We are in a storm we did not sign up for with a boatload of people we did not ask for. Now what? Is there anyone on board with a compass? Anyone we can look to for a model on how to respond?
Look over at Apostle Paul — no, not the one heaving his breakfast over the gunwale; a bit further up toward the quarter deck. The one lifting his head. There. Now look at him. What is he doing? Let’s unpack Luke’s account in Acts chapter 27 to find out.
First of all, we see that he has earned the trust of those in charge. He is given a long leash because he honors those in authority. (Remember, these are the crush-first-ask-questions-later Romans, not Girl Scouts selling you Thin Mints with a smile.) The government rep taking Paul to Rome gives him freedom to be resourced by his friends, confident that this freedom won’t backfire on him. And it doesn’t.
But being labelled trustworthy is not the same thing as being heard. “Look, everyone, have you not been watching the weather patterns?” Paul implores. “Your decisions are putting us on a collision course with the sinking of the ship, the loss of cargo, and the loss of lives.”
But no one listens. Instead, they take a vote.
Instead, the three authorities on board — captain, centurion, and profit-conscious ship owner — decide to chance it, leaving a less-than-ideal place on the island of Crete called “Fair Havens” for a better place up the coast called “Phoenix.”
Press pause on thoughts about Arizona for a second and consider what the word Phoenix originally means: it is the ancient myth of a bird who deliberately self-destructs and out of the ashes rises again.
So they go for it and have hell to pay. They never reach Phoenix. Fourteen days and nights of diluvial chaos. The sailors deconstruct the ship “with their own hands” to lighten it after dumping the cargo. No one eats. Hope is abandoned. It is zero hour.
But not for Paul.
He has been praying against his own projections. He has been waiting for an encounter with his God. And the encounter has come, along with a new outcome. From that place of grateful prayer, Paul is no longer the unheard one. He is the only one left with a clear voice.
“Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘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.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.””
Acts 27:21-26 (NIV)
Paul, the unheard one, is now Paul, the encourager. Paul, the oracle.
You can bet everyone on board had been throwing up prayers like signal flares between each physical throwing up. Back then, as now, the spiritual world was a shopping mall of spirit guides and guardians to choose from. You can bet they had exhausted the list. Every worldview; every pantheon. But the only outcome was exhaustion until Paul encouraged them. Through his encouragement, he became the prevailing influencer.
And not only influential, but authoritative. When the sailors fake a move and try to jump ship on the only lifeboat, Paul declares, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” And the centurion’s soldiers — having faith in Paul’s faith — draw their swords and cut the ropes to Plan B.
It’s Paul or nothing now.
See how he cares for them: “I urge you to take some food,” Paul says. “You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he 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. ~ Acts 27:34-36 (NIV)
And so they make it. All 276. No one dies. God has “graciously granted the lives” of everybody to the one who leaned into grateful prayer through the name of Jesus; that same Savior who was so confident in a storm-tossed Galilean boat that he could actually, audaciously, take a nap. (Luke 8:22-25)
This is your calling in the storm: not, “I told you so,” but to change the outcome. Not to be carried along but to be anchored in Him. If you do not lose heart, you will go from being unheard, to being an encourager in the flavor of heaven, to being an influencer with an authoritative voice.
To get to that place, you have to go through the storm with them. You have to suffer through it alongside them. But then you are perfectly positioned for the rescue. And people are perfectly positioned to see the One doing the rescuing.
And God won’t just pull you out of the mess; He will graciously throw in the whole boatload of your fellow storm-tossed travelers. Yes, He will, if you can catch the wink of the One cat-napping in the boat; if you can ride this out leaning on Him, listening to Him, until what He is dreaming you are dreaming too; until the “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17) He promises are flowing unhindered through you in spite of the reeling deck.
And behold, the storm has just turned out to be the stage on which to display your Anchor for all to see, free and unhindered.
© Kurt Mahler
Paintings by C.W. Mundy
(1) Jonah And The Sea Of Uproar, 16×16 oil on linen
(2) Shipwreck At Malta, Apostle Paul, 36×24 oil on linen
Drawing by Fortunino Matania, circa 1900. Paul Directing the People Ashore at MaltaTagged as: Apostle Paul, culture, encouragement, government, prayer