“A soft wind from the south began to blow, and the men thought that they could carry out their plan, so they pulled up the anchor and sailed as close as possible along the coast of Crete. But soon a very strong wind — the one called “North-easter” — blew down from the island. It hit the ship, and since it was impossible to keep the ship headed into the wind, we gave up trying and let it be carried along by the wind. We got some shelter when we passed to the south of the little island of Cauda. There, with some difficulty, we managed to make the ship's boat secure. They pulled it aboard and then fastened some ropes tight round the ship. They were afraid that they might run into the sandbanks off the coast of Libya, so they lowered the sail and let the ship be carried by the wind. The violent storm continued, so on the next day they began to throw some of the ship's cargo overboard, and on the following day they threw part of the ship's equipment overboard. For many days we could not see the sun or the stars, and the wind kept on blowing very hard. We finally gave up all hope of being saved.”
Acts 27:13-20 GNB
How Difficulty Can Make You Better, Not Bitter
Life is not fair. You will have problems, difficulties, and hurts that will make you better or bitter. You will either grow up or give up. You’ll either become who God wants you to be or your heart will become hard. You have to decide how you are going to respond to the tough times in your life. How will you handle it?
When you go through those difficult times, what happens to you is not nearly as important as what happens in you. That’s what you take into eternity — not the circumstances but your character.
In Acts 27, we learn three ways you shouldn’t respond:
1. Don’t drift. “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 27:15 NIV). The ship carrying Paul and other prisoners to Rome was in the middle of the Mediterranean and hadn’t seen the sun for 14 days, so they couldn’t get any bearings, and they started to drift.
When they face difficulty, some people start drifting through life. They have no goal, purpose, ambition, or dream for their life. Today, we call this “coasting.” The problem with coasting is that you’re headed downhill. Life is not a coast. Life’s tough. Don’t lose your ambition or your dream just because life gets hard.
2. Don’t discard. “We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard” (Acts 27:18). The men in charge needed to lighten the ship, so they threw the cargo overboard, then the tackle and the food. They were discarding things they needed because the storm was so tough.
When you get in a storm and the stress gets unbearable, you tend to start abandoning values and relationships you would not let go of in better times. You say, “I’m giving up on my marriage. I’m giving up on my dream to go to college.”
God says, “Stay with the ship!” Have you done that in your marriage? Have you said, “Divorce is not an option for us. We’re going to make it work.” If you haven’t, you’ll always be tempted to walk out. If you don’t throw away the key, you’ll never develop the character God wants you to have. God can change situations and personalities. He can change you. But he won’t if you’re always abandoning ship! I’ve learned from personal experience that it is never God’s will to run from a difficult situation. God wants you to learn, grow, and develop. Stick with it.
3. Don’t despair. “We finally gave up all hope of being saved” (Acts 27:20). After 14 days in total darkness and after giving up their cargo, tackle, and food, the passengers finally give up hope. But they’d forgotten one thing: Even in a storm, God is in control. He hasn’t left you. You may not feel him, but if you feel far from God, guess who moved?
God is with you in the storm, and he’ll help you through it. He is testing you to see if you’ll trust him. Will you pass the test?
Earlier in this plan, "God's Dream For Your Life," Rick Warren used the passage immediately preceding this one to teach how we should obey God. He taught that Paul had given a word from God to not sail that season, but the sailors did anyway because they trusted the "experts" and the changing circumstances over Paul's warning. As I read that lesson to my kids, along with all the others from this plan, we were blessed by the encouragement.
Now we find these same characters used for another lesson. I disagree with the applications Rick supplies.
To begin, the three accusations against the sailors were behaviors wholly appropriate to sailing. In a storm, as when hitting black ice, one does not resist the gale (or skid). I agree wholeheartedly with Rick's teaching to not drift. I object only to the reference and analogy. It is true that without a goal, there is no direction; without direction, we are taken along by a fallen world. This is not the life of a believer and follower of Christ!
The next point is to 'not discard', siting the sailors' acts of lightening the load to avoid sinking. Again, I am pretty sure this was a wise move on the part of the sailors. Paul does not object, as he does later when they try taking to the lifeboat. So, it is a bad example for the lesson.
And here, I can only agree with the lesson conditionally, and on one point I must disagree vehemently. The general lesson to stick out difficult situations is a good one. If quitting is always an option, then it will likely become reality, especially if quitting is the plan when things get 'too hard.' It will always get hard and who gets to define what is too hard?
But the author then says, "it is never God’s will to run from a difficult situation." This is simply not true. Peter was spirited from jail. Jesus escaped both a stoning and a crowning! 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that God will provide an escape from temptation (which I personally define as a hard situation). 2 Timothy 2:22-24 tells us to flee temptation. In fact, Rick Warren himself gives a teaching to leave situations and choose friends wisely in this teaching here: http://rickwarren.org/devotional/english/don-t-fight-temptation.-flee-it!
I want extreme caution taken whenever teaching about escaping or avoiding difficult situations. It is a good and worthy lesson, but is so very dependent on circumstances and requires such intimacy with our Lord for discernment, that a blanket instruction seems foolish and dangerous. Considering the staggering statistics on the perpetuation of abuses and addictions generationally, to advise someone (notably, someone with children) to stay in a home with addiction and/or abuse is to inflict untold harm on those children and the generation to follow. To bring it home, if I told my daughter to stay with her abusive husband because quitting is not God's will, I could be laying the groundwork for my grandchildren to be abusers of their own children! Generational curses are biblical realities that require attentive obedience to the Holy Spirit to break. Let us not perpetuate them with generalities as this.
And, finally, the third point is one with which I can agree conditionally again. In the biblical account, Luke says they gave up hope of being rescued. I see this as a limited loss of hope and acceptance of truth, rather than losing hope in God altogether, as Rick characterizes it. They were not going to be rescued by a coming ship or even by a supernatural display of calming waters or walking on the water to safety. This was reality, and hanging to a false hope would have led to poor decisions. I cannot fault the sailors.
To our own lives, hope is vital. But in what do we hope? This is key. I do not think Rick gives a clear indication of the distinctions here. We never need to abandon hope that God is near. We never should lose hope in our salvation or the goodness of God or the promises of His Word. But we can and should embrace truth, which often may mean giving up hope in human-made plans and dreams. The truth sets us free. Holding to false hope is a prison that limits our vision and options and should be abandoned with vigor.