So many books have been written, and sermons preached, about faith that the subject can become overwhelming. Those who long to walk in greater faith can be left with the feeling that real faith, the kind that produces real miracles, is just too hard for normal people like us. We dont doubt that miracles can happen, or that they do happen for some people, we just assume we arent that kind of people. Apparently, real miracles require more faith than were able to produce.
But into all this confusion and frustration about faith, steps Luke. His description of what took place during this storm is so vivid, so detailed, we can almost watch the events unfold in our minds eye. And the most wonderful part is that he allows us to observe Paul walking through this crisis by faith. And what we observe seems pretty simple and straightforward. It leaves us wondering if receiving a miracle can really be that easy.
Reliving the rescue (Ac 27:27-44)
The central truth
For this story to make sense, one thing has to be true. Paul must have heard God speak to him on, at least, two occasions. How else could it be possible for a man to know what would happen in the future, with such accuracy? And how else do you explain the peace that exuded from someone trapped on a sinking ship in a typhoon. Obviously, God told him what was going to happen, and Paul was so sure of it that, even when circumstances seemed headed for disaster, he didnt panic. He kept trusting what God said and working to encourage everyone else on board to do the same.
In this chapter (Ac 27) there are at least two occasions where God spoke to Paul. The first was a warning of what would happen if the ship left the harbor in Crete. Paul had said, Men, I see (behold) that this sailing is going to be with unnecessary damage and much loss, not only of the ships cargo and of the ship itself, but also of our lives (Ac 27:10, literal). But Pauls warning was ignored and the decision was made to try to move to another harbor. Shortly after they pulled out of that shelter a typhoon struck, and it wasnt a small storm. It was a deadly storm that raged on for weeks. Undoubtedly, as each day passed, and the ship rode lower and lower in the water, Pauls credibility as a prophet rose higher in the minds of all on board.
The second time God spoke to Paul was toward the end of the two-week period. By then everyone was terrified they were going to die, and so seasick they had eaten almost nothing and had become weak. Paul stepped into the center of where everyone had gathered and told them that God had spoken to him again. This time He had sent an angel with a message. He said God assured him that his prayers for their lives had been heard and that not one person would die, and then he said this,
be of good courage, men, for I believe God that it will be exactly as it has been spoken to me, but we must run aground on a certain island (Ac 27:25).
At no point in this crisis was Paul fatalistic or passive. Its almost certain that God spoke these things to him during times of prayer and worship, probably gathered with Luke and Aristarchus in some quiet corner. In other words, Paul continually put himself in a position to hear from God. Even though it was human disobedience that had caused this problem, Paul did not assume they were all doomed. He fought for their lives in prayer, until at some point, God spoke to him, assuring him that his prayers had been answered and revealing key facts that he, and everyone else, would soon need to know.
And Paul didnt keep the information God gave him to himself, he shared it with all on board. Then, in front of everyone, he took a step of faith to prepare himself to receive the answer that God had promised. He took a loaf of bread, blessed it, broke it and began to eat, and then encouraged them all to join him. He told them, I exhort you to take nourishment, for this will be the beginning of your salvation (rescue), for not a hair of one of your heads will perish (v34). They all needed to eat, because they all needed their strength, because soon they would all have to swim to shore. And when they began to eat, Luke says everyone became joyful. Paul also gave them two signs to watch for, so they would know God was protecting them: They would arrive at an island, not the mainland, and the ship would run aground. Knowing this prepared them, so they wouldnt panic at the last minute and think Gods promise had failed.
God is always our Source. Everything good comes from Himespecially faith. We humans cannot produce miracle-receiving faith within ourselves. We must wait in His presence until He speaks to us, in whatever way He wishes, and when He does, faith comes alive. This is because every form of life comes from God, and only Him. Listen to how John describes the eternal Son of God: In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (Jn 1:4). Jesus said the same thing this way: For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself (Jn 5:26). This means faith is not something we can generate by trying to be positive. Being positive is certainly better than being negative, but real faith is something thats alive, its a gift from heaven, its created within us when God speaks to us. This truth is the key that makes miracle-receiving faith possible for us all. If we choose to, every one of us can wait in Gods presence until He speaks to us, and when He speaks, faith will be ignited. The process is actually quite simple to understand, but quite difficult to do in practice. Waiting on God requires: time (in most cases); a quiet mind; a lack of interruptions; spiritual protection; and a forgiving, loving attitude toward others.
This waiting, and the resultant transformation, is what were observing in Paul. And we learn that Jesus Himself did the same thing when He tells us that He only did the things He saw the Father doing and spoke the things He heard the Father say. So heres the process: we go to the Source, the One who spoke the universe into being, and we wait there until He speaks to us; and when He does we are changed, a gift is imparted within us. Now we are able to say with Paul, I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told (v25). This is real faith, and only real faith brings real miracles.
Enemies of faith
If the process is really that simple, then the only thing that can prevent us from walking in faith, is us. Heres a list of some of the real enemies of faith:
Distrust: Doubting that God really wants to help me. This usually comes from a distorted understanding of who He is and a lack of understanding of what Christ has done.
Impatience: Becoming tired of waiting for Him to show up. Rather than press on, we quit waiting and become self-reliant.
- Saul and Samuel (1Sa 13:8-14)
False teaching: Being taught that I must produce my own faith by willing my mind to be positive, that by speaking I can generate my own creative energy (which I can, but its not holy).
Shame: Being ashamed to look Him in the face because of my weaknesses and reported failures. I am plagued by deep doubts that He is willing to help me. Producing such faith-killing shame is one of the devils main objectives in tempting us.
Unforgiveness/Bitterness: Refusing to give grace to others is a serious disobedience that dries up my sense of Gods presence. Jesus repeatedly spoke of forgiveness when He taught on faith (Mk 11:22-26).
Heres the question this chapter of Acts puts in front of us: Is Paul doing something we could do? In other words, if we did what he did, will we have the faith he had? Or are we simply watching a special relationship between God and His apostle? Are we supposed to admire Paul or imitate him? If you recall, he actually answered that question for us. He told the believers in Corinth, Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me (1Co 4:16). Yes, hes a great man. Yes, hes an apostle, but hes cut out of the same cloth we are. Hes not divine; hes just a really good Christian. So, hes showing us whats possible, the kind of things God wants to do for us as well. We cant escape the implications of this chapter by putting Paul on a pedestal and saying, Oh, that was Paul, and Im not Paul. Luke has literally turned that storm and shipwreck into a case study so that we can watch Paul handle that crisis. And the lesson we learn is that what he did was simple, doable and hard, for all the reasons mentioned above. But we also learn that faith is not an exotic, complicated matter that only specially-gifted people can take part in. We too, if well do what he did, will get what he got: faith, the real stuff, the kind that rescues and saves and heals people. God is our heavenly Father, just as much as He was Pauls. Jesus is our Savior and righteousness, just as much as Pauls. The same Spirit is given to us without measure that was given to Paul without measure. The only difference between those of us who are frustrated and disappointed, and Paul, is that he understood the enemies of faith and kept them out of his life; and he had learned how to wait on God until God showed up and spoke to him. And when God spoke to him, faith came alive. He left those encounters full of faith and peace, and then went out to help others receive their miracle.
1) Have you ever heard God speak to you? That doesnt necessarily mean you heard Him with your ears, but one way or another, you know that you know He spoke to you. Would you be willing to share that moment with us? How did it change you?
2) If you were desperate to hear from God, what would you do? What steps would you take to draw close and listen?