Have you ever faced really tough times? A number of my friends and family and even I have done so lately. As I pondered this recently I recalled a previous time when I had taught a lesson on the topic more than fifteen years ago. It is a given that all of us will face tough times at one time another in our lives. Some people move from one crisis to the next . . . illness of parents, personal illness, rebellious teenagers, depression, job loss, financial burdens, divorce, the so-called “mid-life crisis”. The list is endless.
The Bible provides so much sound advice on how to handle tough times. In Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus tells us not to worry about our life or about tomorrow. God feeds the birds and clothes the fields and we are much more valuable to Him than these and He will most certainly provide for us. In Philippians 4:6 (NIV) Paul tells us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” There is no need to doubt that God will provide His gifts and blessings, but you should also expect that hard work and personal sacrifice may be required on your part as well. We should never forget that we belong to God. He made us. He paid the price for us through Jesus’ death on the cross. His Holy Spirit dwells within us as born again Christians. We are precious to Him. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV) tells us “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
Paul constantly faced crisis situations in his ministry. Being rightly connected to God allowed him to weather the storms successfully. We can learn from the example of how Paul faced a major crisis in his ministry recorded in Acts chapter 27.
Prior to the events covered below, we find Paul in Roman barracks in Jerusalem. He had been taken there from the Sanhedrin where the Sadducees and Pharisees were violently arguing over his fate. The following night Jesus appeared to Paul and assured him to keep the faith and that he would testify about Christ in Rome just as he had done in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11).
The next day forty Jews formed a conspiracy under oath to kill Paul. Word of this reached the Roman commander and Paul was removed by night to Caesarea where he was turned over to the governor who said that he would hear Paul’s case when his accusers arrived. Paul was kept under guard in Herod’s Palace. After some two years in prison it was evident that Paul would not receive justice in the local provincial court. Therefore, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to Caesar. By Roman law this appeal could not be withdrawn. Even though Festus and King Herod Agrippa were convinced of Paul’s innocence and determined that he could be set free (Acts 26:32), they had no choice but to send Paul to Rome to appear before Caesar.
So Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius and the long trip to Rome started. Early on the winds were not favorable and significant time was lost. The stormy Mediterranean hurricane season was just ahead as they finally left Crete on what they thought were more favorable winds. Almost immediately the winds turned into a full-blown hurricane. The winds howled for days and the crew threw cargo and tackle overboard to lighten the load. The situation was desperate.
I. When All Hope Is Gone (Acts 27:20 NASB).
20 Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.
It would have been very important to the ship’s navigator to be able to see the sun and stars as that was the only method available to them to guide the ship to its destination. It seemed that the crew and other prisoners were blind to the possibilities and without hope. That is true of so many of us today. Our usual methods of navigating life sometime seem to be useless. But, we have the power of Almighty God available to us. We belong to Him. He will not let us flounder but will guide us through even the darkest night or the strongest storm. He will never abandon us.
II. Have Faith in God (Acts 27:22-25 NASB).
22 Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24 saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ 25 Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told.
Paul had faced such dire circumstances before and God had delivered him. Paul expressed with absolute confidence to those on the ship with him that “there will be no loss of life among you”. Paul went on to say that he belonged to God and there was no reason for him to be afraid. God’s angel had assured him that he would stand before Caesar and that “those who are sailing with you” will be safe as well. The ship would be lost, but all lives would be saved. We, too, should remain courageous in the face of difficult circumstances. Deuteronomy 31:6 tells us to “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” What a promise!
III. Don’t Give Up the Ship (Acts 27:30-31 NASB).
30 But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship’s boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.”
Some of the sailors “pretended” to lower the anchors. Pretending is never a good way to deal with a crisis. This is the ostrich approach. Just bury your head in the sand and the crisis will go away. Trying to run away from or ignore a crisis is a poor way to deal with tough circumstances. Remaining in the center of God’s will allows Him to do the work and to provide what you need to face the impending crisis. There is no substitute for this. You can’t substitute things for God. There is no substitute for His guidance. Dr. Phil doesn’t have anything on God. Which one would you rather trust and lean upon in a crisis situation?
IV. Take Care of Yourself (vv. 33-36).
33 Until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing. 34 “Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation, for not a hair from the head of any of you will perish.” 35 Having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it and began to eat. 36 All of them were encouraged and they themselves also took food.
There is a lesson here in these verses for those facing tough times. In the midst of a crisis, you still have a responsibility to minister to the body as well as the soul. You can be easily consumed by the crisis and it will only get worse when you don’t attend to your everyday needs. This includes proper sleep, nourishment, exercise, shelter, fresh air, etc. Our physical needs are important to God as well as our spiritual needs. Paul was not ashamed to give thanks to God for His blessings in public. We should be no less ashamed to thank God for our blessings, especially in public. By doing so we also teach our children that prayer is important. Our public “blessings” are also an encouragement to others to be bold in their witness about God.
In the remainder of Acts 27 and further in Acts 28, Luke describes what happened to Paul and the others on the ship afterward. Though the ship did run aground and was destroyed, all of those on the ship survived and remained on the isle of Malta for a period of some three months. Their journey resumed on another ship and Paul eventually arrived in Rome where he resided in a private residence with only a Roman guard to watch over him. The closing verses of Acts 28 (NIV) tell us “30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! “
Paul witnessed to Jew and Gentile. This would not be the last crisis in his life. God clearly was not through with Paul as he still had much to do in encouraging Christians to spread the message that Jesus is the long-awaited Savior that the world had been waiting for. Can we doubt that Paul continued to trust God to bring him through each and every crisis?
A crisis is a time of testing, a time that reveals what we’re truly made of. To face danger, we need to be grounded in God’s love and provision. Paul certainly passed the test. Do you? Paul was salt and light in the midst of the storm. He helped preserve morale, order, and health on the ship. He also brought the light of God’s revelation to bear on the desperate situation. We can do the same in our own perilous and difficult situations. We must place our trust in the God we serve as we seek to reach people and in the times of crisis. As you reflect on this topic in the days ahead remember these truths:
- Christians will face difficult situations just as Paul did.
- Trouble is inevitable, but Christians have the resources to face it with grace.
- Christians are equipped by God to give comfort and encouragement to others.
- God can use anyone to accomplish His purposes.
Is there someone in your life or the life of your church who has overcome great difficulties to follow God’s will? Celebrate this accomplishment as an encouragement to your life as you face your next crisis.