful. Mmm, I can still taste dads north-woods fish fries.
There was one summer, I went fishing with dad. We puttered in our old aluminum fishing boat far from the cottage through a channel to a nearby lake. It was a beautiful day and the lake was so clear that it looked like a giant aquarium. I remember the fishing being great, however, in an instant, the situation changed. Winds picked up. Dark storm clouds rolled into sight over the tall pines. And a wall of rain was tromping it’s way across the lake.
We quickly picked up anchors, strapped on life jackets, and puttered as fast as we could back to the cottage. Our little 10hp Evinrude motor was no match for the storm. We were soon overtaken. The rain hit with a force that stung the skin. We had never seen bigger whitecap waves on this little lake as we did that day. Water from the rain and waves filled our boat and I was tasked with scooping out water because it was bogging down the boat. Needless to say we survived the storm, but we arrived to my grandparents cottage wetter than the fish we caught.
My boating story is minuscule compared to Luke’s masterful account of a storm on the Mediterranean Sea. Now, Luke is no sailor. He’s a doctor. Yet, in Acts 27. he describes with amazing accuracy the techniques used by sailors in his day to guard against shipwreck. Also, Luke weaves into the story biblical truths and themes repeated throughout the book of Acts. These are biblical truths to hold onto when life seems overwhelming. What do you do when life seems overwhelming? What truths do you hold onto?
1) GOD EMPOWERS THOSE WHO OBEY HIS SPIRIT (vs.1-20)
In the gospels, the disciples were weak and worthless, but in the book of Acts they became powerful and productive. How is that? The Holy Spirit empowered them. Power for life and ministry comes only through the Holy Spirit (vs.9-10). Real power belongs to God and is given by God. How is it that Paul perceived the voyage would be with injury and loss? The Spirit made Paul perceptive. It was already past the fast celebrating the Day of Atonement (September-October) and rarely did any ship sail between September and November because the sea was too dangerous and treacherous. Ironically, no one listened to the man empowered by the Holy Spirit and what happens is just as he said (vs.11-19).
There are two sure ways to to diminish the role of the Holy Spirit in your life and ministry. First, is to grieve the Holy Spirit (cf. Ephesians 4:30), wherein you do the things the Spirit doesn’t want you to do. Second, is to quench the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Thessalonians 6:19), wherein you don’t do the things the Spirit wants you to do. In either case, you decide to take the self-guided tour, ignore alarms to danger, and gravitate to your self-comforts when life seems overwhelming. Been there? Me too. It is a sure way to snuff out the power of the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, there are many signs given in Scripture of a Spirited-empowered life. I will briefly give three. The first is comfort. In John 14:16, the Holy Spirit is our Helper and Comforter who promises never leave or abandon us. The Spirit helps us live free from fear, worry and anxiety. Second, is heeding caution. The Holy Spirit alarms us to danger. I don’t think He does it through hunches or fuzzy feelings, but through visible road blocks (Acts 16:7) and pure conviction. Third, a Spirit-empowered life walks with confidence. For we walk by faith not by sight. We believe God can be trusted. He is faithful. He comes through. He hears us. He is with us. And that gives confidence for life and ministry.
The question a Christ-followers doesn’t need to ask is, “Do I have the Holy Spirit?” The question I must ask is, “Does the Holy Spirit have me?” It is only the Holy Spirit who fills and empowers my life and ministry. Only He opens stubborn wills, awakens darkened hearts, and makes men alive with His Word. Without Him there is no hope (v.20). Without Him I am weak and worthless like Simon doing magic in my own power (cf. Acts 8), but with the Spirit I am powerful and productive even when everything around seems a wreck. God empowers those who walk with His Spirit.
2) GOD EMBOLDENS THOSE WHO BELIEVE HIS WORD (vs.21-26)
Paul’s ship incurred much injury and loss. It’s as if the storm spanked them. And while the situation has their attention Paul speaks with boldness (v.21), saying, “I told you so.” not to continue the spanking verbally, but rather to point them to his earlier words as being a prophetic warning from God (cf. v.10).
Like all spiritual fathers, Paul wisely mixes hard words with soft words and encourages the beaten and bruised words of hope (v.22-24 “take heart”). For that night, during the storm, Jesus came and assured Paul that the storm would not incur any loss of human life. He reminded Paul not to fear because he “will stand before Caesar,” which was a promise given by Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and confirmed by many others (cf. 9:15; 23:11). If God has said something nothing can deter it. It’s a sure thing. Nothing will make it untrue. Nothing can block His promises or plans. Not even the worst winter storm at sea or persecution on land will not stop Paul from getting to Rome. And God shows mercy to all on board because He has on mercy Paul. How do God’s words to Paul encourage you to “take heart” when life seems overwhelming?
Interestingly, when Paul speaks of God, he does not refer to Him as the Creator of heaven and earth, or the God of providence, or the God who rules over the wind and the waves. He refers to God to whom he belongs and serves. Paul considered his life as God’s possession. He is God’s bondservant (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20; Romans 1:1). It didn’t take much convincing on the Damascus road and it emboldened him on route to Rome.
Paul, with boldness proclaims that what God has said will come to pass just as He has said (v.25-26; cf. Psalm 14:1). God is exact. He always hits the bullseye. Sometimes it is less difficult to believe in God than it is to believe in God’s says. This is especially true when you voyage through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet God’s Word is sure. Like Paul, let’s fix our eyes on the end goal. (cf. John 14:1-2) For Paul, the road that leads to Rome is the road that will lead Home.
3) GOD EXTRAORDINARILY PROVIDES FOR THOSE WHO SERVE HIM (vs.27-44)
We’ve come to the eye of the storm and it gets worse before it gets better. Almost like life, eh? Here’s what happens next: the soldiers cut the ropes to their only life boat (vs.27-32), the shipmen eat their last meal and dump the remaining wheat overboard (vs.33-38), then they throw the anchors into the sea in a last ditch effort to run the ship ashore (vs.39-44a).
In the midst of the chaos, when life seems overwhelming they are able to share in God’s provisions. They are encouraged by a meal and trust God for their next. And as God said, in the end, the soldiers spare the prisoners, and Paul and all 276 people survive the storm (v.44b; “…all were brought safely to…”; cf. 28:1). God provides and keeps His promises. Isn’t that all we need to know?
Do you reflect on God’s provisions? How God has brought you safely through? I have kept journals since I was 15 years old. Sometimes I read back a year or two and observe all that God has done through difficulties, disappointments, trials, hurts, struggles, hardships and wrecks.
- 3.2.1996 – I lost my wallet with a newly acquired drivers license on a ski trip in Colorado. I found it later hallway sticking out of a snow bank. God provides.
- 3.2.1999 – My beloved grandma Joan had recently passed away. I lived with her a lot while growing up. She left me enough money to pay for my college tuition for the next two semesters. God provides.
- 3.2.2003 – I spoke to a group of teens in South Africa from Psalm 1. Later that night, a friend told me that one teen girl committed her live to Christ. Today she celebrates her 11th spiritual birthday. God’s provides.
- 3.2.2004 – My aunt Karen overdoses on drugs and takes her life. My family is broken, but open and allows me to comfort them with the word of Christ at her memorial. God’s provides.
- 3.2.2009 – Sarah and I fast from kissing during our engagement. Not easy. God provides.
- 3.2.2014 – Learning Arabic in Chad. Following God to the ends of the earth. God provides.
God has brought me safely through. You too, I assume. May the words “brought safely through” be a banner of truth today and in the days to come. God extraordinarily provides. Paul later writes to the church at Corinth while in Rome, following the shipwreck,
“I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.” (2 Corinthians 11:16-32)
Have you seen God empower you through His Spirit? Embolden you as you believe His Word? Seen Him extraordinarily provide for your needs? These are truths to hold onto when life seems overwhelming.
Communion Reflection: Remember what Paul did in the company of all the soldiers before they eat? He blessed the food and prayed (v.35). This is not the Lord’s Supper, but a simple meal prayer. Yet how is this similar to the meal Jesus shared with His disciples in the upper room? (cf. Luke 22:19-20) Jesus had the end goal in mind. It was His last meal before His death. In just a few short hours He would be wrecked, wrought, beaten and mocked, bearing the wrath of God in our stead. As we take communion, let’s celebrate with Paul a death march we’re all on keeping the end goal in mind.
Years ago, my wife, Sarah, wrote and sang this entitled, Shipwreck. It is so fitting to this text today. Listen and enjoy.