We survive the severe trials we face because God alone brings us through.
Condensed from a teaching by Pastor Damian Kyle of CC Modesto, CA,
Photos by Steve Shambeck & Valerie Rodriguez
Putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete. But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose … they used cables to undergird the ship … they struck sail and so were driven. And because we were exceedingly tempest-tossed, the next day they lightened the ship. … We threw the ship’s tackle overboard. … Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up. Acts 27:13b-20
Through Paul’s stormy shipwreck, we see the faithfulness of God in the most devastating, hopeless trials we encounter. Earlier in Acts 23, God had promised Paul that he would testify of the Gospel in Rome. In Acts 27, Paul, Luke, and a young fellow minister named Aristarchus were on the journey from Caesarea to Rome when they encountered a terrible storm.
Delayed by the Wind
Normally this journey from Caesarea to Rome would have taken five weeks; however, it took them about seven months because of the rough conditions. This ship was large by ancient standards, a grain ship measuring approximately 180×45 feet, with a total of 276 people on board.
Because the wind was contrary, they were forced to stop in the port of Fair Haven (Acts 27:8), and significant time was lost. They were already racing against time to avoid the coming winter storms: Since the Jewish Day of Atonement was past (October 5), they were well into the dangerous season on the Mediterranean Sea (mid-September to mid-November). Ignoring Paul’s warning, Julius set out for the larger harbor at Phoenix, about 40 miles west—normally just a matter of hours with a favorable wind.
But then there arose a tempestuous head wind called Euroclydon. This storm came from the north and east and hit them head-on. As the storm fully exploded upon them, they lost control of the ship and let the storm drive them without resistance. We can almost feel the ship rocking like a toy, saltwater washing over everything, the crew in a panic literally fighting for their lives. They made desperate efforts to keep the ship from sinking: using cables to stop the ship from breaking apart, lowering the main sail, throwing out all cargo but the wheat (thrown overboard later). They even threw the ship’s tackle overboard—the very equipment required to manage the ship. This was an act of absolute desperation. On top of this, they couldn’t see the sun or stars, so they had no idea how to get their bearings or where the storm was taking them.
All Hope is Lost
This misery went on for days. It was a combination of terror; seasickness; and physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion until Luke declared all hope that we would be saved was finally given up. (Acts 27:20b) That word finally means that losing hope was not instantaneous for all. It occurred by degrees in one person’s heart and then another. Eventually, even the strongest and most hopeful and most courageous person lost all hope, even Paul. And what settled upon all 276 of them was the realization that they were going to die.
Eventually, even the strongest and most hopeful and most courageous person lost all hope, even Paul. And what settled upon all 276 of them was the realization that they were going to die.
A Message from God
But after long abstinence from food, then Paul … said, “…I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel … saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me.” Acts 27:21-25
After some time, Paul arose and gave them God’s message: No one was going to die. You can imagine how that lifted every heart on the ship. He revealed the source of his confidence: A message from an angel sent by God.
Very often, this passage is taught as an example of how Christians need to stand strong and lead in the midst of the storms of life. I have no doubt that is true and important. But I don’t think that is the lesson here. Some may conclude that we can process and navigate these kinds of storms in life victoriously through some action or faith on our part. But that’s not what I see.
Storms that Steal our Hope
I see here a storm that is so great that it steals the hope of everyone on board—including Luke, Aristarchus, and Paul himself (verse 20). Why else would an angel of the Lord say, “Do not be afraid, Paul,” except that Paul was afraid? And this was Paul, a man who had survived many trials before.
It is normal for us to face storms and difficulties in Christian life and ministry. But this situation is something else entirely—this is when major storms combine together to hit you all at once. Instead of just a northern storm or an eastern storm, this was two storms colliding in all of their ferocity. Sometimes we get hit from many different sides. Though perhaps we could stand one or two separate storms on our own faith, these combined storms make us question our ability to go on.
Remember, Paul had been shipwrecked three times previously, even spending a day and a night in the open sea—very likely holding on to the ship’s debris for his life (2 Corinthians 11:25). He knew storms; he knew tough times. But this was unique in its intensity. It’s so important for Christians and ministers to realize that there are storms that can come into our lives which can overwhelm us physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. These storms make us feel there is no hope of survival.
Job and King David
We see other godly men go through such storms in the Bible. Think about a man as deeply spiritual as Job—who all at once lost all his children, his wealth, and his health. He wished that he had never been born to experience that kind of pain. It was a storm so deep that Job longed for death as an escape. He begged God to take his life for relief: “Oh, that I might have my request, … that it would please God to crush me, that He would loose His hand and cut me off!” (Job 6:8a-9). His words are not hyperbole; this is how he felt in the storm.
Another godly man, David, was promised that he would be the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16). He possessed and believed this promise from God for his future. But after long months of being chased through hill and dale by King Saul attempting to end his life, finally David gave up all hope of surviving and of becoming a king. And David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul” (1 Samuel 27:1a).
We may think that no mature Christian could ever experience such despair. After all, we reason, if we just remember God’s faithfulness in our past circumstances, everything will be okay. Or if we simply claim some promise that God has given us, it will make everything better instantly. But Paul did have a promise from God that he would go to Rome and stand before Caesar. Even so, he still lost all hope because of the storm.
When we survive these severe trials as servants of the Lord—and we do survive them—it’s with a full consciousness that it’s not because of how strong or spiritually mature or full of faith we were. We know that we got through them for only one reason: because God alone brought us through. If we had to contribute even 1 percent of what was needed to survive, then we would never have made it. We got through not because of our faithfulness, but solely because of the faithfulness of God. Not because of the grip we had on God but because of the strength of His grip on us.
We got through not because of our faithfulness, but solely because of the faithfulness of God. Not because of the grip we had on God but because of the strength of His grip on us.
Why does God allow such storms in the lives of His children? I don’t know the answer to that entirely. Job never found out in his lifetime. I do know that we learn priceless things about God and ourselves in those times—things we would never learn otherwise. These trials purify our faith. They produce a depth of relationship with God, a depth of commitment to Him. They also produce a Christ-like compassion and humility—a way of seeing, understanding, and caring for people that we might not otherwise gain.
If you are in such a storm, child of God, you will make it. You will. Not because of your faith or your grip on Him, but because of His faithfulness and His very firm grip on you.
What did Paul need in the tempest to reignite his hope? He didn’t need a new promise, just a reminder of the promise God had already given: Do not be afraid, Paul; You must be brought before Caesar (Acts 27:24a). Though the storm had outstripped all of Paul’s resources, it was not remotely bigger than the God who had made that promise. The storm would not be the final chapter in his life; it would not have the final say. God would have the final say.
And so it will be with you. Though God can appear absent at such times, one day you’ll look back and see His fingerprints all over this season of your life.
Sometimes we feel alone in storms—like God has abandoned us. But the exact opposite is true. Keep on looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2a). You may feel that this storm is going to be the end of your faith in God, but it won’t be. It will only deepen and strengthen your faith.
Sometimes we feel alone in storms—like God has abandoned us. But the exact opposite is true.
On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter declared that he would never deny Jesus. He had no idea of the storm ahead. Jesus said to him, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31b-32). So the Lord does for us in these seasons: He prays for us that our faith will not fail.
If we are faithless, He remains faithful. He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). You may not believe those verses right now in the midst of your trial, but God can use His Word to be a healing balm, a reminder of His care and love and presence in your life. Praise the Lord for His faithfulness and for the very firm grip He has upon your life. God has promised that He will never fail to keep that which He has begun in each of us, and will bring it to completion (Phil 1:6). May He reignite your hope in Him, no matter what circumstance you are facing.