Remaining In The Ship.....


From ancient times, mariners have looked through crude sextants to find their ways across the seas when there was nothing on the horizon to look at except the stars in the sky.  But there were times when no stars appeared...angry storms obscured the heavens and days passed by with no relief in sight.  And during the long wait, as anxiously they awaited calm seas and clear skies, hope was all they had become all they had.


"Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved." (Acts 27:31)


In these perilous times the whole world is experiencing, there is a story in the Book of Acts that becomes very relevant and timely for us to read again.  It is the story of Paul and a shipwreck that occurred during the later part of his years as a missionary-apostle to the early church. 


One day, in preparing myself to bring a message to a small home-cell meeting in Malaysia, I was searching for something that would be a timely encouragement for a people going through "rough waters".  They needed to know what God was saying to the church, what instruction could answer their fears and apprehensions,  and as I picked up my Bible to begin studying for that meeting, I was led to re-read this story.  I was surprised to find it an answer of great importance for this day...


When Paul, (then Saul...a zealous persecutor of Christians) was blinded on the road to Damascus. a voice from heaven said, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?"  


Sheepishly, Saul cried, "who art thou, Lord?"  


"I am Jesus whom thou persecutest;" came the answer. "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."  


Trembling and astonished, Saul replied, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? "


And the Lord said unto him, 'Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do."  


Meanwhile, in another part of Damascus a Christian named Annanias was praying and had a vision in which he saw Saul praying. God spoke to him to go and pray for Saul's sight to be restored and to receive the Holy Spirit, "for he is a chosen vessel unto me."  Saul's name would be changed to Paul and prophecy would seal his destiny...he would take the gospel before kings and suffer many things for Christ's' sake.  And so, in this famous story, Paul was set to be taken as a prisoner to Rome...


Let's look closely at this picture.  Bound in chains, with a heavy Roman guard, he is placed on a ship with almost 300 passengers, soldiers, and crew, and after several days of good sailing, they came to a place called the Fair Havens.  But it was late in the season for traveling on the high seas, and Paul warned and admonished them and said unto them, "Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives." 


Paul was a man of prayer.  A spiritual giant who heard from God...but neither the Centurion nor the owner of the ship heeded Paul's warning and proceeded to head for Phenice and winter there. 

As the ship left port, Paul must have looked at his present predicament and directed his thoughts heavenward; "Lord, I have given them your Word, but they ignore it.  Yet I trust in you, that as you long ago told me I would be going to Rome, it will come to pass." Hid in with these thoughts, Paul was resting in the place Psalm 91 describes as "the hiding place of the most high God."  It was his spiritual "cocoon".


A WORD FROM GOD!  How we need that most precious treasure in these days!  And when that Word comes...we have an anchor, a solid and secure rock to stand upon!  Yet, it is what we DO with that Word that determines its effectiveness.  So far, in this story, the Word that Paul spoke has fallen upon ears that refuse it.  But isn't that the usual case?  Men choose to listen more to their own ideas.


So the journey continued...first with smooth sailing, then gradually the skies began to become gray and threatening...the winds began to build.  An ominous storm, called "Euroclydon" (hurricane?) started to bear down upon this creaking vessel.  Heading for shelter at a nearby island, they soon found themselves about to be stuck in quicksand and had to lighten their load by throwing the tackling overboard.  Striking sail again, they escaped...but then the tempest bore down upon them with a vengeance and for days they were pounded with huge waves and driving winds.  Think of what their thoughts must have been....there are no rescue vessels to help...nothing.  Surely the ship will come apart soon, and they will all be cast into the angry seas to drown.


"..and when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away". (v.20)


Never see loved ones again...what heaviness of heart to face death in such a way! Except for Paul.  After waiting for a length of time, Paul stood in the midst of them and said, "Sirs, you should have hearkened unto me and not have loosed from Crete and to have gained this harm and loss. AND NOW I EXHORT YOU TO BE OF GOOD CHEER! for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship.  For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve. Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee."


Be of good cheer???  Wasn't that the exact words Jesus spoke when he raised the dead, healed the sick, did wonderful miracles?  But they almost seemed a mockery as those men were being tossed about and pounded by furious waves and wind...could they be believed?


As they spotted a small island and drew near, the ship was indeed about to be broken apart on the rocks.  Some of the crew let down the boat to try and escape.  But Paul warned, "except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved."  Why?  What they were doing was contrary to the dream and vision....and the next day, after finding a creek flowing out from the island, the ship was driven until it stuck fast and all aboard could then swim ashore safely.  Thus had Paul's words saved them all. 


In these days of frightening events, never before have we needed a Word from God any more than we do today...our boat is being tossed about by a horrific storm that threatens our very lives.  People are fearful and despairing.  BUT BE OF GOOD CHEER!  God has a Word for us...just as He did for Paul.  Our "ship" may be breaking apart and sinking, but all who sail with the "Pauls" of this day will suffer no loss of life. God will direct us to a safe haven. Only those who refuse to stay with the ship will be lost. 


Psalm 91 is so very relevant for our day:


"He who dwells in the secret place of the most High God shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.   I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God in Him will I trust.  Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler and from the noisome pestilence.  He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.   Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;  Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.  A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.  Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.  Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation.  There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.  For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.  They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.  Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder; the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.  Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him; I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.  He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.   With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation."


We must listen to the voice of the Lord speaking through His servants and His handmaidens...those who live in the "secret place of the Most High God and abide under His shadow"...who walk in His Spirit and know His voice.  And those servants and handmaidens must rise to the occasion...seeking God as never before for the sake...not only of His people, but of all those not yet saved and knowing the Lord who share in the mutual trial.  They need to see that Christians truly serve a Living God who never leaves us nor forsakes "ever-present help in time of trouble."