How To Sail Successfully Through The Storms Of Life: Acts Series #40
I love the twenty-seventh chapter of the book of Acts. I love walking by the ocean. I love this wonderful story because it’s so graphic. As you open the Bible to this chapter you just feel the salt spray in your face. It’s a story that was written as an eyewitness account of a great shipwreck.
I want you to use your imagination. If you do, you’ll taste the salt. You’ll feel the swell of this ship as it rises and falls on the billows. You’ll hear the winds as it moans, and groans, and screams, and whimpers. You’ll hear the booming claps of thunder. And, you’ll see the flashing fingers of lightning as they play across the sky. You will see the faces of these mariners and see the stark terror that’s on their faces as they say to themselves, “Tonight, we die. We’ll perish at sea.” Yet, you’ll see how God delivered them and you’ll learn a lesson.
Have you ever wondered why did God use an entire chapter to tell about a shipwreck? Why did the Apostle Luke, who could write so much, why did he spend an entire chapter telling used what happened? I’ll tell you what I think, because while this is history, it is more than history. Luke who wrote his history to teach a theology. We can use this story to apply to our lives in this 21st century.
Because you see life is like a voyage. The circumstances of life are like the weather. Sometimes there’s smooth sailing, sometimes there’s storms. We are caught up sometimes in these storms because we are sailing on the sea of time between two eternities.
Now, let me say that many times we are caught up in storms that are not our fault. That was true of the Apostle Paul. Paul did not want to sail. Now, he was a prisoner on this ship and he was going from Caesarea to Rome to be judged. They were in a particular place and they were trying to make up their mind whether or not they ought to set sail.
We join the study in verse 9, chapter 27: “Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them”—That is he warned them and advised them— “And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives. Nevertheless”—And, that nevertheless is a very important word there, “Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul. And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the south west and north west. And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete. But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon” (Acts 27:9–14).
I want to write it again. Paul did not want to set sail. Many times, we find ourselves in the same situation. We’re just caught up in circumstances. Sometimes there’s a man who will move from this city to another city and take his family with him. Now, it’s not God’s plan that the man moves. The man moves for the wrong motive. His company says, “If you will go from here to there, we will give you more money.” He doesn’t pray about it. He doesn’t ask God about it. He just says, “More money, that’s the answer.” So, he takes his kids out of school. He withdraws from the church where he is working, serving God, and having a ministry. He’s out of the will of God and he’s about to get into a storm. He didn’t pray. He didn’t seek God’s will. He’s about to get in a storm and the little children, they’re about to get into a storm too. They didn’t get to vote. They’re just prisoners on that ship and they go.
There are people who are in a marriage and one of the marriage partners says, “I want out of this marriage.” He or she just steps out of the marriage and brings the storms of life into that home. The home is cast upon the winds, and the rains, and the rocks and the storms of life.
We find ourselves that way as citizens sometimes. Congress votes to do it. As a result, we as citizens sail on the ship of state and sometimes storms come to our nation that impact all of us, even though the storms were not of our making.
I. We Can Be Guiltless For The Storm
The first way to sink your ship is compulsion. In verse 9 we read, “Now, when much time was spent.” That is, they said, “Well look, we’ve stayed around here long enough. Let’s do something even if it’s wrong.” There are a lot of people who just act out of compulsion. They quit school out of compulsion. They get divorced out of compulsion. They drop out of a job because of compulsion. They move from one church to another. They are just doing something. They don’t have the peace of God, they don’t have the will of God. They are just simply saying, “Well it seems to me like I’m wasting time where I am so, I’m going to do something else.”
We should stay where we are until God tells you to move. You’re not wasting time when you wait on God. Sometimes people will say to me, “Now, James, I want you to do this or that.” I say, “Well, let me pray about it.” They say, “No, I need an answer right now.” I say, “Okay, the answer is, ‘No.’” The Holy Spirit of God leads you, but He never drives you. We should not make your big decisions until we soak them in prayer.
The second way to sink your ship is consultation. In 27:10, we read, Paul said, “And sirs I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading, lading and ship, but also of our lives.” Now, watch it. “Nevertheless, the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship more than those things which were spoken by Paul.”
The centurion was the Roman army officer in change. The centurion hears from two people. On the one hand, there is the Apostle Paul. He’s God’s man. He says, “Don’t go.” Over here is the master and the owner of the ship. And, he says, “Go.” And, so this centurion has to make up his mind. “Am I going to listen to this preacher and his so-called revelation from God or am I going to listen to this man who is an expert there’s a man who owns the ship. He knows the ways of the wind, and the waves, and the sea. I mean, after all you don’t get to be a ship master overnight. This man is an expert. I don’t need to know preachers are always so impractical.
The centurion chooses against the Word of God. With the consultation with an expert he makes a decision. Thank God for the experts. Thank God for the lawyers. Thank God for the physicians. Thank God for the psychologists. Thank God for the psychiatrist. Thank God for the professor. But, friend, when they controvert the Word of God you’re going to have enough spiritual sense to go with the Word of God.
He may be an expert in some areas, but you better learn to go to the Word of God and the will of God. So many times we go out here and consult with people and get advice from people and that advice is contrary to the Word of God. You’re about to sink your ship.
The third way to sink your ship is comfort. Comfort was something that caused them to want to sail. Notice verse 12, “And because the haven,”—That is the port—“was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised them to depart thence also.” That just wasn’t a good place to spend the winter. It wasn’t commodious. That is, you wouldn’t want to spend the winter there. And, so they said, “Look, we want to do what’s going to be best for us. We want to kind of pamper our flesh. We want to take the easy way.”
The easy way is almost always the wrong way. We, as Christians, are called on to endure hardness. The devil always just says, “Well, just come on, take the easy way. Don’t, if it’s going to cause you any rigor of the flesh if it’s going to cause you any discipline if it’s going to cause any restraint if it’s going to cause any saying, ‘No,’ then don’t do it.”
So many people in America make their decisions on the animal plane. An animal eats when he wants to eat. He drinks when he wants to drink. He sleeps when he wants to sleep. He wakes up when he wants to wake up. He cohabitates when he wants to cohabitate. Reproduces when he wants to reproduce. That’s just animal living. Most people in America are making their decisions the same way. When you make your decisions based on comfort, before long you’re going to be very uncomfortable. That’s right, very uncomfortable when you take the easy way.
The fourth way to sink your ship is consensus. In Acts 27:12, we read, “And because the haven was not commodious to winter in the more part advised to depart thence also.” Now, what happened is this, the centurion, he’s already had consultation with the ship master rather than the soul master. He says, “Well, evidently there was a big debate on the ship.” So, finally he says, “All right, let’s put it to a vote. How many people on board this ship think we ought to sail?” And, two hundred and seventy-two hands went up. The more part said, “Let’s go.”
We are not called to make our decisions by majority vote. The majority is almost, not always, but almost always wrong. There were ten spies regarding Canaan, who said, “It can’t be done.” Two who said, “It could be done, should be done, and by God’s grace, it will be done.” Did you know even in the average church the majority is almost always wrong? The majority is almost always wrong even in a church like this one. The majority don’t even come to the prayer meeting. Think about it. The majority are not soul winners. The majority is going to be right sometimes, but you better learn not to simply say what most folks are doing because fifty million Americans can be wrong. The fact that the more part advised to sail did not mean that it was the will of God.
I’ve seen people trying to make a decision and in their heart and in their mind they almost know what they want to do before they do it, but they go around from person to person trying to wrap up a net vote. Getting enough people saying, “Hey, I think that will be all right. I think that will be all right.” They are not consulting the mind, The Word, the will of God.
The fifth way to sink your ship is circumstances. In Acts 27:13, we read, “And, when the south winds blew softly, supposing they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence they sailed close by Crete.”
Think about this scene. They are voting and saying, “All right by compulsion, and consolation, and consensus we’re trying to make up our mind.” But, then here comes the coup-de-gras. About that time somebody says, “Would you look at that. Well, now I know we ought to sail, the south wind is blowing softly. What a wonderful time to sail.” And, they said this is a time that we ought to go because circumstances are right.
This is the most deceiving of all. I’ve had so many people say, “Well, you know, I knew it was God’s will because there was an opportunity. God just gave me this opportunity.” They don’t check with God. They just check the wind. Whichever way the wind is blowing. The soothing south wind was about to turn into a horrible, howling, devastating cyclone.
II. We Can Be Guarded In The Storm
The very first truth is, as a child of God, He guarded Paul from the storm. In 27:20-24 we read, “And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us”—that means it was a big one—“all hope that we should be saved was then taken away. But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me…”—Now, it was all he could do not to say, “I told you so”—“Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.”
Now, what God said to Paul is, “Paul, I know that you didn’t want to sail. I know you wanted to do My will. I know Paul that you were caught up and swept up in circumstances beyond your control. And, Paul, I’m going to take care of you. And, by the way, not only, Paul, am I going to take care of you. I’m also going to give you the lives of these other people on board.” Paul saved their lives. It was Paul on board that kept them from drowning.
Even though the people of this world don’t realize it, but it’s the Christians that keep God from sending judgment on this earth already. Did you know that? Did you know before the tribulation horrors can take place the Christians have to be taken out of this world? Before God destroyed Sodom with fire and brimstone, He had to take Lot out of Sodom.
You know, people, they say, “Oh these Christians, they are the troublemakers.” One of these days they’ll be rid of us. And, then the ship is going to sink sure enough. When the saints are taken out at the rapture, the saints are the salt of the earth, when the saints are taken out you might as well try to dam up Niagara with a moonbeam as to try to keep back the power of evil that’s going to sweep across this world.
It was those sinners that were saved because of this saint on board. God said to Paul, “Paul, I have given you these that sail with you.” God guarded Paul from that storm. I know that when I get caught in storms beyond my control that God’s going to take care of me.
You say, “Well, what about all of the Christians who die? What about the Christians who are martyred? What about the Christians who are put in prison?” God take care of them too. You say, “Well, what about the ones that had their heads cut off?” God takes care of them too.
Some people who read this book will be put to death for Jesus. We don’t realize how close we are to these days. Some of you will be put to death. More people are dying for Jesus today than any other time in history. You say, “Well, James, where’s all of this protection that you’re talking about.” Well, in Luke 21:17, Jesus is talking about persecution and says, “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake. But there shall not an hair of your head perish.”
What is Jesus saying? He is saying that there is coming a time when Christians will be put to death and the same time he is saying they will be protected. They can’t hurt you. Jesus said, “…whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die…” (John 11:26). Even though they are going to put you to death and not a hair will perish. God has given us an illustration here that as God took Paul through that literal storm, He’s going to bring us through every storm and God guarded Paul from the storm.
III. We Can Be Gladdened In The Storm
Paul is on the deck of that ship with a big smile on his face. In verse 21we read, “But after long abstinence,” Paul’s been down there praying, “Paul stood forth in the midst of them and said, sirs, ye should have harkened unto me and not have loosed from Crete to have gained this harm and loss. Now, I exhort you, be of good cheer.” When he said that I bet they felt like hitting him in the mouth. I mean, here the ship is about to sink and Paul is saying, “Hey, everybody, cheer up. For I believe God.”
Thank God for a faith that can praise in the middle of a storm. When the storms of life are raging, Lord stand by me. He stood by Paul and said, “Paul, be of good cheer.” And, Paul was of good cheer. Paul had the joy of the Lord down in his heart in the middle of the storm. If I’d seen Paul walking on the decks of the ship, I might have said, “Paul, who gives you this smile? Who puts that smile on your face in the middle of that storm?” He’d say, “The same one that gave me songs in the night when I was in the dungeon in Philippi.” When I praised my Lord, there’s no storm that can take the joy out or your life.
However, if you’re not saved, let me tell you what the storms will do to you. I want you to see what a storm will do to you if you’re not saved. Inn the Word of God we see what happens to these poor people. In verse 20 we read, “And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.”
They did not have the modern means of navigation. They sailed by the stars at night, they sailed by the sun at day, they sailed by the shore, they took their chart, they took their measurement from the shore, their surroundings and so forth. They’re blown off course, and it gets so dark that the stars go out of their sky.
What do the unsaved do when the stars go out of their sky? It is easy when you can chart your course. You’re doing fine. The south winds have been blowing, and you’re sailing along. You get out your chart and you say, “Well, now let me look at my finances, that’s fine. Now, let me look at my plans for retirement, well now that’s fine. Now, let me see what we’re going to do with the kids, how we’re going to educate the kids. Now, that’s fine. Now, let me see here I need to lose ten pounds. Well I’ll do that, you know.” And, you’re just sailing along you’re just charting your course. I mean, you’re able to measure, you’re able to plot, you’re able to plan, you’re able to guide your ship. The south wind is blowing. Nevertheless, what are you going to do when the storm hits and you can’t see the sky? You’d better learn to trust something that the storms can’t blot out.
I’ll show you what these sailors do and it’s a tragic thing. First, they wander. We read in Acts 27:15, “And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive.” What does that mean? It means that the rudder didn’t mean anything now. It means that the set of the sail didn’t mean anything now. It means they were in circumstances beyond their control. Their dreams dissolve and their control is gone. The man without God is going to get blown off course and all of his dreams, and all of his plans, and all of his ideals, and all of his visions that he has in his manhood and his youth, they all will dissolve.
Second, not only do they wander, they work. In verse 16 we read, “And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat.” What does that mean to come by the boat? That is to bring the boat around and get the boat heading into the wind so it won’t sink. They are laboring, they are pulling on the boat. They are pushing on the beams. They are bailing the water. They are under girding the ship. They are saying, “Oh, if we can just keep afloat.” They are working and straining.
You know people say, “It’s hard to be a Christian.” I want to say it’s hard not to be a Christian. The Bible says, “…the way of transgressors is hard” (Proverbs 13:15). People take more pains to go to Hell than the Christian does to go to Heaven. Don’t feel sorry for me because I’m a child of God. Don’t feel sorry for me because I am saved.
Third, they waste. We read, “And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship; And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship” (Acts 27:18).
One day they toss out all the cargo. When that’s not enough they toss out the furniture and the tools, the tackling, everything. They are trying to lighten the ship. At this point, profit is not the motive. Survival is the motive. That’s what happens to folks when the winds of adversity and the storms of life come and they are just driven by the wind. They are laboring so hard. They are sinking deeper and deeper in the water. Sin begins to cost them everything. They are just pouring it all overboard. There are people now who would not listen to God who would give everything they have now to have their son sober again, to have their wife sane again, to have their marriage back again, to have their health back again. We don’t nearly need a war on poverty so badly as need a war on sin. In the days ahead, our nation will be pouring the cargo into the sea.
Fourth, they wish. We read, “Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day” (Acts 27:29). Don’t you feel sorry for them? Here they are saying, “Oh, I wish the sun would come up. I wish I could see the stars. I wish that I could see the sun. I wish I had some light.” They are just wishing.
Paul knew how to get alone and get with God. He knew how to pray. He knew how to intercede. We have a generation that has nothing friend, when the storms come, they have nothing. You go into them, they are in the hospital room they are in agony and pain, they are in the middle of the divorce court, they are in criminal court, they are in the bankruptcy court, and somebody says, “Well, good luck. Hope things work out.”
There’s an old song that says, “Wishing will make it so.” Friend, it won’t. They just wish. I mean, what substance is that, to wish? It’s like walking on eggshells and Jell-O. We need something substantive. The stars have gone out of their sky, and they wander and they work, and they waste, and they wish, and then they withdraw.
We now read, “And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under color as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 27:30–31).
There were some sailors who said, “We know what to do. There’s a little lifeboat over there, let’s go to the back of the ship and make out like we’re going to let out some sea anchors. What we’ll do is we’ll just let that little lifeboat down and we’ll get in that lifeboat, and we’ll just get out of this mess. We’ll just withdraw and if we can just withdraw somehow, we’ll be safe.”
Paul says, “You won’t be saved by withdrawing. You won’t be saved by running. If you try to run you are going to perish.” What do the unsaved do when the stars go out of their sky? They withdraw into alcohol. They withdraw into drugs. They withdraw into divorce. They withdraw by running away from home. They withdraw by dropping out of society. Some of them withdraw by suicide. That’s all they know how to do.
However, when all of that was happening to these people there was a man of God who had a smile on his face and could say, “Be of good cheer for I believe God.” God guarded Paul from this storm and He gladdened Paul in this storm!
IV. We Can Be Guided Through The Storm
We read, God said to Paul, “Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar…” (Acts 27:24).
What, what did God say to Paul? He said, “Paul, you’re in a storm, but I’m going to tell you something Paul, I have a will for you. My sovereign will, Paul, is this that you testify before Caesar. My sovereign will is I want Caesar to hear what Paul has to say.” God says, “Listen to me Paul, it must be done.”
In Acts 23:11, God said to Paul, “…so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” Then in Acts 28:14 it says, “…so we went toward Rome.” However, in between these verses, there was a storm. Before God says, “Paul, you’re going to Rome.” After the storm Luke says, “And, we went to Rome.”
Read carefully what I say. I can’t understand it all because that journey on that ship was not the will of God. Yet, even though they were out of the will of God, it did not stop the will of God. Are you listening to me? They were out of the will of God, but it did not stop the will of God.
Where man rules, God overrules. There is a sovereign God and that sovereign God is going to have His will. Let me tell you how that applies to me and how that applies to you. As a Christian I may disobey God. As a Christian I may stumble, I may falter, I may fail. Yet, because I’m saved God has predestined me to be like Jesus. Over time, I’m going to become like Jesus.
Yes, I have a free will. Sometimes I backslide, sometimes I disobey, sometimes I get in storms, but one day I’m going to stand faultless before the throne and all Hell can’t stop it. God guided Paul through the storm. The church may falter, the church may flounder, the church may seem to fail, but one of these days our Lord Jesus will present it to Himself a glorious church without spot or wrinkle. Hell can’t stop it.
The kings of this world and the rulers of this world can meet and they can plan. They can plan in the Pentagon, and they can plan in the White House. They can plan in the Kremlin. And, they can plan in Red China. However, this is where man rules. Yet, where does God rule? “…The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ…” (Revelation 11:15). Hell can’t stop it.
This planet earth will go through a storm, but the kingdoms of this world are going to become the Kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ. God guarded Paul from the storm. God gladdened Paul in the storm. God guided Paul through the storm. You must go to Rome. Hallelujah!