Saturday, April 25, 2015
Fear Not in the Storms
A friend recently posted on Facebook that FEAR has two meanings: Forget Everything And Run, or Face Everything And Rise. To these I added my own anagram, Faith Endures All Resistance!
When the storms of life come pounding on our front door, we may be tempted to sneak out the back way and flee, not realizing that we are putting ourselves in even worse danger. But Jesus Christ allows us to confront and stand fast in the storms (1 Corinthians 16:13; Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:7-8), sailing above the turmoil to heavenly places with Him (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6). He is our Rock and Tower in Whom we have refuge (2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 18:20, for His strength is made perfect in our weakness; His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9); and His perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).
This is true only if we have placed our faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), turned away from our sins (Acts 3:19; 26:20; 2 Timothy 2:25), and asked Him into our heart (Acts 8:37; Romans 10:9-10). Then we are saved by His grace through our faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), which allows us to do all things and endure all trials through Christ Who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5), but with Him, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
The Bible has many excellent examples of faith overcoming fear in the storm. By faith, Peter left his ship in the storm and walked on the water to meet Jesus, sinking only when his gaze left his Lord and focused instead on the billowing waves below. Yet even in Peter's failure to keep the faith, Jesus rescued him (Matthew 14:24-32), and He will do the same for us when our faith falters (Matthew 17:20; Mark 9:24).
The disciples caught in the storm, with Jesus seemingly asleep at the helm, panicked as the sea was about to engulf them. They cried out to Jesus, not so much for salvation as to berate Him for not caring about them! Yet He rose above it all, calmly telling the winds to be still, bringing peace not only to the waves but to the hearts of His disciples who seemingly had lost faith (Mark 4:37-41).
Praise God that He knows all our weaknesses, fears and doubts, yet loves, saves and protects us anyway! (Psalm 8:4; 139) He allows us to go through such storms, brought on by Satan who is the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), because they strengthen our faith in and reliance on Him. Time after time God proves Himself faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:13), yet our sin nature still questions, doubts, and fears.
The apostle Paul was no stranger to storms, both figuratively and literally, having been nearly drowned, as well as shipwrecked three times (2 Corinthians 11:25). Paul, like the rest of us, struggled with the weaknesses of his flesh and sin nature (Romans 7:14-24) to the point that he knew he had to die daily (1 Corinthians 15:31) to these if God were to use him for His glory.
Yet God faithfully worked all these disasters together for good (Romans 8:28) to use Paul to spread the Gospel throughout Gentile nations (Romans 1:13-16). When Paul was arrested in Caesarea, he used his Roman citizenship to request an audience before Caesar himself in Rome, and Festus granted it (Acts 25).
God can use even pagans to accomplish his purpose, and here He used Festus to book Paul’s passage to Rome, the center of the empire and a key mission field where Paul would have a great opportunity to witness (Acts 27-1-2). True, he would have to travel as a prisoner, and endure storms, shipwreck, and other dangers along the way, but God was the unseen Captain charting the voyage.
Evidently through his good character, behavior, and Christian witness, Paul had sufficiently impressed Julius, his prison guard, that he could be trusted, so Julius let Paul visit his friends in Sidon when they landed there (Acts 27-3). What a welcome, yet unexpected, blessing from God, extended to Paul while he was a prisoner!
Contrary winds as they left Sidon changed their course to Myra in Lycia. Yet had it not been for this detour, they may not have immediately found a ship going to Italy once they landed (Acts 27-4-6). God allowed the storm to direct their path to work things out with His perfect timing, reminding us that sometimes the storms of life do the same for us by keeping us out of even deeper trouble.
Another storm led them to the pleasant harbor of Fair Havens. Despite Paul’s warning, they stayed there so long that another storm was brewing, and it would be dangerous sailing (Acts 27-7-9). We enjoy the peaceful times when all seems to be well, but sometimes these unchallenging circumstances allow us to get lazy and linger too long in leisure rather than pressing on with the journey God has set for us.
King David fell into that trap when he took some time off after battle to relax at home instead of training with the troops. His idleness led to lust as he allowed himself to gaze at beautiful Bathsheba while she was bathing, then his lust resulted in adultery, deception and ultimately murder (2 Samuel 11:1-17). Far better to undergo the hard times God has planned for our own good than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25) and suffer the consequences (Romans 6:23; 7:5; James 1:15).
God Himself had told Paul that sailing so late from Fair Havens would damage the cargo and ship and even the risk the lives of the sailors and prisoners. But the guard of the prisoners did not believe Paul and instead believed the ship’s captain who said it was fine to sail, most likely ignoring the.financial motive of the captain who wanted to book passengers on his ship (Acts 27-10-11).
How often do we make a similar mistake, listening to advice from our worldly friends instead of Godly counsel inspired by the Holy Spirit? God graciously speaks to us through such advice from fellow believers (Proverbs 27:17; Psalm 37:30), as well as through prayer and His Word (Psalm 119:105), and we ignore His guidance at our own peril.
Following the world, like sin itself, can bring pleasure for a season before it turns deadly (Romans 12:2). As they embarked from Fair Havens, they had a gentle wind and good sailing at first, but a storm brewed and then raged so that they could not even steer the ship and had to go wherever the waves carried them (Acts 27-12-14). Sometimes God lets us go through storms that are so severe that we have to give up control and trust Him completely.
They washed ashore on the island of Clauda where they tried to repair the ship, but there was quicksand on the island and they had to set sail again in a hurry to avoid getting stuck (Acts 27-16-17). When we fail to heed God’s counsel, it seems that dangers attack us from all sides and force hasty retreat (Proverbs 22:3,12).
The next day the storm was so bad that the sailors had to toss out some of the cargo to make the ship lighter so it wouldn’t sink. On the third day the storm battered the ship so violently that they even had to start tearing down and throwing out some of the ship’s rigging (Acts 27-18-19). When God lets us go through storms, it makes us realize that we have to let go of some things we thought were important but are actually weighing us down, and focus only on Him (Matthew 6:19-21; Hebrews 12:1). Thank God that He is all we need!
Not only was the storm terrible, but they had not even seen the sun or stars for many days because of the clouds. The sky gets darkest just before dawn in our spiritual life as well as in the natural universe, and everyone in the ship, except for Paul, had lost hope (Acts 27-20). But Jesus is the bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16), and He had a plan.
God used this storm to give Paul a chance to witness to the others on board. He had tried to warn them, because God had told him about the danger ahead, but they had not listened. Now they were so desperate that he definitely had their attention! As the saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes, and God may allow the unsaved to reach the brink of death before they take Him seriously (Psalm 40:2).
An angel of God had told Paul that no one would die in the storm, and that God’s mission for Paul to witness to Caesar would be fulfilled. Paul told his fellow passengers of his faith and God’s faithfulness. It is not easy to witness, especially in a life-threatening situation with strangers and even enemies, but God gave Paul courage to do it, and He will do the same for us if we ask Him.
God had allowed the sailors to lose their cargo and suffer damage to the ship, but all their lives would be saved (Acts 27-21-24). If they believed the good news about Jesus that Paul shared with them, they would live forever, so they lost worldly possessions but gained the most precious treasure of eternal salvation! (Matthew 13:46; Mark 8:35)
If we look back on our own lives, we will see many times when storms strengthened our faith and gave us unexpected opportunities to witness, just as they did for Paul. God used these storms to enlarge Paul’s mission field where he could spread the Gospel of grace, as we shall see next week!
© 2015 Laurie Collett