On his journey to Rome, the Apostle Paul did not have the advantage of air travel, so he went by sea, switching ships at various ports. Without modern storm detection equipment, Paul’s ship became swamped by an unexpected northeaster that rendered them helpless to navigate. The storm was so violent that the crew ran ropes under the ship to try to hold it together, and threw the ship’s tackle overboard to lighten the load. After many days of constant battering, they gave up hope of being saved. (Acts 27)
However, God graciously told Paul before setting sail to warn others that, “our voyage is going to be disastrous, and bring much loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” (v. 10) Yet, no one listened; and as a prisoner being transported to Rome, Paul didn’t have the option not to go. We can only imagine how Paul felt as events unfolded exactly as the Lord had said.
Life today also brings unexpected storms of illness, financial crises, relationship problems, career upheavals, etc. Unlike Paul, most of us have no warning – it simply hits. But we know what it feels like to be blown along by it, out of control with no ability to navigate. The nature of the storm itself seems to keep us trapped in it. We do everything we know to get out, lighten the load, try to survive in the midst, but as it drags on with no end in sight, we also can tend to give up hope.
Unfortunately, it is often not until storms hit our lives that we discover whether or not Jesus is our central reality. If we are frightened, stressed, worried, panic-stricken – grasping for every possible solution – then, that position is suspect. But when we have added prayer to all our activity, and the storm appears to continue unabated, the situation becomes extremely perplexing. We might go to scripture, ask others to pray for us, and even mentally review our activities to determine if we’ve been disobedient to God’s way. While all of those options are good, we could be overlooking the priority of keeping our focus on Jesus.
In reality, if waves are breaking my ship apart, I can’t help but see the destruction. Since it is physically impossible to look in two directions simultaneously, I find myself flipping back and forth from my circumstances to Jesus. Even when I try to give Him more time, am I really looking at Him, or am I focused on my expectations of Him halting the storm, removing me from the storm, and/or changing the violent nature of the storm to peace/calm?
Prior to his fateful voyage, God had told Paul He was sending him to Rome, without giving him any other details. Paul’s intimate relationship with Jesus gave him the confidence God would do what He said. When the storm or any other death-defying circumstances hit, Paul was not looking in two directions or searching outcomes. Paul was laser-focused on Jesus, so that everything else became the more out-of-focus background. When Jesus looms large in our foreground, we have the best chance of safely riding out the storm: “Remain in Me as I also remain in you.” (John 15:4a) Then we have His assurance with ever changing backgrounds. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Ps 46:1)