Every pilgrim on this journey must suffer some storms in life. If you have lived long enough, you have suffered some pain, some heartache. It is not if the storms will come, it is when the storms will come.
Thomas Paine, one of our early founding fathers, was seeing a storm approaching the colonies when he said: “These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country.”
How many young Christians have started out on the journey, only to be confronted by a treacherous storm and then threw in the towel, saying “This is not for me”? They were ‘summer soldiers’ and ‘sunshine patriots’. When they were eating the summer fruits and experiencing the thrill of victory after victory, they were happy and content. But when they experienced their ‘Valley Forge,’ the ‘sunshine patriots’ were ready to quit.
Acts 27 is a marvelous piece of literature. It tells the story of Paul and some other prisoners who were loaded onto a ship to be taken to Rome. Paul must surely have doubted that he could be tried fairly for his Christian beliefs in pagan Rome. The future must have looked pretty bleak for him, but we don’t see Paul moping about the ship feeling sorry for himself. Instead, Paul was transforming a desperate situation into an opportunity to witness to the scores of prisoners who were soon to be used as bait for the lions and entertainment for the masses.
Paul issues a warning: “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. (v. 10, 11)
“When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.” V. 13-15
The men in this boat reached deeply into their maritime experience to try every trick they could think of in their attempt to survive. First, they tried to bind the hull of the boat together with ropes to keep it from splitting to pieces. Then they began to throw cargo (wheat from Egypt) overboard in order to save themselves.
“When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” (v. 20)
How tragic it is when a soul has given up all hope. Not long ago, Michael Jackson’s daughter tried to commit suicide. She had surely ‘given up all hope.’ But hope is always there in the worst storm, in the deepest valley. And sadly, people can’t see it; they can’t sense its presence, and some give up.
“My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”
When the storm was raging at its worst, Paul rose up to speak: “Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.” (v. 23-25)
What are some of the reasons this is happening to me?
1. Sometimes we bring the storm on ourselves. God asked Jonah to go preach in Nineveh, but Jonah did an about face and high-tailed it to Tarsus, where he had an unfortunate encounter with a big fish. We often bring the storm upon ourselves because of disobedience.
Paul was probably the only Christian on the boat. He was a man of God. But “instead of listening to what Paul said,” they took advice from non-Christians, from pagans.
I often see young people who are feeling anxiety about their future. They gather about them a list of people who might give them advice, and this seems like a wise thing to do. But they often go down the list until they find enough people to tell them what they want to hear, and then they are off to do what they want to do. This is foolishness dressed in wisdom’s clothing.
“When a gentle south wind began to blow,” they cast off. Don’t be deceived by the “gentle south winds” in life.
We should first get on our knees before God and then seek council from those Christians who have learned lessons that can only be learned from being battered by the storms of life.
2. Sometimes God brings storms into our lives. He sent Job through a horrific storm. He asked Abraham to sacrifice his own son. There are many instances recorded in the word of God that indicate His willingness to subject us to great difficulties in order to test our faith.
Jesus told his disciples to get in the boat and cross the sea. They encountered a terrific storm. He knew they would. The best learning takes place in the storm, not when the “gentle south wind” blows. The storms God brings into our lives are opportunities to bring glory to Him.
3. Sometimes others bring storms into our lives. I’ve done some marriage counseling for engaged couples. A week before the marriage, they are basking in the ‘warmth of the south wind’. The tempest has not yet come. God sanctifies us in our marriages. What better way to teach you the fruits of the Spirit than to match you up with someone NOT like you. What magic is shared by the older couple that makes them so sweet after fifty years of marriage? It wasn’t the “gentle south wind” that did it. It was enduring and learning from the storms of life that created sanctified sweetness in their character.
I met a man a few weeks ago. I observed him in the setting we were in for a couple of hours. He has a severely handicapped granddaughter whom he and his wife have permanent custody of. I watched him love her and dote over her and constantly worry about whether she was comfortable. It was obvious to me, as I watched, what impact the grandfather was having on the life of the granddaughter. I left wondering what effect the granddaughter was having on the grandfather. It must be a difficult trial to be burdened with someone so needy.
Several weeks later, I discovered that a lot of people in my circle knew this man. He was associated with a former church that I was also associated with. I began to ask, “Do you know Mr. Taylor?” “Oh yes, what a wonderful man of God.” He didn’t become a wonderful man of God by accident. He didn’t attain his deep spirituality and close walk with the Savior by basking in the “gentle south winds”. There is little doubt he was purified by the fiery trials of his life.
If you have the courage to pray to be more Christ-like, expect to endure some very difficult storms. The storm is God’s chisel to knock off the rough places in your character.