I have never been literally shipwrecked, but I have been through some pretty rough seas.
I’ve had my share of hardships in life. More than many? Perhaps. But not as many as some. I remember thinking not that long ago that maybe the days of big shipwrecks in my life were over. Oh, I know there will always be some difficulties, challenges and trials in the Christian life. But maybe I’d found myself hoping that I might somehow escape any big traumatic events through my remaining years. You know … relative smooth sailing the rest of the way to heaven. But of course, that was not to be with the unexpected death of our oldest son, Christopher, this past July.
The book of Acts records the dramatic details of the apostle Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27. But apparently, that wasn’t his first experience "on the rocks." In his letter to the Christians in Corinth, he relates: "Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea" (2 Corinthians 11:25, NLT).
Travel by sea in those days was primitive and harsh. You took your life into your own hands when you boarded one of these first-century sailing vessels. And Paul tells us, "Trust me. I’ve been through it. I know more than I ever wanted to know about shipwrecks."
Maybe some of the modern conveniences of the 21st century have made traveling a little more safe and convenient (unless your jet ditches in the Hudson River), but in some way shape or form, every one of us will face shipwrecks. That’s the reality of life on this planet: You’re either coming out of a storm or about to go into one. Yes, of course there will be those wonderful stretches of smooth sailing, when the skies are blue and the sun is shining. In God’s grace and kindness, you’re going to have some beautiful moments in your life in between the storms. Not all the winds that blow in life are necessarily devastating.
In one instance of the ship’s log in the book of Acts, the text says, "The south wind blew softly." Thank God for those moments, when the breezes are gentle and the sun is warm on your shoulders. But we all know – or ought to know – that there will be storms just over the horizon. Jesus Himself said so. He said, "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33, NIV).
Sometimes people think that when they’re in the will of God, they’ll always have smooth sailing and calm seas. That certainly wasn’t true for the apostle Paul! In the course of his ministry, he seemed to face every kind of adversity imaginable. He had so many enemies jealous of his success that they would actually follow him around and seek to undermine him, hoping to destroy him. He experienced beating after savage beating at the hands of his many adversaries, and spent years of his life in harsh confinement. And on top of it all, he had a personal physical disability that the Lord had declined to heal.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, "We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going" (TLB).
A lot of preachers love to focus on that "prosperity" topic. And sometimes I think they have hijacked a legitimate biblical term. After all, God wants His sons and daughters to prosper. He wants you to experience prosperity. But what does that really mean? That you’ll never get sick? That you’ll never have problems? That you’ll never run out of money?
No, that’s not what the Bible means by "prosperity."
Five years before making his journey to Rome, Paul wrote the believers there and said in Romans 1:10, "Making requests, I am asking you to pray, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come to you." In other words, "Hey, would you guys pray for me? I’m coming your way. And pray that the Lord gives me a prosperous journey by the will of God."
Did God answer his prayer? Yes.
He did make it to Rome, and had an amazing ministry there of preaching, teaching, discipleship and writing. He just hadn’t understood that getting to Rome would mean false accusations, arrest, incarceration and chains. He couldn’t have foreseen that it would involve hurricane-force winds at sea, shipwreck on an island and the bite of a poisonous viper on the way.
The reality is you can live a prosperous life in the will of God and still face fierce personal conflict and adversity. Paul went through shipwreck on his way to Rome, but he had a prosperous journey by the will of God because of what it ultimately accomplished. So that’s a different definition of prosperity than we might normally think of.
Facing storms and shipwrecks in our lives really isn’t a matter of "if"; it is a matter of "when." So it’s time for us to get our sea legs under us. Rather than trying to avoid the storms of life, we need to learn how to get through them – how to survive them and how to learn the lessons that we can only learn in such times and such places.
It has been said, "You can’t direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails." I can’t control all the elements of my world. In fact, I can’t control very many of them at all. I can’t control my environment. I can’t control the circumstances that come my way. I can’t keep people from opposing me or undermining me or seeking to harm me. But I can control my reaction to them. I can adjust my sails. And adapt.
When hardship hits you can get mad and bitter at God, or you can completely surrender and say, "Lord, I’m going to trust You no matter what."
It is our choice what we do with our sails when storms come our way.