How do we weather seasons in life when friends are far away, fair havens have faded from the horizon, we are storm-tossed at sea, and everything we need has been stripped away?
You lose your job. You’re bombing several classes. Your home feels like a battleground. You’ve just been diagnosed with a serious illness. Your church is in dire straits. In seasons like this, many of us (myself included) feel like we need something new — a new word from God that applies directly to our situation.
In Acts 27, after more than two years of waiting, Paul was finally sailing for Rome. His whole life had led up to this moment. All of his training and experience had prepared him to preach the gospel before Caesar himself. But on the journey from Jerusalem to Rome, Paul faced one of the fiercest storms of his life. And the strength he needed did not come from a new promise, but an old one — a promise God had given to him years before.
Goodbye, Fair Havens
The trip starts off well. At the first port, Paul is given liberty to visit friends. On top of that, the ship is headed for a place called Fair Havens to spend the winter. But then everything starts to unravel:
And putting out to sea . . . the winds were against us. . . . We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther . . . coasting along it with difficulty . . . the voyage was now dangerous. (Acts 27:4, 7–9)
The wind carrying Paul to his mission in Rome suddenly shifted. As the ship left Fair Havens for the tempestuous sea, it was as if God himself was blowing against Paul. You can imagine Paul onboard the ship: Jesus, I know you’ve called me to Rome. You promised that I’ll testify to you there. Why are you making this so hard?
Have you ever felt this way? Jesus, you’ve called me to this church. You’ve called me to this job. You’ve called me to this marriage, this family, this town. God, I’m just trying to do something for you — why do you make it so impossible?
When the winds are against us and no fair haven is in sight, we have to regroup. We get so wrapped up in doing something for God. He is concerned with what he is doing in us. He leads us into winds and storms to show us just how unbreakable his promises are.
Remember the Promise
Paul warned the crew that a storm would come — and it did come. A violent wind rumbled over the island of Crete, blowing Paul and his shipmates into the murky, angry depths of the sea:
Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. (Acts 27:18–20)
Into that moment of utter despair, God sent an angel to Paul, saying, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you” (Acts 27:24).
The promise that Paul would stand before Caesar is not new. Two years earlier, Jesus himself stood by Paul in prison and promised, “As you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11). In the midst of Paul’s terrifying storm, he didn’t need a new promise or a new revelation — he needed to remember the promise God had already given.
God stripped everything away from Paul and his companions so they couldn’t put their hope in cargo, tackle, or even the ship itself. Paul’s only hope was God’s promise. That night, Paul strengthened the crew with the assurance of that promise (Acts 27:21–26).
Faith vs. Pragmatism
But what happens when something more practical than “trusting his promise” comes along? That night, the sailors were tempted to take a more pragmatic approach:
About midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. . . . The sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow. (Acts 27:27, 30)
They were willing to trust the promise of Paul’s God when they had nothing else to go on. But as soon as anything else appeared on the horizon, they were ready to jump ship.
Pragmatism says, “Abandon ship and take your chances rowing for shore.” Faith says, “Stay aboard a sinking ship and trust God’s promises.” In our churches, how quickly do we abandon God’s sure promises when something more practical appears on the horizon? In our daily lives, the Scriptures are great when we feel hopeless, but how quick are we to jump ship the moment a more practical solution appears?
Safe at Shore
After Paul convinces the sailors to cut away the ship’s boat, the story comes to a crashing finish:
Striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. But the centurion . . . ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land. (Acts 27:41, 43–44)
And so it was that all were brought safely to land. We all knew this was how the story would end. We had no doubt God would keep his promise. Isn’t that a funny thing? When we read God’s word, we never wonder how the story is going to end. It’s a foregone conclusion — God will keep his promise because he always does.
But how will God keep his promise? That gets more to the heart of it, doesn’t it? That’s the question we find ourselves asking over and over again in the storm: How? When Paul needed reassurance that God was going to deliver him, God didn’t tell him how. In fact, God simply reminded him of the promise he had already made.
God Will Keep His Promise
In the midst of the storm, we become convinced: I need a new promise. I need to know how. And God comes to us and says, “You don’t need a new promise. You need to hear the same promise again.” God has promised you will be brought safely through — you will reach your journey’s end in Jesus Christ:
- Philippians 1:6: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
- Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
- John 10:27–28: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
- Philippians 4:19: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
- 1 Corinthians 1:8: “He will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In the crazy storms, the shipwrecks, the starless nights and sunless days, we don’t know how God will save us. But we do have his promises. And when we get to the end of our lives, we will be able to say, “I had no idea how he would save me, how I would make it to the end. But never once did he fail to keep his promise.”