In April 2008, I began teaching a series in the book of Acts at my church. Little did I know at the time that pretty much in the middle of that series, the greatest tragedy, trauma and shipwreck of my lifetime would take place.
I have had my share of hardships in life – more than many, but not as many as some. I had hoped that maybe the big shipwrecks were over. I always knew there would be storms and difficulties in the Christian life, but hopefully no big, traumatic events. I had hoped there would be relatively smooth sailing all the way to heaven. But with the unexpected death of my oldest son, Christopher, that was not to be.
The apostle Paul, a prominent figure in the book of Acts, was shipwrecked three times. In those days, travel by sea was primitive. It was harsh. You took your life into your own hands when you boarded one of those first-century sailing vessels. And Paul had lived through a shipwreck three times.
So how do we survive a shipwreck in life? We all will have them in some way, shape, or form. The reality of life is that you are either coming out of a storm or going into another one. That is just the way it is. There are times when you will have smooth sailing. There are times when the sky will be blue and the sun will be shining. There will be beautiful moments between the storms. And, not all the winds that blow in life are necessarily devastating.
On Paul’s voyage to Rome, we read in Acts that “the south wind blew softly” (Acts 27:13 NKJV). Sometimes that is the way it is. The south wind is blowing softly. You feel the warmth of the sun on your shoulders. Thank God for those moments. But then a storm comes.
Sometimes people think that when they are in the will of God, they will have smooth sailing. That was not true of the apostle Paul. He seemed to face every kind of adversity imaginable. He had many enemies that were jealous of his success and would follow him around and undermine him, intending to destroy him. He had many setbacks in life that involved beatings and physical harm. And he had a personal, physical disability that he prayed to be healed of, but God said no.
Commenting on those setbacks, he wrote, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9 NLT).
Five years before making his journey to Rome, Paul wrote the believers there, “I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you” (Romans 1:10 NIV). In other words, “Hey, would you guys pray for me? I am coming your way. And pray the Lord gives me a prosperous journey by the will of God.” Did God answer his prayer? Yes.
We hear a lot about prosperity today. A lot of preachers love to focus on that. Some are even classified as prosperity preachers. And I think, unfortunately, they have hijacked a biblical word. God wants a believer to prosper. But the problem is with the meaning that people pour into that. For many, prosperity means that you never will be sick. You never will have problems. You will have plenty of money. And life will be just great.
But the reality is that you can live a prosperous life in the will of God and still face conflict. Paul went through shipwreck on his way to Rome. But he had a prosperous journey, by the will of God, because of what it ultimately accomplished. So that is a different definition of prosperity than we might think of normally.
Paul survived a shipwreck of life. And as I have already said, we are all going to face storms and difficulties and, yes, even shipwrecks in some way, shape, or form. So it is time for us to get our sea legs and learn how to get through them, how to survive them and how to learn the lessons that we can only learn in such a place.
Paul’s confidence and hope was built on four principles, principles that we can apply to our storms today.
First, he was conscious of the presence of God in the face of danger. He told his fellow travelers, “Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me” (Acts 27:23 NLT). God was with Paul in his storms, and He is with us in our storms as well.
Second, Paul could have confidence through his storm because he belonged to God. He spoke of “the God to whom I belong” (verse 23). Do you belong to God? Like Paul, you, too, can say that you belong to Him.
Third, Paul could have calm in the middle of a storm because he was doing the will of God. He was on an assignment for God, so he could go with the assurance that God was with him. We are not necessarily assured of smooth sailing, but we are definitely assured of a safe arrival. And know this: As long as God has work for us to do, then we will be here to do it. God will preserve us to do it.
It has been said that you can’t direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails. I cannot control the world. I would love to if I could. But I cannot control my environment, nor can I control the circumstances that come my way. I can control my reaction to them, however. I can adjust my sail and adapt.
When hardship hits, you can get mad at God, and you can get bitter. Or, you can completely surrender and say, “Lord, I trust You, no matter what.” It is our choice what we do with the sail when storms come our way.