SERMON: Navigating Life’s Storms

I want you to imagine two scenes. First, picture a peaceful tropical beach resort, yourself lying in a hammock with a cold drink and good book. Can you hear the seagulls squawking as the sounds of the surf provide a relaxing soundtrack? Feel the sun warming your neck, and the gentle breeze keeping you cool? Peace and serenity abound.

Second, now picture a boat being tossed violently in the stormy waters of the open sea. Waves 30 feet high are crashing over the bow, and flooding the deck. You’re stumbling around on deck, bailing water, and doing everything possible to keep the ship from going down. Which scene best describes your life these days?

Or, consider two different kinds of umbrellas. The first person is relaxing at the cabin under a giant umbrella on the beach, the kind that provides a little shade from the hot summer sun. The second person is hiding under a rain umbrella, as the skies pour down cold rain on the fun you hoped to have this holiday weekend. Which umbrella are you holding in your hand in this particular season of your life?

The story we’re looking at today in Acts 27 is about Paul being shipwrecked on his voyage to Rome where he’ll stand trial before Caesar. The narrative is filled with action, drama, power, emotional angst and stress, as well as heroic faith, bold leadership and God’s rescuing presence. Let’s dig in!

—Read Acts 27—

The phrases in the text give a colorful description of the struggles we all experience at times: “The winds were against us” (v. 4) and “We were having great difficulty” (v. 7). We all have those moments when it feels like we’ll never get a break, we’re swimming up stream, going against the currents of life.

“We were making slow headway” (v. 6) and “Much time had been lost” (v. 9)Ever feel like its too late for you? Like time is slipping away and you’ll never find “the one” and get to start a family? Or, you’re pushing 40 years old and you still haven’t found your calling in life?

“We were caught in the storm…we gave way to it…we were being driven along” (v. 15). Ever feel like you’ve lost all control, and you’re just being driven along? Do you know what it feels like to finally just give up fighting and just give yourself completely over to your monster, your addiction, your weakness or temptation?

In verse 17 it describes how the crew were desperately trying to put ropes and cables around the ship, to prevent the whole thing from breaking apart. Do you ever feel like your family or career or emotional health is coming undone and the entire thing could break apart into a million pieces never to be restored?

“We took a violent battering” as the “the storm continued raging.” Will this awful nightmare ever end? How long must I stay in this miserable place? Will the sun ever shine again in my life, will the waves ever be calmed?

When hope vanishes completely behind the dark clouds of the storm, we are in danger of giving up. “We finally gave up all hope of being rescued.” Have you ever been there?

So, I want to ask the question today: How do you get through the storms of your life? We’ll all face them.  In this story, in verse 29 it says,

“Fearing that we were about to be dashed against the rocks, we dropped four anchors and prayed for daylight.”

Today I want to offer up four or five anchors to throw out to keep you from dashing against the rocks in your storms. 

Anchor #1: Avoid storms by making wise decisions 

The first anchor of help is strive to avoid as many of life’s  storms as possible by making good decisions and avoiding foolish ones. Frankly, many storms we bring upon ourselves; while others are clearly outside our control.

In this story, we first find Paul warning a stiff-necked and stubborn crew that it is unwise to set sail at this time and in this weather. They don’t heed his warnings, they go ahead with the voyage against his better judgment, and their folly brings the entire ship into peril. How many of us can sympathize with Paul? How many of us have suffered great pain due to someone else’s decisions? The world is full of hurting people who are suffering for no fault of their own. They are clinging to life in a storm of someone else’s making. I think immediately of the collateral damage and emotional challenges children whose parents divorced often need to work through, and are still working through 20 years later.

Secondly, we see in this story the danger in trusting in conventional wisdom, popular opinion over against the divinely revealed wisdom from God’s messengers. The Apostle Paul shares with the crew his special divine insight he’s been given from God about the danger of this course of action, but everyone else decides to ignore the “preacher man” and trust the opinions of the so-called “experts in the field”—the captain of the ship. You and I will often be in a similar situation, where the majority of people around us will be trusting in the popular opinions of the so-called experts—the talking heads on TV, the common coin of University professors, etc.—but we’ll choose to listen to the unfashionable teaching of some no-name pastor in a small church opening God’s strange wisdom each Sunday in his counter-cultural sermons.

Will we go with popular opinion, or heed the urgent warnings of other believers when they have the courageous love to pull us aside to say, “I love you, but your current course of action will end in ruin and heartache. Time to change your way.”

Anchor #2: Be active, not passive in the Storm

This story reveals two types of people. First, there are those who let the storm drive them along. They passively let it have its way with them. On the other hand, there’s Paul who stands up with firm resolve in the middle of the storm and takes decisive action.

The passive person knows there’s bad habits reading havoc in their career, poor communication in their marriage, dysfunction in the home, or the strong pull of addiction in their life, but they continually just “give way to it” and let it “drive the along” like a boat being tossed about in the waves of a storm. Such people escape their storms through TV, they numb the pain through overeating, and wish it away by looking the other way. Yet, Paul shows us how to stand up in the storm, and take action that gives us a hope of coming through it in one piece, or at least alive. The worst thing to do in a storm is nothing. There’s always something you can do in the middle of your storms. In this story, look how much activity there is:

v. 17— “They hoisted the lifeboat aboard”

v. 17— “They passed ropes under the ship to hold it together”

v. 17 — “The lowered the sea anchor”

v. 18 — “They threw cargo and tackle overboard” 

Whether or not their actions were effective or not is not the question. The point is that they were engaged in trying to overcome their storm, doing whatever they could to be part of the solution. They were proactive rather than just giving way to the storm.

Are you drowning in debt? Take action by signing up for a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace course. Are you being driven along by depression or anxiety? Will you get off the couch, pick up the phone and call to set up an appointment with a therapist to begin moving toward wholeness? If you want to survive life’s storms, don’t be passive but take decisive action today.

Anchor #3: Fix your eyes on a sure reference point

In verse 20, it says “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days…we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” Now, as far as we can tell Paul is the only believer in God and Jesus Christ on board that sinking ship. Now, when we don’t believe in God, we’ll all look to something else to place our hopes in and use as a reference point to guide our lives.

In Paul’s day (and for much of history), ships would depend on the stars and skies for navigating their ships safely to their destination. The problem with this approach is that when the clouds move in, and the darkness descends on our lives, and the storm rages, the stars remain hidden and we find ourselves lost and hopelessly adrift. And so “when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days…we finally gave up all hope.” Have you been there?

But now let’s look at the Apostle Paul and his reference point for navigating his storms. In verse 21 we read: “Paul stood up before them and said, ‘Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete.” (Paul’s rubbing it in just a bit here!) He continues, “Then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss.’” (He’s pouring salt in the wound now.)

But now he offers a word of hope from his own superior reference point:

“But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 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 give 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.

So, we find here that everyone on board is trying to find their way by way of the stars and sun which are helpful one day but disappear the next. They offer guidance when the skies are clear and the waters are calm, but leave us lost and adrift when the darkness closes in. The entire crew (except Paul) finally are giving up hope. They need a better reference point and a more reliable North Star than the kind that depend on the weather.

Then we see Paul who alone finds guidance and hope in the middle of the darkest storm. God’s plan for Paul has been revealed (“you must stand trial before Caesar”) and he let’s God’s promise be his fixed reference point. Paul’s being guided along by “the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” or fluctuating weather patterns. Paul’s fixes his eyes of faith on Christ who gives him incredible courage when all others are drowning in fear.

So, where do you fix your eyes in the middle of your personal storms?  You and I don’t typical look to sun and stars when we get stuck. But we do often find ourselves looking to things other than God to help us through life’s difficulties.

Some of us have relied on our intelligence, education or number of initials before our name to get ahead in life, but realize such things do not equip us for certain kinds of trials. Some of us placed our future in the uncertain moods of the stock market, and paid the price when the economy took a turn for the worst. Some of us have been placing all our hopes in a particular person or relationship, and if that person were to ever be taken from us, we would not know how to live without them.

We see professional athletes whose entire lives—their happiness, purpose, meaning—is wrapped up in their peerless athletic abilities and physical strength. Sadly, when they hit 30 years old and their abilities diminish with age, many suffer a sense of meaningless, lack of purpose and depression. Their entire life was being directed by the fleeting glories of youth, which like the stars and sun, are here for a split moment but then vanish behind the inevitable cloud of aging and fading youth.

Paul would encourages to fix our eyes on Christ, listen for His guiding voice through the Scriptures, and set our course according to God’s steady promises. Who’s your reference point in your current storm?

Anchor #4: Stick together and don’t jump ship too soon

Next, in a humorous scene, some of the crew get anxious and decide they’ll be better off if they secure a lifeboat, jump ship and leave the rest of the crew behind to deal with the mess. So we read in Acts 27:30-32:

“In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.”

This is classic case of people trying to run away from their problems, abandoning responsibility and hoping to find greener pastures some place else. How many of us have been in a similar situation where it would be so much easier to just quit on the job, or give up on the marriage, or try to escape one’s fears? We see our life careening out of control, tossed to and fro, and moving ever closer to the rocks ahead. We spy what looks to be an easy way out nearby and are tempted to jump ship and throw in the towel.

Paul says in effect, “No! You cannot just walk out the door, ditch this effort, give up so easily, and leave others to deal with the mess you (probably) helped create.” He says, “We need to stick together if we’re going to get through this.” Wow! What a challenging word to all of us who are flirting with the idea of abandoning ship or dodging responsibility.

What’s the solution when we are tempted to find an escape hatch? “The soldiers cut the ropes to the lifeboats and let them drift away” (v. 32). This is brilliant! How many of us need to cut off the normal ways we usually try to escape our problems? What does it look like for you to cut off access?

For example, over half of marriages today end in divorce. What if divorce wasn’t even an option on the table when things got difficult, and we were committed to working through things? Sadly, too many marriages have had a divorce-shaped lifeboat standing conveniently nearby from the very beginning, just in case. Cut if off!

How many of us need to cut off the lifeboats of fast food, compulsive shopping, TV, pornography, alcohol and other unhealthy ways we try to escape our problems? It’s time to cut the ropes, let the lifeboats float away, link arms and stick together.

Anchor #5: Stop & Feast on Christ’s Eucharistic Presence in the Storm

Finally, one bonus and surprise anchor emerges in the story that we shouldn’t miss. When we find ourselves in the middle of a stormy season of life, we’re often running at an unhealthy, unsustainable pace as we try to pick up the pieces and keep things from breaking apart further. In the middle of such busyness, stress or even trauma, we still need to learn to stop and do that most basic human thing: eat. So we read:

Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head” (v. 33-34).

Have you ever been so overwhelmed, preoccupied, or stressed that you begin to skip meals, start grabbing food on the go, or hitting the drive-through more often, and ingesting unhealthy food. Life is hard enough with a full stomach; let’s not try to weather the storm on an empty stomach. So Paul urges them to stop and break bread together and share a meal.

Is this merely a strange random detail or some practical advice inserted into this otherwise dramatic story? I believe the author of Acts—Dr. Luke—is giving us a little wink here and inviting us to see a deeper, more delicious truth. Do you hear echoes of another kind of meal in this next sentence?

After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat” (v. 35). 

I’ll give you a hint:

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

Yes, Luke wants us to draw our attention back to another earlier meal where Jesus pulled his little band of disciples aside in the middle of the Ultimate Storm, with the gale force winds of evil swirling about Jerusalem as the forces of Darkness closed in on God’s Messiah as journeyed to the cross. On that dark and stormy night of betrayal, denial, horrific suffering, evil, mockery and death, Jesus took time to share a meal and “break bread” with his fearful crew. It was a meal full of holy mystery, awesome power and God’s eucharistic presence to strengthen the disciples for the long night ahead.

Luke seems to suggest that we too can share this sacred meal, this ritual “breaking of bread”, with others in the midst of our own dark storms. Yes, when we are in despair, losing hope and preparing for the worst we can take the bread of Christ’s mysterious presence, give thanks to the God who stands sovereign over our storm, break it in remembrance of the One who was broken for our rescue, and eat to nourish our body and soul for the difficult times ahead.

And while this isn’t the place for deeper theological reflection on the eucharistic sacrament, we note here that Paul openly offers this particular bread to all who will receive its nourishment—whether merely physical or also spiritual and sacramental. About 276 people apparently partook of that impromptu ‘breaking of bread’, enjoying “as much as they wanted” (v. 37). So, even in the darkest hour of our greatest nightmare-come-true we can “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).

As we go forth from here, may we remember the powerful gift of the eucharistic presence available to us in our darkest hours. May we stop in the middle of the storm, find a quiet room or sanctuary, grab a loaf of bread and some juice, and lift up our eyes to worship and feast on the presence of the One who gave himself up to calm the Ultimate hurricane of sin and death and usher us into a New Day of Sunshine and calm waters. And may we too find ourselves living out again that scene from Mark 4:39:

“Then Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the sea. “Silence!” He commanded. “Be still!” And the wind died down, and it was perfectly calm” (Mark 4:39).

In conclusion, just as the crew threw out four anchors to help prevent their ship from running aground (or at least minimizing the damage), so we can avail ourselves of the these five spiritual anchors as we ride out our own storms:

  1. Avoid storms if possible by making wise decisions.
  2. Be active not passive in the storm.
  3. Fix your eyes on a sure reference point.
  4. Stick together and resist jumping ship.
  5. Feast on Christ’s eucharistic presence.

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