The other day I watched Paul Harcourt, who leads New Wine
, talking briefly about Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27 and what we can learn from that story. It is well worth watching here.
Last week I was thinking about this story along with a couple of other stormy boat stories in the Bible, thinking about God’s plan in it all, the rest we can find even when in a storm, and the importance of relationships when we are going through tough times like these. Paul Harcourt’s teaching prompted me to think about the combination of practical and spiritual responses as we navigate these turbulent waters of lockdown and the corona virus.
I was struck by the practicalities in the story – all the ways in which Paul, the sailors and the soldiers addressed the problems surrounding them with real and tangible solutions. Some of these were motivated by fear or pride, some by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and some through good sense and trained experience.
The ship’s owner was probably motivated by the greed of wanting the trade completed and so, along with the pilot, persuaded the centurion Julius that a voyage was OK. I don't think Paul was hoping for a sneaky escape by suggesting a stop in Crete – it wasn't actually a suitable place for harbour over winter, but it was better than losing everything. Sometimes it is hard to know when we need prudence or risk – and to distinguish whether risk is zealous faith or another motivation such as pride, or lack of thought. It looks like Paul’s motivation was not to do with saving his own skin – in fact he wanted to go to Rome – but it was about how he thought everyone else might fare even though he had no direct responsibility for them; and if he survived the storm along with everyone else then his own mission was more likely to be completed anyway. I ask God to dig deep into my heart to reveal my motives – the fears, the pride, the thoughtlessness as well as my own personal calling.
Some of the points Paul Harcourt makes are about the practicalities of this ship getting through its problems. They use the anchor and other emergency methods, they get rid of unneeded cargo, they even get rid of the lifeboat in order to keep the sailors on board and therefore carry on sailing. It is not a story only about prayer, spiritual answers and miracles. It is mainly about stress, desperate decisions, choosing the best of bad options, and having to abandon things that are precious or important. Of course, Paul does remain at peace and connected to the Holy Spirit, but this is mainly expressed in practical action. In these days we are all faced with very practical choices – often ones with options that we feel are all bad or disappointing. There may well have to be a reduction in the benefits and associated costs in our lives at home or at work; we will have to go through with events and experiences in ways that we feel are unjust and unfulfilling; and what or who we end up with when we finally reach the shore is uncertain. Luke, the writer, shows us the reality of life – even a spiritual life like Paul’s – and it is tough, real and practical. God is with us in this. It is not a lesser approach to life; we are not being unfaithful as we re-do our budgets, consider our health or think through our emotional and practical needs.
In the midst of the this, Paul has not abandoned prayer or the work of the Spirit. His responses are those of good sense and perception but also of the supernatural gift of the Spirit that strengthens his own sense of purpose and therefore helps him with the more practical outworking of the problems they are in. He has an encounter with an angel – in the middle of all this nightmare! I’m not sure how encouraging the angel’s message is for him, as he is told that he will indeed meet Caesar – probably a more scary event than the storm. But Paul takes this extraordinary spiritual encounter and uses it to encourage those around him as well as using persuasion to emphasise his own solutions for everyone. Prayer led Paul to Jesus and his own personal mission, which led to insight, boldness and the ability to lead everyone else – captain, sailors, centurion and passengers. Yes, we need to be practical and real in how we do life right now, but also I believe that God has solutions for us – as individuals, families, churches, businesses and governments – and it is the pray-ers who will hear God’s voice and who will need to speak up with both boldness and kindness.Come Lord and give us peace of heart and mind in the big decisions we are having to make.
Come Lord and help us to even get rid of things, ideas or aspirations that have been important to us up to now, but may not be necessary.
Come Lord and speak to us, fill us with your Spirit, open the eyes and ears of our hearts so that we know your word to us – and give us the boldness and kindness to lead others in your way, too.
Martin J Young