God appeared to Paul and promised that he would present the gospel in Rome (Acts 23:11). Paul and his centurion guard boarded a ship bound for Italy. After narrowly missing a winter harbor, a terrible storm blew the ship out to sea. The ship was so violently rocked that the crew jettisoned not only the cargo, but the ropes and sails too. The storm persisted for many days, and the passengers lost all hope of being saved.
Luke devotes 55 verses to how Paul handles this situation—nearly as many as he devotes to Paul’s entire first missionary journey. Clearly, the 276 people on board were as important a mission field as the philosophers of Athens or the Jews of Berea. Here, they were attracted to the gospel more because of Paul’s cool resolve than for his capable scholarship.
What do people need to see from a Christian during a storm?
People Need to See That You Calmly Trust God
Paul stood up in their midst and said, “Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss. 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. For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar…’ ” (27:21-24).
Paul’s calm demeanor and reassuring words comforted the passengers. He knew something they did not—that God is greater than any created thing and is in control from on high.
Trust is not the naïve notion that everything is always going to turn out peachy. You may not be able to assure your fellow hostages that God will make the terrorists vanish. You may not be able to assure your fellow bedmates that God will instantly heal everyone in the ICU. Trust in God is the resolve in the face of danger and disease that says, “My God is bigger than all these things. I don’t need to bargain with God. I may lose my life, but it doesn’t matter, because my soul is saved! You could share my hope, if you’d confess Christ” (cf. Dan. 3:18, 2 Tim. 4:18, Matt. 10:28, Heb. 13:6, Rom. 8:38-39, Phil. 4:7).
People going through the storm with you, or people on shore watching your boat pitch up and down, need to see that kind of joy, thankfulness, and assurance in your life. People of the world look to Christians for an example. The way you handle tragedy, financial ruin, disaster, failure, sickness, temptation, loss, and all the other attacks of Satan, can cause them to inquire about the source of your strength, giving you the opportunity to speak of Jesus Christ.
People Need to See That You Are Praying For Them
“…and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.” Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground… (27:24-26).
God had already promised deliverance to Paul. But the other passengers had no such promise. Paul had already warned them they were in mortal danger (v. 10). Now we discover that during the storm, Paul had been busily praying for the lives of the passengers, too. Finally God answered in the affirmative.
Praying for the lost is not an empty gesture (1 Tim. 2:1-4). Most are thankful. It lets them know that you care. It turns their minds toward God.
People Need to See Leadership Toward God
At the start of the ordeal, the soldiers, sailors, and passengers ignored Paul. By the end, they were listening to him! Paul turned from comforting words and prayers to imperatives. He demanded everyone stay in the boat, saying “unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved,” and the soldiers complied by casting off the dinghy (27:27-32). He “gave thanks to God in the presence of all” and ate bread, and he encouraged them to eat as well (27:34-36). When the ship finally ran around, Paul convinced the soldiers not to kill any of the prisoners (27:42-43). In the end, some by swimming, and some by clinging to debris, “they were all brought safely to land” (27:44).
People of the world need direction toward salvation. Not sailing advice. Not political advice. Not just financial advice or marital advice. They see that you have a solid relationship with God, and they need you to tell them how to obtain salvation for themselves. Lead them to God!
Though I doubt Paul enjoyed storms and shipwrecks, He was God’s instrument to bring the gospel to the island of Malta. He spent three months there preaching the gospel, an out-of-the-way place he may never have visited otherwise. I would guess that many of the islanders and many of the 276 passengers became Christians. Don’t forget to look for opportunities as you face trouble in life. In this way, you can influence people that you may not have a connection with, or even met, any other way. Lead them to Christ! —John Guzzetta