“When we had put to sea from there, we sailed under the shelter of Cyprus, because the winds were contrary” – Acts 27:4
Is our comfort in life God’s priority for us? Are people always healed? Is it ever God’s will to suffer, to go through trials, to wreck? God’s priorities for us have eternity in view. Therefore, when our temporal comforts conflict with His eternal purposes, we can expect difficulties. God’s eternal purposes are greater than our temporary healings. There are times when we suffer, go through trials, and yes, even wreck. Sometimes it is God’s will for us to wreck.
Towards the end of the Book of Acts we see Paul is on his way to Rome. He has shared his testimony and the gospel in the power of the Spirit before his countrymen. The Lord opened a door for him to infiltrate and influence the movers and shakers in the Holy Land. But along the way we have seen him nearly torn apart by rioters, nearly whipped by Roman soldiers, and he is headed for a severe storm at sea and a shipwreck. You might be wondering, “Is all this the leading of the Holy Spirit? The answer is “yes.”
False teachers will tell you that if you come to Jesus all your troubles will be fixed. Come to Jesus and your marriage will be reconciled. Come to Jesus and He’ll give you money to more than pay for all your bills. Come to Jesus and you will be healed all your diseases. Now, if you come to Jesus, He very well might do those things, but He might not too. In fact, sometimes coming to Jesus doesn’t make life easier to live but harder.
Jesus said, “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). He said, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!” (Matthew 10:25). Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18-20a). The Apostle Peter spoke of “those who suffer according to the will of God” and that they should, “commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19). Yes, sometimes it is God’s will to wreck.
We see this throughout the Old Testament. Joseph said the evil his brothers meant toward him God used for good (Genesis 50:20). Job endured great trial and loss so that a revelation in scripture might be recorded for the annals of history that shows the reality of spiritual warfare and sovereignty of God. Jesus went to the cross and died a horrible death so that humanity could be redeemed from their sins (e.g. 1 Peter 1:18-19). Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23-27). The message of the New Testament is “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Bound up in those words is the reality and expectation that sometimes it is God’s will to wreck.
How should we process the wrecks of life? Can any good come from them? The last chapters of Acts demonstrate to us that great good can come through the wrecks of life. At the very least, troubles the Lord allows in our life are well worth weathering in order that His will be done and He be glorified.
When Paul sets out to sea right from the start it states, “the winds were contrary” (Acts 27:4). As Jesus had told him (23:11), Paul was going to Rome. The centurion Julius was kind to Paul, and we can trust that it was the Spirit who gave Paul favor with this soldier. Not enough though to listen to Paul’s prophetic warning of the disaster that awaited this journey (27:10-11). It’s always dangerous to turn a deaf ear to the warnings of a godly person. This is especially true when God forewarns us. But as God warned Paul, the ship ran aground “and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the violence of the waves” (Acts 27:41). There are times when we run into immovable objects and contrary forces break things up, even with violence. When that happens, we can only hang on to the LORD. When that happens all we can do is hang on to the Lord. When we do that we discover God’s faithfulness and a host of other eternal truths to live by.
We know that it was the Spirit’s will and guidance for Paul to go to Rome and bear witness of Jesus. We know this based on Jesus own words to Paul (Acts 23:11). Yet the road the Spirit leads us on sometimes includes storms in life. When you come to Jesus as Savior and Lord it does not necessarily mean that your life will be smooth sailing from that point on. Sometimes the Spirit will lead us through trials and storms in life. Why does the Spirit lead us into and through storms in life?
The Spirit and Storms in Life
Why does the Spirit lead us into contrary winds? There are several reasons He leads us into storms, but we should never think of God as a sadist because of what He allows into our lives. We need to have a proper perspective on the storms of life to receive the blessing that storms in life can bring. What should we realize about the storms in life and how the Spirit uses them?
First, God allows storms in life that are brought by Satan. If we look at the opening chapter in the book of Job we see that Satan goes before God who brags on the faithfulness of Job. Satan mocks Job’s faith accusing him of having ulterior motives for being faithful to God, i.e. Job only follows God because of God’s blessings. Satan then asks to test Job, and God allows the testing. Guess what the form of one of Satan’s attacks was? Satan chose to use a storm to test Job. In Job 1 it states:
Job 1:18-22 – “While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house,19 “and suddenly a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped.21 And he said: 1 “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” 22 In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.”
Insurance companies refer to natural disasters as “an act of God.” I think God is getting a bad rap on this. Yes God is sovereign and controls the universe and what happens in His universe He is ultimately responsible for. But Satan is the generator of many of the storms that come into our lives. The literal storms that Paul encounters on the Mediterranean Sea on the way to Rome could very well have been an attempt by Satan to thwart the will of the Spirit for Paul to minister in Rome.
Second, God allows storms in life to teach us about His faithfulness. God purposely allows storms to come into our lives that overwhelm our personal resources and strengths. He does this to show us our inadequacy and His sufficiency and faithfulness. Everyone experiences storms and trials in life. That is the testimony of Scripture. That is the lesson of life. The lesson to be learned from the storms God allows is that God is faithful.
God knows intimately our limitations and will not allow us to be tested beyond our limits. God will faithfully provide a way of escape so that we can get through them. This is exactly what Paul said when he was inspired to write:
1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
The word “temptation” here can also be translated “trial.” As the verse says everyone goes through trials and temptations. Notice the next emphasis is not on our faithfulness, but God’s faithfulness. God will make a way for us to get through the trial or temptation successfully. God makes such a provision a matter of His faithfulness. Therefore, as we experience trials and temptations in life and trust God in them, and find His escape routes, we learn God is faithful. That is a tremendously important truth to understand about God.
Third, God allows storms in life to give us an opportunity to overcome fear by faith. Years before, in another stormy situation, Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us cross over to the other side” (Mark 4:35). The disciples were fishermen for the most part and welcomed crossing Galilee with their Savior. Jesus was at ease in the boat and fell asleep, no doubt fatigued by a day of ministry. While crossing the Sea “a great storm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling” (Mark 4:37). The disciples, experienced fishermen, began to panic. Jesus remained asleep in the stern or back of the boat. The disciples ran to Jesus an awakened Him saying, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). Jesus did and does care. He “rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39). Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). You see, if there were no storms on the sea of life, we would never have opportunity to show and grow our faith in Jesus. God allows storms that scare us in life to give us an opportunity to overcome fear with faith (cf. also Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25). God’s priority for us is not comfort, but strong faith.
Fourth, God allows storms in life to teach us to focus on Jesus. On another occasion Jesus sent His disciples across the Sea of Galilee after a long day of ministry. It was the end of the day. The sun was setting or had already set. While the disciples entered the boat to cross the Sea, it says, “He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray” (Matthew 14:22-23). If you’ve ever been to the Sea of Galilee in Israel you know there is a tall mountain named Arabel that overlooks the Sea. It is my favorite place on earth. When you are on top of the mountain, you feel closer to God. It’s a quiet majestic place. It’s understandable why Jesus might have chosen Arabel to get alone with His Father and pray.
Focus on Jesus until you learn our extremities are God’s opportunities. While Jesus prayed, His disciples reached “the middle of the sea” and a storm arose. Their boat was “tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary” (Matthew 14:24). In Jesus day the night was divided into four “watches.” The first watch from six pm to nine pm at night. The second watch was nine pm to midnight. The Third watch was midnight to three pm. And the fourth watch was three pm to six or sunrise. It was in the fourth watch that Jesus came to His disciples. If they entered the boat at the end of the day, it means they had been straining at the oars throughout the night. Then, at the break of day, “Jesus went to them, walking on the sea” (Matthew 14:25). Jesus often waits until we expend our strength to show up. Why is that? Because our extremities are His opportunities. When we get to the end of ourselves, and we have no strength left, we look to Jesus with greater desperation, greater reliance, greater surrender, purer faith.
Focus on Jesus and the storms of life become secondary. At first, when the disciples first saw the figure of Jesus walking on the water, they didn’t recognize Him. They said, “’It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear” (Matthew 14:26). Then it says, “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27). It says that when Jesus said this, “Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (Matthew 14:28). To see Jesus walking on water was so astounding that it appears that, to the disciples, the storm became secondary. In the storms of life, if we just keep our eyes on Jesus, the storm becomes secondary. Remember that.
Focus on Jesus and walk over the storms. When Peter asked Jesus to verify Himself (apparently Peter was having a hard time believing what he was seeing), Jesus said, ‘Come’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on water to go to Jesus” (Matthew 14:29). When we look to Jesus, we can walk over the storms of life. Remember that. Storms are inevitable in life. Storms threaten to sink us and drown us. But if we keep our eyes on Jesus, we will walk over them.
Focus on Jesus because He has you in the storm. “But when he [i.e. Peter] that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:30). Peter’s faith was weak. Our faith is often weak in the storm. How did Jesus respond to weak-faithed Peter? How does He respond to us when our faith is weak? It says, “And immediately Jesus stretched our His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased” (Matthew 14:31-32). Jesus didn’t rebuke Peter for his weak faith, He merely pointed out that doubting was unnecessary. It was as though Jesus said, “Why are you doubting Peter, I’ve got you.”
Fifth, God allows storms in life to teach us the sufficiency of His grace. Storms in life take many forms, some natural actual storms like the ones Paul experienced at sea; others are individual and physical, psychological, or spiritual in nature. Regardless of the nature of the storm in our lives, God wants us to know His grace is sufficient to get us through it. Again Paul shares what he no doubt saw many times in his own life. He was inspired to write:
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
My wife always kids me that I’m book smart while she is more street smart. There is a truth in that. There are things you can read about and study about and know to some extent, but until they are lived you really don’t grasp their substance or essence of truth. There are some things you can only truly learn through experience. God allows storms and trials into our lives to create a life experience classroom to teach us firsthand and for real that HIS GRACE IS INDEED SUFFICIENT. Paul’s ailment was likely some physical malady that hindered or hurt him in some way, enough so that he sought relief from it from God. But instead God chose to allow the ailment to persist so that Paul would learn the greater truth that God’s grace was sufficient and that when he was in a position of weakness, he really was strong because he had to depend on God more.
When the people of Israel returned to Jerusalem from their captivity and sought to rebuild, they were overwhelmed by the mountain of rubble that needed to be transformed again to God’s City. It was at that point that the prophet Zechariah uttered the words:
Zechariah 4:6 – “So he answered and said to me: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the Lord of hosts.”
It is the Holy Spirit that is the Agent of God’s grace to help us through the storms of life no matter the form they take.
Sixth, God allows storms into our lives to build our Christian character and faith. James was no stranger to storms in life being martyred for his faith like all the other apostles (except John). James knew the value of storms in life and so exhorted the brethren he was inspired by the Spirit to write to, to accept storms in life with joy. James wrote:
James 1:2-5,12 – “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. . . . 12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
Joy is not happiness (which depends on what happens in your life); joy is an assurance that you are in the will of God and right with Him in your life. You can go through a storm in your life and be blessed as God reveals His sufficiency to you and builds your faith and character.
Peter wrote similarly:
1 Peter 1:6-9 – “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”
The storms and trials in our lives are proving grounds for our faith. It isn’t that God needs to prove your faith; we need to prove our faith so that we know God is faithful and what He promises is true and real. Trials are the opportunities to see that what we believe is real and true, not just a thought or theory.
Seventh, God allows storms into our lives to bring glory to His name. As God shows Himself faithful in our storms and is proved to be true and real, it glorifies Him. Read what Peter (who died being crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to die crucified right side up as Jesus did), said about the storms and trials in life:
1 Peter 4:12-16 – “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters.16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.”
God is glorified when His faithfulness and sufficiency are shown to be real in the believer going through the trial. And notice another thing here, Peter says, “for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” The Spirit is close to those who go through storms in life. It isn’t that the Spirit is actually closer to us than at any other time, it is that we are more attentive and interested in the Spirit, the Lord, when we are going through trials and storms in life that are stretching us beyond our own capacities. That is why 1 Peter 4 opens with the statement that, “for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1). When we suffer in the flesh, when we perhaps face a life-threatening illness or situation, we stare into the teeth of eternity. And when we are looking at eternity, it puts everything else into perspective. When we face eternity and judgment it causes us to correct our priorities to align with the import of salvation. Trials and storms in life get our attention and when we experience the truth and realness of God in those times we glorify God and those who observe His sufficiency in us give glory to God.
Worship Him in the storm. When Jesus came to the disciples walking on water and rescued them from the storm, they were in awe. When Jesus enabled Peter to walk on the water, and then saved him as his faith faltered, they were dumbfounded. When Jesus got in the boat it says, “Then those who were in the boat came and worshipped Him, saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). God allows the storms of life to bring us to that point, to bring us to our knees in worship of the One who is in control, even in the storms of life.
There is a lot of talk in our day about “deconstruction.” This deconstruction is destructive in the sense that it exalts people as the arbiters over God and His word so that The Faith is suited to mostly secular sensibilities. It is an arrogant way to change God and His word to people’s liking and even goes so far as to use “love” as a cloak of such deception. The better way is to allow God to deconstruct us from our self-reliance, self-approval, selfishness. God does this with storms and wreckage and difficulties. God purposefully allows us to sail into troubled waters and stormy seas for such a purpose. When we surrender to such plans of God and come to wonder at His provisions and power, we will inevitably worship Him. All our life, including the wreckage, bring us to the foot of His throne. And that is a good, no, the best place to be.
Yes, the Spirit does direct us to and through storms in life and they serve a great purpose. Storms and wrecks are the worktable on which God works out the genuineness of our faith. ON that table the wrecks of life may dismantle us at times, but God is able to put the pieces back together in a way that we become stronger. Through it all, if we keep our eyes on Jesus, what God wills and plans for us will be fulfilled. And that is always what is best. God brings worth from wreckage. That is a wonderful truth to trust God to fulfill.