Staying Afloat in the Storms of Life Part 2
Lost at Sea
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
November 16, 2003

 

Main Passage: Acts 27 (NLT)

 

A little over a week ago, the news broke that my cousin’s wife had left him. Not only that, but she had left him with their children. So now he has to cope with losing her, hoping for a reconciliation, and the prospect of raising their children without her. As far as I know, this was unexpected. No one planned for it to happen, but it did. They’ve entered into a storm in their lives.

This past Wednesday, a tragic accident in Martinvale killed three young men and seriously injured a fourth. All four of these men were from Morell, and this tragedy will leave a gaping hole in this small community. My wife works in Morell a couple days a week at the pharmacy there, so she is sure to interact with some of the family members. This is a storm that these families and this community are now going through.

This past week I found out that another relative of mine is going through a storm. I don’t know the nature of the storm… I don’t know what brought it on or how serious it is… all I know is they asked for prayer.

There’s something I can say with certainty about you and personal storms…

 

You are...

  • Heading into a storm

  • Currently going through a storm, or

  • Just coming out of a storm

 

What we’re going to do this morning is take a look at a physical storm found in the Bible in the book of Acts, and draw some parallels for how we can cope with the personal storms that we endure.

The physical storm I’m talking about took place in October about 1944 years ago. Let me give you some of the background. The Apostle Paul had been arrested and was to stand trial. The charges that were brought against him were brought by the Jewish religious leaders who felt threatened by Paul and the emerging Christian church. The exact charges that they brought are recorded in Acts 24:5-6. The religious leaders told the authorities:

Acts 24:5-6 (NLT)
“For we have found him to be a troublemaker, a man who is constantly inciting the Jews throughout the world to riots and rebellions against the Roman government. He is a ringleader of the sect known as the Nazarenes. Moreover he was trying to defile the Temple when we arrested him.”

Here’s the thing: In this era, in this day and age, being a leader of any religious sect without Roman approval was against the law, and causing riots and dissention in the Empire was considered treason against Caesar and was punishable by death. So these religious leaders had caused dissention themselves and blamed it on Paul, had exaggerated some of Paul’s actions, and had manufactured other charges against Paul in an attempt to get rid of him. So Paul, being a Roman citizen, claimed his right as a Roman citizen and appealed his case directly to Caesar, which would be the equivalent of us appealing to the Supreme Court.

In order for that to happen, though, Paul needed to be transported to Rome. And that’s when things get interesting. Let’s pull up a map and take a look at this journey.

[PowerPoint]

The journey began here in Jerusalem with the final destination being all the way over here on the other end of the map. So they left Jerusalem and boarded a ship in Caesarea. This particular ship was just travelling to different ports along the coasts, and the plan was to find another ship in one of these ports that was sailing for Italy.

So they set off from Caesarea and landed the next day in Sidon, about 110 km (70 miles) north. They set out to sea again, and encountered some prevailing winds coming out of the west. So in order to use the island of Cyprus as protection, they sailed up the eastern side of the island and then across the northern side, until finally they landed in the port of Myra in Lycia. That’s where they found a ship heading for Italy and boarded it.

But when they set out from there, they were still battling the winds and made slow headway. They aimed to land here in Cnidus, but the winds wouldn’t let them hold their course, so they ended up sailing down the eastern side of Crete, finally landing in the port of Fair Havens.

But by now, they had lost a lot of time. In fact, it was after the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, which would most likely put them in early October. As a general rule, the Romans considered sailing after September 15th to be questionable, and sailing after November 11th to be suicidal. So they would have been right in the middle of that questionable period. Paul himself warned them that their voyage would be disastrous, but the centurion talked it out with the pilot and owner of the ship and they thought they’d be able to reach the port of Phoenix which was more sheltered and they could spend the winter there.

But shortly after they set off, a wind of hurricane force called the Northeaster swept down from the island, and caught the ship. They weren’t able to sail into the wind, and they ended up losing control of the ship and had to go wherever the wind took them. Which is understandable… imagine if you were out on a ship when Hurricane Juan hit. I don’t think you would have stood much of a chance, either. And we only had to deal with Juan for what, an hour or two? Paul and the gang had to endure it for fourteen days!

So for fourteen days they were tossed about by this storm. During that time, they had lightened the ship by throwing their cargo and equipment overboard, they had cut their lifeboat loose, they went without eating, and for many days they couldn’t see the sun or stars, which would have made navigation impossible. They had no idea where they were and they lost all hope of being saved. They were lost at sea.

I want to read to you the rest of this account from Acts 27. It’s a longer section, so just listen for a while. I’m going to read it from the Message version:

Acts 27:21-44 (The Message)
With our appetite for both food and life long gone, Paul took his place in our midst and said, "Friends, you really should have listened to me back in Crete. We could have avoided all this trouble and trial. But there's no need to dwell on that now. From now on, things are looking up! I can assure you that there'll not be a single drowning among us, although I can't say as much for the ship--the ship itself is doomed.
"Last night God's angel stood at my side, an angel of this God I serve, saying to me, "Don't give up, Paul. You're going to stand before Caesar yet--and everyone sailing with you is also going to make it.' So, dear friends, take heart. I believe God will do exactly what he told me. But we're going to shipwreck on some island or other."
On the fourteenth night, adrift somewhere on the Adriatic Sea, at about midnight the sailors sensed that we were approaching land. Sounding, they measured a depth of one hundred twenty feet, and shortly after that ninety feet. Afraid that we were about to run aground, they threw out four anchors and prayed for daylight.
Some of the sailors tried to jump ship. They let down the lifeboat, pretending they were going to set out more anchors from the bow. Paul saw through their guise and told the centurion and his soldiers, "If these sailors don't stay with the ship, we're all going down." So the soldiers cut the lines to the lifeboat and let it drift off.
With dawn about to break, Paul called everyone together and proposed breakfast: "This is the fourteenth day we've gone without food. None of us has felt like eating! But I urge you to eat something now. You'll need strength for the rescue ahead. You're going to come out of this without even a scratch!"
He broke the bread, gave thanks to God, passed it around, and they all ate heartily-- 276 of us, all told! With the meal finished and everyone full, the ship was further lightened by dumping the grain overboard.
At daybreak, no one recognized the land--but then they did notice a bay with a nice beach. They decided to try to run the ship up on the beach. They cut the anchors, loosed the tiller, raised the sail, and ran before the wind toward the beach. But we didn't make it. Still far from shore, we hit a reef and the ship began to break up.
The soldiers decided to kill the prisoners so none could escape by swimming, but the centurion, determined to save Paul, stopped them. He gave orders for anyone who could swim to dive in and go for it, and for the rest to grab a plank. Everyone made it to shore safely.

 

So just to finish up the map, this is where they crashed on the Island of Malta. They spent the next three months there, until after the winter and they were able to board a ship heading to Rome.

That’s a physical storm that Paul had to endure. And from that we’re going to identify a five-step action plan for when we feel lost at sea in our own personal storm.

 

When All Seems Lost: A Five-Step Action Plan

 

1. Spend Some Time Alone with God

Paul told the other men…

Acts 27:23 (NLT)
“For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me…”

We all need time to regroup when a violent storm suddenly comes into our lives. And what better way to spend that time than in the presence of our Creator. The storm may or may not be something that is part of His plan, but ultimately He does have everything under His control and you can trust Him. Spend time with Him praying and reading His Word, and seek His direction as you look for a way through the storm.

Paul spent some time alone with God. And it was in this time with God that Paul received the assurance that everything was going to be all right. He is the Master of the Wind, so when you’re going through a storm, don’t hesitate to go to Him. You can express your fears, your disappointments, your questions, your anger… and you can receive from Him a sense of security, courage, and peace.

 

2. Acknowledge His Presence

I believe that one of the things that helped Paul was knowing that He wasn’t alone, but that God was right there with Him. He told the other people on the ship about this God to whom He belonged, but it wasn’t a god who was removed from His creation, it wasn’t a god who was feasting on grapes on top of Mount Olympus, it wasn’t a god who was someplace beyond the stars. It was a God who was right there with Paul going through the storm with him.

Theologically, we talk about God as being both Transcendent (meaning that He is beyond all possible experience and knowledge and exists above this material existence) as well as being Immanent (meaning that He is right here, intricately involved in the tapestry of our lives). He cares for you.

And sometimes that’s all you need to help you through a storm: to know that you’re not alone.

Isaiah 43:2 (NLT)
When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.

Those verses are included in your notes this morning. I want you to do something… take your pens and put a box around the words “I will be with you.” That’s a guarantee. Notice something else: it says “When you go through…” You’re not given an exemption from hard times. You’re going to have to face them at one time or another. But when you go through the storm, He goes through it with you.

Psalm 23:4 (NLT)
Even when I walk through the dark valley of death, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

“In every storm God allows, He is either in the ship with us or He is walking the waves close by. Our ship cannot sink. We are safe.”
~ Bill Lobbs

 

3. Believe His Promises

After Paul told the other men that God had promised them safety, he told them…

Acts 27:25 (NLT)
“So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as He said.”

Our God is a God of integrity. He has never broken a promise, he has never gone back on His word, He has never failed, and He never will.

God promises that He will be with you always. Believe Him.
God promises healing for the broken-hearted. Believe Him.
God promises you can do all things through Christ. Believe Him.
God promises that He will renew your strength. Believe Him.
God promises comfort for those who mourn. Believe Him.
God promises rewards for those who are mistreated because of their faith. Believe Him.

This Book (the Bible) is packed full of promises that God has made, and perhaps He has made some to you personally. Believe Him. He will not go back on His promises. You can trust Him.

 

4. Count Your Blessings

Acts 27:35 (NLT)
Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it.

What a strange thing to do. The ship is in danger of capsizing, the crew have been battling hurricane force winds for two weeks, and Paul gives thanks? What does he have to be thankful for?

PARTICIPATION

You know, it’s not a bad idea to look for the blessings of God in the midst of a storm. They may not be all that evident at first, but look for them and they’ll be there. And that can have a tremendous impact on your own attitude and perspective.

Take a look at what happened to the men on the ship after Paul gave thanks…

Acts 27:36-37 (NLT)
Then everyone was encouraged, and all 276 of us began eating--for that is the number we had aboard.

Men who had been so stressed out that they didn’t even have appetites for two weeks, suddenly were encouraged and were able to eat and regain some of their strength. I think you would find the same response in your own life. Count your blessings, take note of what you have to thank God for, in spite of the storm you’re going through, and it will lift your spirits and help you make it through.

 

5. Get Rid of Excess Baggage

Acts 27:38 (NLT)
After eating, the crew lightened the ship further by throwing the cargo of wheat overboard.

[Notice the very important punctuation in this verse. It’s “After eating, the crew…” not “After eating the crew, …”]

The crew lightened their load and increased their chances of survival by physically throwing the cargo overboard. The storm they were in forced them to decide if they wanted to save their stuff of if they wanted to save their lives.

In our personal storms, we are also confronted with the opportunity to recognize what is truly important. And as difficult as it can be, our storms can actually help us clarify our priorities.

I’ll never forget all the interviews and statements made after the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. Everyone was saying how their lives would never be the same. The things they used to think were so important… career advancement, having lots of toys, achieving a position of power… none of those things held any meaning anymore. Instead, they were able to recognize that some of the things that they were neglecting were the very things that needed their attention.

You heard the same interviews. What are some of the things that people came to understand were really important?

PARTICIPATION
(family, charity, kid’s soccer games, leaving a legacy…)

 

I had an uncle who died about a year and a half ago who was kind of a Maritime Country Music legend. His name was Aubrey Hanson, and he performed for audiences for close to 60 years, established the New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame, and was along the lines of Wilf Carter and Stompin’ Tom… just not quite to the same level of popularity.

He also hosted a weekly radio program for 30 years, and on the program he had a signature song. It wasn’t a song that he had written. In fact, it was written in the late 1800’s and popularized by the Carter Family. But my uncle Aubrey also used it for decades as his theme song. Just as we finish up here this morning, I want to play that song for you because it has some good advice for anyone who is going through a storm. Keep on the Sunny Side.



Keep On The Sunny Side
by Ada Blenkhorn & J. Howard Entwisle (© 1899)

There's a dark and a troubled side of life.
There's a bright and a sunny side, too.
Though we meet with the darkness and strife,
The sunny side we also may view.

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side,
Keep on the sunny side of life.
It will help us every day, it will brighten all our way,
If we keep on the sunny side of life.

Oh, the storm and its fury broke today
Crushing hopes that we cherish so dear.
The clouds and storm will in time pass away,
The sun again will shine bright and clear.

Let us greet with a song of hope each day
Though the moment be cloudy or fair.
Let us trust in our Saviour always
Who keeps everyone in His care.


 

 

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