Wednesday, June 1, 2011
I have lots of favorite stories in the Bible, but some of the best are in Acts where Paul is thrown in prison, stoned, left for dead and shipwrecked. At one point Paul was traveling to Rome to be judged by Caesar for the crimes the Pharisees accused him of. He had already been in prison for over two years, then he was sent by ship to Rome to be tried by Caesar himself. Unfortunately, it was October, which apparently was a bad time of year to be sailing in the Mediterranean Sea. Paul had already had a really bad feeling of about the trip. He warned the centurion taking Him to Rome to spend the winter somewhere, anywhere, but out to sea. The centurion didn’t listen. It became obvious not long after Paul’s warning that the crew had made a huge error in judgment. Before long the wind was so strong, they couldn’t even think about heading the right direction. To get a little higher in the water, they threw everything except the necessities overboard, and they lowered the sails because the winds were so precarious they would have certainly crashed if they kept them up. So they just drifted, with no way to steer, no way to direct themselves, and very little hope of survival. They had drifted this way for several days without any relief from the hurricane like winds when Paul said (speaking of everyone except himself) in Acts 27:20, “…all hope of our being saved was finally abandoned.” (Amplified Bible) But Paul held onto hope. Even in the midst of such a dark stormy time, he had confidence. In fact, only 2 verses later Paul says, “But [even] now I beg you to be in good spirits and take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you but only of the ship. For this [very] night there stood by my side an angel of the God to Whom I belong and Whom I serve and worship, and he said, Do not be frightened, Paul! It is necessary for you to stand before Caesar; and behold, God has given you all those who are sailing with you. So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith (complete confidence) in God that it will be exactly as it was told me.” (Amplified Bible)
Isn’t it amazing how Paul could still believe even when he had absolutely no control over the situation, no way to steer the ship, no sun and no stars to really even know exactly where he was? It gets even better though. Notice how he uses the word “only.” “Only the ship.” He was telling a group of men who were in charge of the safety of 276 people, floating adrift in a near hurricane, in the middle of the sea with no way to steer, not really sure where they were, having thrown almost everything overboard to “be in good spirits,” because the only thing we’re going to lose was the ship. As a matter of fact, he said, “only the ship.” Now I’m not so sure about you, but I’m thinking at this point, the ship is kind of an important thing. There are about 300 of us in the ship, we are in the middle of a near hurricane, and as if that isn’t enough, we are in the middle of the sea, but in Paul’s mind, it was still only a ship. He already knew it was going down, but he also knew what God had promised him, and in the midst of the storm, he kept his focus on that promise not on the storm and certainly not on losing the ship no matter how important the ship seemed to be at the time.
In my mind the ship would have been everything and if it was lost, all would be lost. But apparently, even then, at least to Paul, it was only the ship. In an odd sort of way this story reminds me of a young man that approached Jesus and asked how he could be saved. Jesus listed several things that the man should do, and the man assured Jesus that he had tended to those things since his youth. So Jesus then told the man to sell all that he owned, give it to the poor and to come and follow Him. The Bible goes on to say that the man walked away sad, because he was very rich. Can you imagine the thoughts in that man’s mind when Jesus told him to sell it all? Seriously? Everything? I bet he had some discussions in his mind like, “Obviously, Jesus doesn’t know how hard I worked for all of this. Sell it and give it away? If He had any idea how much blood, sweat and tears I have in all of this, He wouldn’t ask me to just give it away!” Yes, Jesus demanded everything. Yes, Jesus knew exactly how much the man had invested in all of it, and He was asking him to let it all go. Just like when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, He demanded that Abraham give up everything that mattered to him. Yes, the ship was everything, and God allowed the ship to crash. Just like Jesus knew how much the man had and how hard he had worked for it, and He asked him to sell it all-everything-anyway. There are times when God wants to know if we are all in for Him. I wonder if I could do it myself. Could I give up everything if God asked me to? If God told me today that the ship I was in was about to crash while out to sea, in the middle of hurricane like winds, could I put my full trust in the promise that He would rescue me out of the deep waters? If he asked me to walk away from everything that my husband and I have worked so hard to build together in order be closer to Him, could I lace up my walking shoes and take a single step? If I’m honest, I’m not sure I could do it. I hope I could do it. I pray I could do it. But in the end, I’m not sure I could say, “It’s only the ship.”