Facing the Storms of Life

June 7, 2009

Have you ever been in a really great storm? I mean a doozy of a storm? Do you remember when Juan swept through in September 03? I woke up in the middle of the night when the power went out, it actually flickered and the printer cycled on and off and woke me up. I remember hearing the wind and rain and looking out the window into the pitch black night and thinking “What a waste of a good storm, I can’t see it.” We had friends at the time who were single and silly and they got in their jeep and spent the night chasing the hurricane around the city, they were down at the waterfront in Bedford and Halifax and at Point Pleasant Park and they told us later what a hoot it had been.
As most of you know before I went into the ministry I spent a couple of years at sea with my dad on salvage tugs as well as a commercial fishing boat and during that time we spent more than a few day at sea in storms. I always found it interesting to see the point in the storm that I would go from being sick to being scared. In the scripture that was read earlier we saw that point arrive in Acts 27:20 The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone.
A little bit of the back story here. Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem for preaching the gospel and then is sent to Caesarea to present his case before King Agrippa, and we will look at that next week. Now he has requested the opportunity to appeal his case before Caesar in Rome. Let’s pull down one of our trusty maps here. Here is Jerusalem, and here is Caesarea where their voyage begins. And here is Rome where they were heading, and obviously this would be the quickest way, but Luke tells us that there were supposed to make several stops along the way, apparently they were travelling on what would be called a costal freighter today. So their first stop was in Sidon and from there they head out and encounter the first of a number of storms, and so they decide to stay north of Cyprus and land at a port by the name of Myra. From there they are transferred to an Egyptian ship that is heading to Rome. Back at sea they encounter another storm and end up at a harbour named Fair Haven. And it is at that point we read this account Acts 27:9-10 We had lost a lot of time. The weather was becoming dangerous for sea travel because it was so late in the fall, and Paul spoke to the ship’s officers about it. “Men,” he said, “I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on—shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well.”
But what did Paul know? He wasn’t a sailor, so the captain decided to sail further up the coast to a more sheltered harbour by the name of Phoenix. And mixing metaphors that’s when the wheels came off the wagon and where we came into the story.
Now most of us will never be in a storm at sea, at least you want to hope you won’t it really isn’t a lot of fun, people get hurt, equipment gets damaged and sometimes you throw-up on yourself, not that I would know about the last one personally it’s just something I read in a book.
But every one of us here without exception will face storms in our lives. They might be storms in your relationships. Perhaps with a spouse or parents or children. It might be a financial storm, some of you went through that this past year, or it might be a storm as it relates to your health, and there are some of you here today who are in the midst of that particular storm even as I speak. And I am familiar with some of your storms, we have talked, you have asked for advice or prayer and I know what you are going though. But there are others here today who are good at hiding the difficulties in their lives. It might be the way you were brought up or a matter of pride I don’t know, but right now the wind is blowing and the seas are threatening to capsize you and you are terrified.
So. . . what can we learn from this story? Let’s begin with the storm itself. Acts 27:13-14 When a light wind began blowing from the south, the sailors thought they could make it. So they pulled up anchor and sailed close to the shore of Crete. But the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a “northeaster”) burst across the island and blew us out to sea.
And so the first thing we discover is The Suddenness Of The Storm In the spring of 1979 we were fishing on the Rali II off the northern coast of PEI when we lost our engine, it was a beautiful day and so we notified the Coast Guard that we were without power, they asked if we needed a salvage craft and our skipper, my uncle said “No, that’s alright, we will get our sister ship, the Nadine to tow us back to port.” The best laid plans of mice and men. Kind of reminds me of the scripture we just looked at Acts 27:13-14 When a light wind began blowing from the south, the sailors thought they could make it. . . But the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a “northeaster”) burst across the island and blew us out to sea. And sure enough before it was over people got hurt, equipment got damaged and the only reason I didn’t throw up was I was terrified. When we finally got back to our home port people asked “What were you thinking?” Well we certainly weren’t thinking we’d end up in the middle of a storm.
One of my rules of boating is “It is better to be on shore wishing you were at sea than to be at sea wishing you were on shore.”
But really isn’t that how most storms arrive? Without notice? You think everything is hunky-dory and then the weather changes abruptly. Your boss invites you into his office and lets you know the company is expanding your employment opportunities, the police arrive at your door in the middle of the night or the doctor says “perhaps you should sit down.”
In football there is a two minute warning sounded letting the teams know that there are two minutes left in the half. Wouldn’t it be great if life gave us a warning to let us know that a storm is approaching? Two minute warning, unemployment ahead, heads up a tragedy is just around the corner. But life isn’t like that.
And while it may not be a comfort, understand that you are not alone, Luke and Paul weren’t the only two aboard the vessel and theirs wasn’t the only vessel at sea that night. It might seem that we are all alone walking through territory that no one has ever walked before but others have been there before.
Acts 27:15-16 The sailors couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale. Following the suddenness of the storm was the The Frustration Of The Storm
In a perfect world the sailors would have turned their vessel into the wind, so even if they weren’t making much headway they at least had a semblance of control over their ship. But apparently they had left the decision too late and now if they attempted to turn the vessel into the wind it would breach and roll over.
And so they did the only thing they could, they held on for the ride.
I think one of the things we struggle with the most in the storms that engulf us is the frustration of helplessness. Last year I was at a conference in Moncton and the hotel we were staying in had a waterslide, so I decided that since I had paid for the waterslide I ought to use the waterslide. First time I had been on a waterslide in fifteen years and the thing that struck me as I careened down the tube was the feeling of helplessness, of being out of control. I knew how it had started and I suspected how it would end but right then I had no control over what was happening at that particular time. You know what I’m talking about, you are in a storm right now and you know how it had started and you suspect how it will end but right now you have no control over what is happening.

Soren Kierkegaard the Danish Philosopher summed it up when he said “I feel as if I were a piece in a game of chess when my opponent says of it, “That piece cannot be moved.””
In a perfect world if we had of responded sooner we may have been in a better position, but “would of could of should have, won’t change the reality of the situation.
Most if not all of us want to be in control of our lives, even if we aren’t moving very fast we want to be able to say with William Ernest Henley “It matters not how straight the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the captain of my fate, I am the master of my soul.”

But often in the storms of life control is wrestled out of our hands and all we can do is let it run before the gale. We can’t go back and undo it or redo it, all we can do is hold on and pray.
But that isn’t to say there wasn’t anything they could do. They had come to the realization that they had no control over the storm but there were things they could do to increase the odds of coming out of the storm in one piece.
Acts 27:17-19 Then the sailors bound ropes around the hull of the ship to strengthen it. They were afraid of being driven across to the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast, so they lowered the sea anchor to slow the ship and were driven before the wind. The next day, as gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing the cargo overboard. The following day they even took some of the ship’s gear and threw it overboard.

 Dealing with the Storm The sailors know there wasn’t anything they could do about the storm, there was no way they could magically transport themselves to safety. So they did what they could to make their vessel safer and increase the odds in their favour. The first thing they did was is found in our story: Acts 27:17-19 Then the sailors bound ropes around the hull of the ship to strengthen it. They knew the only think between themselves and certain death was their ship and so they made every effort to make sure their ship remained intact.

When the storms of life threaten to swamp you realize that part of what keeps you safe are the relationships with in your life. And most importantly your relationship with God. Sometimes when the storm gets dark we find it hard to seek God, but that is when we need Him the most. Sometimes we feel like David did when he wrote Psalm 77:1-2 I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. Have you ever felt like that? Maybe it’s gone deeper, it did for David, Psalm 77:7-9 Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?
Have you been there? In the darkest days of your storm have you wondered if you have been abandoned? Maybe you just need to follow through as David did Psalm 77:11-14 But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works. O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you? You are the God of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations. Stop and remember what God has done, he didn’t abandon you in the past and he won’t abandon you now. We need to remember Psalm 50:15 Then call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.”
The secret and the promise are found in Isaiah 43:2 When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.
The word of God doesn’t say you won’t go through deep waters, or go through rivers of difficulty or walk through the fires of oppression, we are people we live on earth, that is life. Which may not be all that comforting but God is saying he is still on the throne and he is still in control.
And let’s not forget our relationship with those who care for us most. Too often during those times you feel like you are all alone and that there is nobody there for you. But too often that is because we have put up walls of self pity and pride. We have said either with our words or our attitude “I don’t need your help or I don’t want your help.” But at some point you will have to acknowledge that you can’t do it yourself. Surround yourself with people who can be there for you. Heed the words of Solomon from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
Author George M. Adams tells us “Fortify yourself with a flock of friends! You can select them at random, write to one, dine with one, visit one, or take your problems to one. There is always at least one who will understand, inspire, and give you the lift you may need at the time.”
I remind people to make sure there is at least one person they could call at three o’clock in the morning to post bail for them. Surround yourself with friends and family who can help you hold it together.
Aristotle reminds us “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge.” But as much as they might want to help they will only be able to if you let them.
The next thing they did was Acts 27:17-19 Then the sailors bound ropes around the hull of the ship to strengthen it. They were afraid of being driven across to the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast, so they lowered the sea anchor to slow the ship and were driven before the wind. The next day, as gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing the cargo overboard. The following day they even took some of the ship’s gear and threw it overboard.
They lowered the sea anchor to slow the ship. They knew they couldn’t control where they were going but they could do what they had to slow it down and regain some control. Sea anchors are usually like canvas bags that you toss overboard and they increase the drag of the ship, they won’t stop you but they will slow you down. And if you don’t have the right thing than you need to use the next best thing. The night we lost our engines off of PEI on the Rali II we had been mid water trawling, and that meant we pulled a large net behind our vessel that was held open by large metal wings, that were called doors, and we dropped those overboard on cables to increase our drag so we wouldn’t be blown ashore.
When the storms of life come upon us it is a good time to slow down and re-evaluate our lives. God’s word tells us: Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God!” Sometimes we are moving so fast that we miss the lessons that God has for us. Get into God’s word, find time for church, take time to pray, cast out those sea anchors that you need to slow down your life. Take time to think and re-evaluate where you are.
During that time we can see what course corrections there might need to be made when the time presents itself.
Acts 27:17-19 Then the sailors bound ropes around the hull of the ship to strengthen it. They were afraid of being driven across to the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast, so they lowered the sea anchor to slow the ship and were driven before the wind. The next day, as gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing the cargo overboard. The following day they even took some of the ship’s gear and threw it overboard.
Then the crew began to lighten the ship by throwing the cargo overboard. They had to decide what was important, right at that point in time and what was peripheral. It might have been important at one time and it might be important again at another time, but right then at that particular point in time it was a hindrance and it had to go.
There may have been others who would have disagreed with them, to some people the cargo may have seemed important, like to the people who owned the cargo, but they weren’t there and at that point in time it wasn’t their decision to make.
Another story, my family used to own a 42 foot cape islander, named the Narcosis, that had been converted to a pleasure boat that they used on the Saint John River system. Angela and I honeymooned on the Narcosis. On our first day we sailed into a little cove and dropped anchor so we could enjoy the sunshine. Who would have known that there would have been that much tide 50 kms from the Bay of Fundy.
When we went to continue our journey we discovered we were aground. And we spent most of that night aground waiting for high tide to arrive at 4:30 or so in the morning. As we approached high tide we put the anchor, the propane tanks and anything else we could in the dingy to light our load. When we were afloat again we pulled the dingy back alongside and loaded stuff back aboard.
When you are facing storms in your life there may be things that have to be ditched, at least for the time being. If you are between jobs and struggling financially you may have to re-examine your budget and see where you can trim fat, do you need cable, high-speed internet, two cars? Is it essential to eat out as often as you did, maybe this year it isn’t essential that you belong to the gym and that your kids play hockey. Those things may have been important at one time and they might be important again, but right now? Perhaps not so much.
Are you struggling with health issues? Than maybe your focus needs to be getting better and that may mean curtailing some of your volunteer activities or not doing some of those things that “Others” think you should do.
Are there problems with your marriage? Than you probably need to focus on that for the time being, it should be a primary responsibility. Other relationships may need to be put on hold for the time being, other activities may have to become secondary.
Word of caution here, make sure that what you are offloading is peripheral; this wouldn’t be a good time to ditch church or your scripture reading or your time with God. I’m assuming that they didn’t throw stuff like their food and water over board or the sails they would need later.
Here is the addendum to this message. You may not be in a storm yourself but you probably know someone who is going through a storm. This scripture gives us an example of what to say and what not to say.
Acts 27:21 No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. Paul should have been slapped. Nobody needs to hear “I told you so” when they are going through the storm, they might need to hear it later but they don’t need to hear it right then.

 But he does redeem himself in the next verse Acts 27:22 But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. Be an encourager; let them know that you are there and that you care.

 I don’t know what storm you may be going through right now, but I would like to pray for you.