Shipwreck Scenario 3: On a ship to Rome
The Apostle Paul was granted his right of Roman citizenship and an appeal to Caesar for the accusations the religious traditionalists had made against him. Acts 27 is Luke's travelogue of the journey to Rome and the shipwreck that nearly cost the lives of the 276 travelers. Luke's vivid account is a lesson plan in basic seamanship and has been instructive for Harriet and me as we have dealt with the two most prominent "without warning" storms that have swept over our lives in the last few years: my stage four cancer, surgery, and chemotherapy in 2004; our son Brian's horrific murder in 2011. Those lessons are especially fresh right now. Harriet was diagnosed with breast cancer just last week. Shipwreck Scenario 3 will be our lesson plan as her surgeon finalizes a treatment and surgery regimen over the next couple of weeks.
1. Seek God's wisdom and guidance, and depend on it.
It's the "C" word and it evokes dread, anxiety, and uncertainty in those who experience it and those close to them. Cancer is one of the nastier storms of life, but certainly not the only one. Tragic loss, broken relationships, financial disaster, work stress, family pressures, and dozens of other emotional triggers cast us into raging seas. When the travelers in Acts 27 set sail, Paul brought the wisdom of heaven onto the ship. But, the ship owner, the crew, and the Roman guards aboard, all portrayed as unbelievers, over-rode his counsel to take what they believed to be the best route for their journey. They did not submit to his Godly advice and sailed their own way. When the storms of life assault us, there's usually no lack of input for survival strategies. That's all well and good, the encouragement, comfort, and well-intended experience of others. Then, there's God's promise of wisdom, that if we ask for his wisdom, it will be given (see James 1:5-6). His wisdom must be sought without doubt. James adds that "the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind" (James 1:6). This doubt raises the storm level. We must seek God's wisdom and guidance, and depend on it.
2. Find assurance in God's promises.
As the northeaster grew in intensity, the Apostle Paul was visited by an angel. This messenger from God promised that Paul and his shipmates would survive the storm, which they did (see Acts 27: 44). That promise gave Paul boldness and assurance to apply Godly wisdom to their circumstances. How we are strengthened when steered by the sure promises of God. In 2004 God gave Harriet a Bible promise about my cancer diagnosis and treatment---
For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 30:17, ESV
Yes, it was out of context. Still, this promise gave her the spiritual stamina and courage to care for and encourage me through the ordeal. She was our spiritual leader during the four months of my recovery. I am reminded every morning that she prayed this promise over me with fervent trust. That was 13 years ago.
On the night after we learned about Brian's murder, God gave me two promises that have comforted and sustained us for six years.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up
in due time.
1 Peter 5:6, NIV
But he gives us more grace.
James 4:6, NIV
These two promises have given us assurance and endurance so that we can, as one book author noted, get through what we'll never get over.
3. Jettison the unnecessary cargo and tackle that weigh on us.
Seamen are schooled in storm survival strategies. In the early stages of the Acts 27 storm the crew dumped their cargo overboard. Later, as the storm escalated they discarded the ships tackle. Eventually they cut their anchors and put their lifeboat to sea. The promise God gave Paul instilled them with courage. They believed they would endure the storm and the eventual shipwreck. Believing God gave them hope and peace beyond their traditional means of survival. Storms will often reveal what is essential in life and what is not, that is, if we have eyes to see. We can discover the spiritual discipline to trust his promise and jettison what is unnecessary.
4. Be nourished for strength to endure the shipwreck.
The 276 souls on board the Acts 27 ship went without food or nourishment for fourteen days (Acts 27:33). In God's wisdom Paul recommended that they all take food so they would have strength for the shipwreck. He took bread, gave thanks to God, and they all were nourished. Then they threw the remaining wheat into the ocean. it reminded me of the debilitating effects of life storms and looming shipwrecks. They drain us, empty us of physical, emotional, and spiritual reserves. That is, unless we are physically, emotionally, and spiritually nourished throughout the journey.
Shipwrecks happen in this life. The wisdom God gave the Apostle Paul on the ship to Rome has provided Harriet and me the peace and hope to endure the shipwrecks that have temporarily thrown us off course. We review this wisdom often, knowing that the God who gave it to Paul 2,000 years ago, and to us over the years, will sustain us in the storms we'll face in the future.
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