This chapter is a case study in bad human leadership. Luke describes Pauls voyage to Rome in great detail, and by the time 276 people wade ashore on the island of Malta were left amazed that anyone survived the foolish decisions made by those who were supposed to protect them. Time after time the human leaders used their authority to benefit themselves and ignored their responsibility to care for those they led. The Roman governor (Festus) put Paul, the centurion and others in danger by sending them to Rome late in the year because he didnt want to wait until spring to get rid of Paul. The captain of the ship didnt want to move around the harbor if a storm arose, so he was willing to risk the lives of all on board to make a run for another harbor. The centurion in charge of Paul was a kind man, and the only person who made any good decisions, but on a crucial decision, he ignored Gods warning and followed the majority opinion. The sailors were willing to abandon ship and let hundreds of people drown to save their own lives. And the soldiers wanted to kill all their prisoners so they wouldnt risk being punished if any escaped. Only Paul and God cared for the people on board. In the midst of a deadly typhoon Paul earnestly prayed that their lives would be spared, and God rescued every one.
This chapter is also a case-study of what we can expect from God. We should notice as we read it what God did, and what He did not do. Bad leadership was able to put people in harms way. The cargo, which would have included as much as 30 tons of wheat, was lost. The ship itself, which may have been as much as 180 feet long, was lost. God provided a warning, but He did not prevent the physical and economic destruction caused by bad leaders. But notice: even in that desperate situation believers could intercede and ask God to give them the people. In Gods eyes they were the true treasure on that ship, not the wheat or the ship itself. Even if the ship must go down, God wants to save the people. They should be our focus as well.
Many people ask for prayer because they are suffering under bad leaders. Those who have authority over them or make decisions that affect them are, in some cases, incompetent, dishonest, angry or disloyal. Their leadership may even be destroying the business, organization or department they lead. Sadly, this is the fruit of our broken, unbelieving culture. There are few good leaders because our culture is not producing many good people. Yet we should not despair, so long as our hearts are set on the right treasure: people. In this chapter Paul shows us how to be spiritually victorious even when human leaders fail.
(v10) He remained spiritually alert and gave a prophetic warning which wasnt heeded at the time, but which indeed came to pass, and that fulfillment confirmed to everyone he really heard from God.
(vs21-24) He did not grow bitter but fought in prayer for the lives of the people around him, asking God to rescue them from the destruction their leaders had brought upon them.
(v25) He encouraged the people with a second prophetic word, and this time they listened.
(v31) He stayed alert and provided advice in the middle of the crisis.
(vs33-37) He refused to be gripped by fear and let his example encourage everyone on board. In effect, he became their pastor.
Praying for the passengers
What were observing in Paul is not out of the ordinary for a man who understands the power of prayer and has learned to listen to the Spirit. When we pray for people God reveals to us things we need to know or they need to know. Prophetic revelation and intercessory prayer go hand in hand. As we pray for someone our compassion for that person grows, and when compassion arises God can trust us with deeper understanding of that persons needs. He may even give us a word of knowledge about them or for them. We tend to spend too much time praying that God will save our ship. Like Paul, we need to focus our energies on praying that God will save the people on board our ship. Most of the indications in our culture are pointing in the wrong direction. In that sense all of us are on a ship thats caught in a storm, but we must not waste our time being angry at poor leaders. We must turn our attention to fighting in prayer for the passengers.
Our most important authority
The most important authority God has given us is the authority to pray. Think how often Jesus said if we believed in Him we would have access in prayer to the Father, and that we could be confident that whatever we needed He would give us (Jn 14:13-14; 15:7; 16:23-27). By His death and resurrection Jesus not only cleansed our sins and gave us eternal life, but He also restored the spiritual authority God intended for us when He created us.
Restoring our assignment (Ps 8)
Through Jesus we have been re-empowered to carry out the original assignment God gave the human race to still (cause to cease) the enemy and the avenger. Listen to how David explains Gods plan: Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger (Ps 8:2 KJV). This entire psalm is a prophetic revelation of Gods purpose for the human race. God showed David His original plan for Adam and Eve, and one of the reasons He commanded them to be fruitful and multiply (Ge 1:28). Were not told why, but this planet already had an evil spirit present before Adam and Eve arrived. Satan was present in the garden even before these first humans sinned. But God had a plan for driving him back and establishing His righteous rule everywhere. The humans He created would love and obey Him, and as the human population multiplied the devil would be driven back. And the way humans would break his power is with our lips. Our mouths, and the mouths of our children, would still the enemy and the avenger for God has given us the right to rule, on His behalf, over this creation. He made us a little lower than Himself (Elohim), He crowned us with glory and honor, and gave us dominion over the works of His hands. And Satan knew this. He knew we had the authority and assignment to silence him
with our lips. So he tempted us, and when we yielded, that authority was broken and he gained dominion over us.
God sent Jesus not only to forgive our sins so we could go to heaven, but to restore the spiritual authority we had forfeited to the devil, and re-issue our assignment to destroy his works. Once again our job is to still the enemy and avenger with our lips, which means through worship and prayer, particularly by interceding for others. We must realize that the greatest gift He has given us through Christ, beyond our own salvation and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, is the restoration of our authority in prayer. We have been re-empowered, re-authorized and re-assigned to destroy the enemys plans with our prayers.
Paul in the storm
And this is exactly what we see Paul doing in the midst of that storm; He wasnt wasting his time being angry at the incompetence of human leaders. He turned his attention to God and pled for the lives of all on board. The devils plan was to drown them all, but Paul, with his lips in prayer, stopped that plan. He exercised his God-given authority, and not one life was lost. The boat and the wheat sank, but the real treasure, the people, were rescued.
The work of prayer
Many of us realize prayer is a great source of power, but we still dont pray that much. This may be because we dont realize how much spiritual opposition there is to our prayers. There is nothing the devil dreads more than humans discovering how to destroy his plans through prayer, so he opposes us every time we try to pray. A mature man or woman learns to expect this opposition, and develops ways to press past it, but someone who doesnt understand whats happening to them can become distracted and discouraged. Their prayer-life can end up focused on a few of their own personal needs. In effect, their authority goes unused and the devils plans go unchanged.
Here are some practical steps that might help to strengthen our prayer-life:
1) Realize that much of the weakness and failure we experience, and even the struggles of others around us, can be changed when we learn to pray as we should. Listen to Paul: In the same way the Spirit helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Ro 8:26). With this in mind, should we be surprised that when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit God touches our lips and gives us a gift that empowers us to pray what we ought to pray?
2) Realize there will always be a spiritual struggle to prevent us from praying because the devil knows this is the key to his defeat.
3) Make prayer a discipline, but not a boring formula that you mindlessly repeat. Develop ways of reminding yourself of areas you need to consistently hold before God, but listen for the Spirits guidance each time you pray.
4) Find a regular place and time; use a journal; write down revelations and answers to prayer.
5) Make the effort to gather with others to do intercessory prayer. We need to be part of gathered-prayer just as we need to be part of gathered-worship. Praying with others strengthens our private prayer.
6) Continually remind yourself not to beg or bargain when you pray. Ask Him to show you how to pray for that person or situation, and recall the promises God has given us in Scripture. Then pray boldly and with the authority God has given you, even if you dont feel it at the time.
7) Dont pray for too many things at a time. It becomes exhausting, and we learn to dread prayer as a chore.
Paul could not prevent the loss of the cargo or the ship. God faithfully provided a warning, but He let human leaders make bad decisions. But Paul did ask God to give him the people around him, his fellow-passengers. He fought for them in prayer, and God answered him. In the process, God gave him prophetic revelation and sent angels to protect him. We can do the same. All of us are passengers on a ship of some sort; all of us are subject to the decisions of human leaders. But if we have the eyes to see there is a heavenly Leader above them all who wants to use us to destroy the devils plans for the people were traveling with. He wants us to use our lips in prayer to still the enemy and the avenger.
So, now, we need to ask ourselves three questions: 1) What ship am I on? 2) Who are the passengers Im traveling with? And 3) How am I exercising my God-given authority to rescue those around me?
1) Life is complex and all of us are on different ships: our family, workplace, school, church
etc. Pick one and tell us how you think God wants you to pray for that situation.
2) Name someone (or feel free not to use their name) who God wants you to fight for in prayer. Why?