Last night I couldn’t sleep. Mind racing. Worries heavy. No shame. No regret. Just doubts. Worries. “What ifs.” Honestly, on the verge of tears. Wishing that if only I could fall asleep, everything would be okay in the morning. Key word there, “wishing.” Not praying.
Earlier in the day, the pastor at church had even said, “Let prayer be your first response, not your last resort.” I had even just finished up a spiritual maturity class at church after the service, but I spent a decent amount of it mindlessly looking out the window. The car ride home, singing along to whatever Go Country 105 was playing on the radio. Nothing edifying. Like in that class, mindlessly singing along and driving through the city streets. I knew I needed to pray, but the Warriors/Cavs was in overtime, so I mean, what spiritually mature Christian doesn’t watch that game right? Game ends, and finally walk over to a spot I like to pray. A spot that looks out over the Marina and on a clear day you can see all the way from Malibu to Hollywood. It wasn’t a clear night. Cloudy and smoggy, but the city lights were still beautiful. Here in the city where I’ve felt God has called me and placed me, I prayed. The last five months have been a mix of a vacation and a challenge; more so the latter and particularly the last 48 hours had left me broken, doubting and worried.
So I make it back to my bed and try to go sleep, knowing (more so thinking) a new day would give me a fresh start. So back to where this post started. Mind racing. Worries heavy. Doubt creeping in. Emotionally drained. I prayed, “God strengthen me. I need you now. Get me through this.” Nothing fancy. Nothing long. Straight from the heart.
Still though, my mind racing a thousand miles and hour, I guess I finally dozed off. I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. Thoughts still running wild. Couldn’t sleep. There was no light. Encouragement no where to be found. I look at my phone. Nothing. Wasn’t expecting answers, but I figured I’d look anyway.
Again, “God I need you now.” As heartfelt as the first. Finally, I wake up in the morning by my body’s alarm clock and just lay in bed. I just wanted go back to sleep, but I got up. Sleeping wouldn’t help. It had gotten me no where in the last eight hours. Only to more brokenness and feeling of abandonment. I’d reached the culmination of months in this season God has led to where it seems like everything is barren. Where it feels like God doesn’t hear our prayers. Where deliverance is no where to be found. Where I don’t want to take another step. I felt like the Israelites as they are being led out of Egypt. “Did you just bring me here to die?” Thinking back to the safety and comfort I had in the prior season.
But, I finally get up after rummaging through my Twitter feed and everyone’s #MCMs. I turn on the coffee pot like I’ve done every day this year and get into God’s Word. Each morning I send out an encouraging text message to those in my small group. (Love those people. Shoutout Saddleback LA Young Singles Small Group). Some days it’s as little as a thumbs up emoji and an American flag; sometimes, it goes on for six pages. Today I needed one of those six pagers. Selfishly, I thought, not for them, but for me. I pray like I do every morning, that in this time God reveals an encouraging word that might change one person’s perspective; improve one person’s day.
Given the past 48 hours, I thought this morning, “how can I give a word of encouragement, when I’m so down in the dumps.” I pray again, “God, I thank you for this day. Thank you for the encouragement I know you’ll give me. I don’t care if it’s two words, or two thousand, I need a word from you right now. Soften my heart to receive. Block out the worries and doubts that kept me up all night. Your Word is truth, the truth that’ll get me through this season.”
My Bible reading plan for the day: 2 Samuel 1 and 2, and Acts 27:1-26. I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe every moment is a divine opportunity. Had this been yesterday, I’d have been reading a long list of names I can’t pronounce in Chronicles. God’s timing is so perfect. Every moment is a divine opportunity and can become a miracle like a wedding in Cana.
The passages in 2 Samuel were about war. Hardly encouraging. The passage from Acts about a shipwreck. Again, hardly encouraging. Until, I reread the passage from Acts.
I love that God’s Word is living. It’s the same today, yesterday and tomorrow. It’s not just a story about Paul on his way to Rome some two thousand years ago, it’s the active Word of God. When I need it the most, when WE need it the most, it’s always there, always available to be soaked up in our souls. When we soften our hearts, it reveals something new every, single time. I had read it once this morning, nothing. Knowing that every word is God inspired. Every, single, word is there for a reason.
On the reread, this passage caught my attention:
“Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.” (Acts 27:14-15 NIV)
Paul is on his way to Italy, preaching the Gospel even in the midst of bondage and ridicule. So we pick up the passage here, where they’ve been sailing around the island of Crete, which offered them shelter to some of the powerful winds of the Mediterranean.
Our life is like this part of the trip. We have a “Crete.” We build or designate an island that we think offers us protection from life. In other words, it keeps us in the status-quo of life, not venturing too far from the shore, because inside it’s softer winds, that’s where we’re most comfortable. We don’t want to leave because the storms may get stronger, because we’re a frail people knowing that trusting in ourselves will fail us. We’re happy off the coast of Crete, but staying off the coast of Crete, you’ll miss the rest of the world. You miss the calling that Jesus has put on your life because we’re content on staying in the protection of whatever island we’ve built.
Sometimes we’re forced off the island. Like Paul and the sailors, life can come at us like a hurricane; a strong enough wind, that our island can’t protect us any longer and we’re in the sea unable to direct our sails. No longer can we rely on our own strength, on our own wisdom, on our own circumstances to move forward in life. Paul is on his way to Rome. The sailors were content with staying within the protection of Crete. Both can’t happen. It’s either God’s way (on to Rome by whatever means, even if the waters get rough) or man’s way (enjoying the lovely views of the Cretan coast.)
Right now you might be going through something you can’t possibly bear. With every step you take, you feel that’s the one that’s gonna tip the boat on it’s side, leaving you swimming and gasping for air in a rocky sea. You’re there. I’m there, with you. Our circumstances are probably different. Maybe you’re reading this and you’re still under Crete’s protection. Perhaps you’ve made it to Rome. Wherever you’re at, there’s hope and security in the Anchor that is Jesus Christ!
As the story continues, I love how The Message translation describes it:
“Next day, out on the high seas again and badly damaged now by the storm, we dumped the cargo overboard. The third day the sailors lightened the ship further by throwing off all the tackle and provisions. It had been many days since we had seen either sun or stars. Wind and waves were battering us unmercifully and we lost all hope of rescue.” (Acts 27:18-20 MSG).
When a storm comes, especially in our lives, it ain’t over in a day; the waves continue rising higher and higher. It can rain, and rain, and rain, and rain, and rain some more. It can damage you. It can batter your sails. Leave you directionless. Scare you. Leave you in desperation, crying out again for the protection of Crete, but it’s in this passage that we see the beautiful truth that God is present even in the midst of a storm.
The passage reads: “The third day the sailors lightened the ship further by throwing off all the tackle and provisions.”
You know, nothing significant in the Bible ever happened on the third day. Oh…
“He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the THIRD DAY, rise again’ And they remembered His words.” (Luke 24: 6-7 NKJV).
On the third day, Jesus rose victorious! He defeated death and brought us a new life. Again, it’s no coincidence that this happened on the third day. That the turning point for this ship and it’s direction happens on the third day.
Jesus spoke to me this morning and, “see all that tackle; all those provisions on your ship; all those things that give you safety; all those past regrets; all those broken memories; all those times of pain; all those tears you cried; every sleepless night; all that sin in your life, do you see all that? THROW IT OVERBOARD!” Because He, being perfect, bearing every single ounce of weight, and baggage, and sin, and shame, and regret and carried it to the cross. Everything that is weighing you down. Everything you’re trying to hold onto. Everything that you think will help you make it through the storm. Toss it. I AM is all we need.
So we turn to Jesus in the midst of the storm. We turn to His promises that are too many to number. Promises of hope, provision, strength, blessing, and healing. We serve a faithful God! In the midst of this storm, look what Paul says:
“And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul: you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you. Therefore take, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me, however, we must run aground on a certain island.” (Acts 27: 22-26 NKJV)
That angel didn’t just speak to Paul on that ship in middle of the Mediterranean some two thousand years ago. That same angel was speaking to me here in my bed this morning. He’s speaking to you too, wherever you’re at right now.
God had given Paul a promise. Remember though, just because we get promises, doesn’t mean they’re gonna just float into our lives at the end of every prayer. No, we’re gonna go through storms.
Paul says, “hey guys we’re gonna live. But we gotta shipwreck this puppy on another island.”
The passage mentions the island of Crete and how it had offered protection from the winds. I had touched on how we ourselves create our own Crete’s in our life. The place where we feel safe and as long as we stay in the vicinity of that island, we’re protected and think nothing can hurt us. But, Paul mentions this other island.
I believe that island is Jesus Christ. He said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NLT).
We come to Jesus like the boat headed for that island. Battered. Worn. Empty. Holding on by a splinter; yet, still intact, still breathing, still living, still being consumed with mercy and grace we can not earn. Christ has given us a new vessel. A vessel to sail to Rome, to fulfill His promise.
We’re not sailing to Rome like Paul, but Christ has called us to go a make disciples of all the nations. Don’t hold on to the shipwrecked boat. Christ didn’t tell us to say on this new island, where we’re safe yet again. You’re a new creation in Christ! Don’t continue to pick up the pieces of regret and shame and guilt. Those very things that you built your boat out of that was able to get you through riding around Crete. Christ has carried all our sins to the cross. They’re nailed there for eternity. You have new island, but He’s telling us to leave it; however, the promise is that once we leave the island, we’ll always be in the protection of His winds.
Frankly, the darkness sucks. The storm can be unbearable. The silence is deafening. Life flat out sucks sometimes, but we serve a God who loves us and who won’t let us drown. A God who will see us through to dry land even in the midst of the storm. God’s still there. He hasn’t left. He’s working on your life in ways we might not understand at the time. You may be running a million miles away from God at this moment in your life, but he brought you here to this message on whatever screen you’re reading it. Not by coincidence, but by divine appointment.
What we see is wind and waves and despair, but what God’s sees is a beautiful vessel ready to glorify His Kingdom. A life of faith is not based around what we see, or have, or feel in the moment, but it’s about looking ahead expectantly at the blessing that God is going to pour out in our lives. It’s in this moment, as Paul encourages us, to “take heart.” They day won’t become butterflies and rainbows. Paul and the sailors still sailed around in the storm a few more days before they shipwrecked on the coast of some island.
These words, “take heart,” as my Bible commentary explains, are “used only three times in the New Testament…the verb has the idea of having good feelings or being in good spirits. Even as a prisoner Paul did not hesitate to make known his faith in God.”
If you’re reading this, be in good spirits today. Whatever season you’re in. Wherever life is at today. Make known your faith in God! A good God. A God who loves His children. A God who WILL protect them, and be faithful to EVERY. SINGLE. PROMISE. written in the His Word!
I’m not a pastor. I’m not in seminary. I can’t recite scripture with 100% accuracy. I probably couldn’t even name all twelve disciples if you put me on the spot. I’m average guy. I have my faults. I sin. I envy. I lust. I struggle. I cry. I doubt. But I’m saved through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.
I don’t wanna live inside the winds of any other island. I want Christ to direct my sails. I’ve built walls for my protection, but every one has crumbled. My vessel is being tossed in the wind. I needed God to show up this morning, not that He ever left, because He says He never will leave us or forsake us, but because I let the wind get to me. I let doubt creep in. I gave the devil a foothold in my thoughts and in my emotions. He’s cunning that Satan, and he’ll questions God’s goodness in your life. I let him toss me around last night. I started looking back at the shores of Crete, wanting that protection, wishing again for that status quo.
A friend of mine told me recently, “Being a Christian doesn’t mean that life is gonna be perfect. We’re gonna have challenges, but the main things is do we trust God?” I went to bed last night, trusting God, but only in verbal affirmation. My heart had serious doubts, even though He’s seen me through many separate storms. I woke up this morning in need of encouragement. Needing truth. Needing strength to make it another day. Needing my Savior! I needed a word today. God answered my prayers from last night and He will answer yours as well.
We’re all in need of constant encouragement, so I’m sharing this cause I know one person out there needs to hear this word as well. Be awesome today. Encourage others and above all else, praise God for who He is, what He has done, and what He’s gonna do in your life.