Can you imagine Paul's joy at the end of chapter 26 when he hears something like this being announced:
You have just been awarded an all-expense-paid trip to the eternal city of Rome! You will view the majesty of Caesar's palace, the Temple of Jupiter, and other places of significance along the Roman Forum. Yes, you and your companions will be traveling 1st class on the luxury liner "Adramyttium" where all meals are free and served by your devoted and kind tour guide "Julius." Along your cruise you will view the lovely Isle of Cyprus as you sail on to the Lycian coastal town of MYRA. There you will board the large and spacious "ALEXANDRIA LAURO" for the next stage of your leisurely journey to the Italian coastal port of Puteoli. And finally, you will be guided along the most famous of roads in all of civilization, the "Via Appia," leading directly into your final destination, the "Eternal City of Rome." EVER PRESENT DISCLAIMER: (Sponsors are not responsible for injuries or liability in the case of accidents, inclement weather or storms.)
Paul said he was eager to go to Rome in his Roman letter (Romans 15:22-24). Now he gets to go as a "guest of the State." Probably not what he had in mind when he wrote that letter to the Roman church. Nor did he have in mind encountering a storm.
The storm in chapter 27 produced more than just a wrecked ship and shipwrecked passengers and crew. That was the relief. The storm produced a tremendous strain on the minds and bodies of all. Incessant demands for labor were there for crew and passengers alike. How long can a body go without sleep? Terror was foremost on their minds. Constantly some were working on bailing out water or working pumps. The stress on the ship's frame was tremendous, constantly creaking and groaning. Still the storm drove on. All would be wet, numb and cold this time of year, with no warm, dry towels or clothing to be had. No heater for a brief relief. Confusion, anxiety and fatigue reigned supreme. Always present were the clouds in the sky. No hope-bringing sunshine or twinkling stars.
Storms are wreckers of ships as well as lives.
Storms tend to make drastic changes in the lives of those involved therein.
And later, another storm with just the apostles in the boat. After a particularly grueling day -- hearing of the murder of John the Baptist, return of the disciples on the limited commission, healing many and feeding the 5000, the crowds want to make Him king -- an exhausted Jesus had gone up on the mountain for a respite and to commune with God The apostles had been sent in a boat to go to the other side of the sea. Jesus sees from the mountain that the boat is being tossed to and fro in the waves and leaves His haven of rest to walk on the sea to the frightened apostles. Peter tries to walk to Him, but is frightened by the waves that take his focus off of the Savior. When Jesus enters the boat, the storm ceases and we see a change occur. For the first time as a group --these disciples who were so close to Jesus and all the miracles He performed-- for the first time, they worship Him and say, "Truly You are the Son of God," thus bringing them closer to God.
Storms in our lives can bring about drastic changes - either the physical storms or the emotional storms that we as humans must sometimes endure. In these biblical examples just mentioned, the people were brought closer to God.
Unless you have been through a tornado or something like Hurricane Hugo, we don't experience violent storms much. Most of us have gone through emotional storms. How do we react when we go through an emotional storm? A divorce, a death, a jail term, loss of a job, a devastating illness or injury, or other emotional stress. We as humans can be faced with a variety of storms. Storms that knock us to and fro, leave us stranded and drifting for long periods of time, threaten our lives, suppress our appetites, give us that sick, knotted feeling in our stomachs, mental pain and anguish, and cause us to abandon all hope. What do we do? What is our anchor that keeps us from crashing into the rocks? What is the medicine that soothes the stomach? What is our nourishment when we don't want to eat? Who is our companion and guide when we are stranded and drifting? Where do we look for hope?
You know the answer to these questions or you wouldn't have made the time to be in this class today. Sammy Watts knew the answers. Dimple Gilley did, too. Hebrews 6:19 says our HOPE of what God has promised us is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. Our hope will keep us from crashing into the rocks. We know of the "Balm in Gilead," referred to in Jeremiah 8:22, that heals the sin-sick soul, soothes the stomach and relieves the mental pain and anguish. From John 6:35 we know of the "Bread of Life" that nourishes us more than any earthly food and gives us strength to weather the storm. From Psalm 119:105 we know that God's word will be our lamp when we are stranded and in need of a guide. His word will keep us from drifting aimlessly. Where do we look for hope when we are in the midst of a storm? The same place Paul did. Paul tells us in I Timothy 1:1 that Jesus is our Hope.
God has made us a lot of promises, but He never promised us a rose garden. He never said, "Come be a Christian and I'll see to it that nothing bad ever happens to you." He allowed His Son to go through many a storm. It has been said that "smooth sailing does not a good captain make." Good captains are those who have been through storms successfully and know how to react to the next storm. If I put my life in the hands of a captain, I want to know that he knows what to do in case a physical storm should arise.
Our God is that captain of the emotional state. He knows how we feel when we hurt, grieve, are afraid, when we are staring death right in the face, because He has been there. When we struggle, He listens. When we yearn, He responds. When we question, He hears. Like a father, He wants to put His arms around us and give us a compassionate hug. If necessary, He'll carry us like in the poem of the man walking along the beach seeing two sets of footprints that later changes to just one set during a storm. When the man questions God as to why, God explains that He carried the man through the storm. The man was so blinded by his own personal storm that he didn't know how he had gotten through it. He was unaware that God had carried him through.
We know these things. Yet, when the storms hit, we will likely be in need of daily reminders, perhaps hourly reminders of these things. We'll need the encouraging words of those who aren't currently in the midst of a storm. Or like Paul, perhaps a fellow victim can give us hope and remind us of the promises of our God. Romans 5:3-5, "...we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope does not disappoints us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." He goes on to say Christ died for us sinners so that He might reconcile us to God. We can go home to our Father.
When we are beset by storms that interrupt our lives, stress our nerves to the limits, cloud the days, attack our faith -- where is God? Closer than you ever dreamed of. He's there to help and see us through. To tell us, "Don't focus on the storms; keep your eyes on me. Come closer." He wants to remind us of an all-expense-paid journey that we are to make. A trip that we didn't earn. It is an out-right gift. And the only disclaimer from the sponsor is "Be sure you are wearing my Son's mark and your name is on the ship's roster (also known as the Book of Life)." On that journey we won't be going to the "eternal city of Rome," but to a true Eternal City where all fears, tears, pain and sorrow will be erased. And like with Jesus in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, all storms will cease and we will worship Him. We will receive our reward--a home in Heaven.
[End with reading from Christian Woman, March 1992, pp. 60-63] -- remind us that our storms will end and our reward will be great. Much of this story is the writer's imagination, but the idea of stars or jewels on our crowns for all the storms we've weathered is an intriguing thought. I like her concept that it is not the committees we've worked on, but when we give up and turn it all over to God--because we are not in control--that we receive the biggest jewels. The misery of our storms will fade in the glory of Heaven.
Sing #157 - "He Leadeth Me"
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR