Paul was a prisoner. Again. This time, in Acts 27, he was a prisoner on board a cargo ship headed for Rome, where he was to stand before Caesar to receive his judgment. If this formidable appointment unnerved Paul, he didn’t have time to dwell on it—because the ship, sailing too late in the season, encountered not just a storm, but a full-blown tempest.
We speak metaphorically of storms in our lives, and even the psalmist talks of “waves and breakers” going over him (Psalm 42). But this was a real storm. A “tempestuous wind” struck the ship and drove it along mercilessly, causing the panicked crew to throw their valuable cargo overboard and eventually abandon all hope for rescue.
A starving, soaked, despairing group hung onto their splintering ship, tossed like a toy day after day in the crashing darkness. But in the midst of the pounding, God spoke, informing Paul that he would indeed survive to stand before Caesar. Apparently, God wasn’t finished with him yet.
With no break in the onslaught, Paul staggered to inform the crew of this news. “So take heart, men,” he shouted, “for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:25).
No tiny ray of sunlight glimmered down on Paul as he spoke these words. Clouds did not part; seas did not settle. God’s words alone anchored Paul and steadied his soul in a way no physical anchor could. He knew God’s power was deeper than this furor and broader than this squall, and that was enough for him.
I don’t know about you, but it’s a whole lot easier for me to believe God’s promises and “take heart” when I see encouraging signs. “Hey, the sun is coming out! The seas are calmer. God will be true to his word!” But that’s not the faith God calls us to. Paul rightly believed that every word God spoke would come to pass, no matter what crazy chaos raged around him, and God’s word did come to pass–in God’s time.
On the fourteenth night of misery, when the boat was almost dashed to bits, Paul reminded the sailors again of God’s promise, urging them to take some food. The Bible says, “when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat” (v. 35). Although this was not an official celebration of the Lord’s Supper, how comforted the Christians with Paul must have been as they remembered the sacred breaking of bread that bound them together! Even the unbelieving sailors were encouraged as they watched Paul’s simple act of faith, and they ate some bread themselves (v. 36).
When fear controls us, we often can’t eat. Fear makes us sick. It tells us not to break bread, or give thanks, or take heart. It tells us to view the mental slideshow of worst-case-scenarios over and over again and brace for the next wave. It tells us we must have been wrong to believe God, because there’s still pandemonium out there, and God must have been talking to someone else. It lies to us.
Paul was human with natural fears, but he knew he was in God’s hands, and that those hands were good. His sturdy faith strengthened not just his own soul, but others as well. Believing in God’s word stabilizes us and helps us to give thanks, break some bread, take heart, and do the next thing. It also strengthens the people in our lives as they watch our faith function.
The next day, Paul’s ship went down, but everyone miraculously made it to shore, just as God had promised. God didn’t explain why he allowed the shipwreck, but Paul was faithful to share the good news of Jesus with the inhabitants of Malta, the island they swam to. God has designs we can’t always see.
Every storm and ship is different. Our Father, ever loving, assigns us each our own adventures, but each one plays out within the circle of his providence. The Bible is full of promises that anchor us in the deepest ocean and hold us fast in the most savage storm. We can say with Paul, even as we see the next wave coming, that “I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”