Our ability to possess peace in a storm is directly dependent on what we are anchored to. If you’re battling a stormy sea while anchored to a pebble, you’re probably not going to fare too well. If you’re anchored to a massive, unmovable rock, though, you can rest in peace regardless of what is going on around you.
In this installment of Peace in the Storm, borrowed from a recent lesson in our Sunday School class, we have a chance to see how a Christian – the apostle Paul – anchored to God responds in the midst of a storm. You can turn to the 27th chapter of the book of Acts, or click here, if you would like to see the full text of the story.
As the chapter begins, we find the apostle Paul sailing to Rome as a prisoner, where he is scheduled to meet with Caesar to appeal his imprisonment. He is one of several prisoners on the ship, in the custody of an army officer named Julius, who is a captain of the Imperial Regiment. (I find the scene more dramatic when I play Darth Vader’s “Imperial March” in my mind as Julius walks the deck of the ship.)
Luke, the author of Acts, who was with Paul on this journey, lets us know from the beginning that the conditions were not favorable for a sea voyage. And since it was late in the fall, the weather would be getting progressively worse. Sure enough, they had several days of rough sailing and struggled to stay on course, costing them a lot of time. (Acts 27:7-9)
In verse 10, Paul speaks to the ship’s officers: “I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on – shipwreck, loss of cargo, injuries, and danger to our lives.” The officer in charge of the prisoners was more inclined to listen to the ship’s captain, though, who believed they could make it just a bit further before docking for the winter.
This is where things really take a turn for the worst – think of The Perfect Storm or the final moments of Titanic. Starting with verse 14, here are a few lines from the story to give you an idea of the conditions:
“…wind of typhoon strength caught the ship and blew it out to sea…” (v. 14)
“…[men] banded the ship with ropes to strengthen the hull…” (v. 17)
“…gale-force winds continued to batter the ship…” (v. 18)
“…crew began throwing the cargo overboard…” (v. 18)
“…terrible storm raged unabated for many days…” (v. 20)
The last words of verse 20 say it all: “at last all hope was gone.”
And in a moment of hopelessness, Paul reveals the four anchors:
“21bMen, you should have listened to me in the first place… You would have avoided all this injury and loss. 22But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. 23For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, 24and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ 25So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. 26But we will be shipwrecked on an island.”
(Acts 27:21b-26 New Living Translation)
Although not the key to this lesson, verse 21 reminds us that sometimes we get ourselves into some bad situations! Just so there wouldn’t be any confusion on that matter, Paul makes the point clear to the ship’s officers.
The real importance of this passage – for the purpose of this writing, anyway – is that we see the four anchors that kept Paul steady while his shipmates had lost all hope:
- He was in the presence of God. An angel of the Lord visited Paul. Remember the verse, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Paul knows that God is with him. And when God is with you, nothing else matters.
- He was God’s possession. He had the confidence that it was God to whom he belonged. And if you have accepted Jesus Christ’s salvation of your life, then it is God to whom you belong, too. And if you belong to God, then nothing can touch your life without going through God first. So regardless of the challenges you face, God is in control. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that whatever tests or trials He allows for us, He will provide a way out for us.
- He had a sense of purpose. Not only did he belong to God, but it was God whom he served. And God gave him a glimpse of his immediate future: “you will surely stand trial before Caesar.” When we know and focus on our purpose in life – even if only the broad purpose of living our lives to glorify God – we are not distracted by the temporal circumstances, but we can see the bigger picture.
- He has a positive confession of his faith. In verse 25, Paul confessed that he believed God. Notice that he didn’t say he believed in God, but that he believed God. Even the devil believes in God, but believing God is on a whole different level. Do you believe that if God is for you, none can stand against you? Do you believe that God is a God of love and mercy? Do you believe that God has a plan for your good, and not a plan for your harm? Do you believe that God is a provider, a healer, a comforter?
With those four anchors, Paul had no fear. And Paul was not meant to be extraordinary in that way. God desires that we all have that kind of faith in Him.
I’m asking that God increase my faith, so I can remember that whatever storms may blow around me, even in the most hopeless of situations, I can hold firm to Him.