He gave thanks in the storm
Acts 27. Imagine it’s 60 AD. You’re with the Apostle Paul, traveling by ship across the Mediterranean Sea. No motors or electronics. Paul was en route to Rome. He had been falsely accused of serious crimes and had been held in custody awaiting trial for more than two years.
Knowing that he wouldn’t receive justice from Porcius Festus, the new governor of Judea, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen by appealing his case to the Caesar.
Eventually Paul and some other prisoners were loaded onto a boat. At Myra, a port city on the southern coast of Lycia (modern Turkey), they boarded a larger ship — a cargo ship carrying grain from Egypt to Rome. But when the ship put out to sea, it encountered contrary winds. After changing course and sheltering briefly behind the island of Crete, the ship set out again. This time gentle breezes filled the sails. But not for long! A huge storm — a typhoon — struck and blew the ship off course. Clouds were thick. Rains were heavy. Winds whipped up waves that battered the ship.
The storm was so strong that even the seasoned sailors began to fear for their lives. To lighten the ship, they threw some cargo and gear overboard. Fearing the storm would drive them all the way down to the sandbars of Syrtis (coast of Africa), the sails deployed a sea anchor to slow the ship’s movements. After a few days and nights without seeing the sun or stars, the sailors had no idea where they were. After a few more days of violent weather, just about everyone on the battered ship had given up hope.
But the Apostle Paul remained hopeful! Why? Because Paul had an inner source of comfort. It’s not that Paul was comfortable. Physically he was as miserable as everyone else on the doomed ship. But Paul drew strength (comfort) from the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul knew that he belonged, body and soul, in life and in death, to a mighty Savior! He knew that the saving work of God in Jesus Christ was true because Jesus had risen from the dead! As Paul followed Jesus, he knew that he was an undeserving but forgiven, beloved child of God and that no matter how the voyage turned out he was headed for glory.
About three years before this, the Holy Spirit led Paul to write a letter to the church at Rome. Paul remembered what God had revealed through him. Storm or no storm, Paul knew that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Storm or no storm, Paul knew that there’s an unbreakable chain in God’s plan of salvation: that predestination is linked to calling, calling to justification, and justification to glorification (Romans 8:29-30). Storm or no storm, Paul knew that nothing in all creation would be able to separate him from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39).
Do you see how these Gospel truths were a comfort to the Apostle Paul? Do you see how they can also be a source of strength to you if you know and rely on God’s promises? Romans 14:8 says, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die we die to the Lord. So whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s.” Today you’re alive. Eventually you will die. Perhaps you’ll die violently in a shipwreck or peacefully under hospice care. Perhaps you’ll die suddenly in an accident or after plenty of warning because of a progressive disease. One way or another you will die. You will need hope. You will need strength. You will need God.
The Apostle Paul practiced what he preached. Eventually the wind-driven ship approached the island of Malta. Soon it would run aground and break up. Soon everyone on board would be in the water either swimming or drifting to shore. Soon everyone would be in crisis. Paul encouraged everyone to eat something. They’d need strength to get to shore. Paul prayed, giving thanks to God. He didn’t wait until after the crisis. He thanked God during the storm.