Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Serving God Through The Wreckage

Have you ever felt like your life has crashed in on itself? Have you ever wondered what God could be thinking, why He chose to shake your life up so much? I think a lot of times, we tend to look at the bad things in our life as punishment from God. If we get fired, if someone we love dies, if we are betrayed by someone we trusted, if we lose our financial security, if a family member gets cancer, we tend to look at the situation with a negative attitude.

We get frustrated with the stress and uncomfortableness of the situation, and we often turn our angry and frustration towards God. And I'm as guilty as anyone else. I do it too. It's so easy to get mad at God when things don't go my way.

I think that in our finiteness, we aren't able to understand how God works. The way God does things, the plans He has for us, and the reasons He allows bad things to happen are beyond our human comprehension. That's why verses like Romans 8:28, which says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose," and Jeremiah 29:11, which says, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,'" become such cornerstones in our lives. These verses are great reminders that even though we don't understand why God does everything the way He does it, He is in complete control, and He does everything for the good of those who love Him. When I read these two verses, I am so humbled and comforted because they remind me that good will come out of every situation I go through, no matter how horrible and terrible it may seem.

I feel like reading about the shipwreck in Acts 27 is a perfect illustration of this. In Acts 27, we find Paul caught yet again between a rock and a hard place. He is a prisoner on board of a ship of the Imperial Regiment of the Roman army. He is being taken to Rome to appear before Caesar to appeal the false accusations made against him. But on their long journey, winter sets in, which means the sea is very dangerous to be on. Waves toss back and forth violently and harsh storms ravage the waters. The ship Paul is a prisoner on finds itself in the middle of one of these storms. Battling the storm for fourteen days, Acts 27:33 says that the ship's crew hadn't eaten for the entire two weeks.

You'd think that Paul would be pretty put out about the situation. If I were him, I'd be thinking, "Okay, first I get arrested for preaching the Gospel, then I get falsely accused about stuff I didn't say, and now I'm on my way to a likely death in Rome, but low and behold, I also have to get caught in this storm with little chance of survival!" But as we read this story, we see that Paul had the exact opposite attitude. As the story develops, we come to find out that Paul was the most calm and the most level-headed man on the entire ship. Throughout the course of the journey, Paul proved himself trustworthy and a good leader, winning over the crew of the ship. And Acts mentions several times how much the Roman centurion guarding Paul trusted him. He, a prisoner, was able to take charge and lead the men to safety.

What I find really cool about this story is that Paul says that an angel came to him in a dream and said that the Lord had plans for Paul to appear in Rome, and graciously promised to deliver all of the men with Paul to safety. How awesome is that! And so with God's guidance, Paul was able to guide the men in safely reaching land. Their plan was to run ashore, but the ship got caught on some reefs, and they had to abandon ship as the waves began to tear it apart. And just like God promised, all 276 men aboard that ship survived. It was incredible! And it was all God.

But it doesn't stop there. They shipwrecked on a tiny island called Malta. Luke, the writer of Acts, recalls how generous and friendly the islanders were to them, showing them "unusual kindness" by building a fire for them and welcoming them in because of the rain. Now something interesting happens next. Acts 28 says that Paul went to gather brushwood to toss onto the fire, and as he put the brushwood on the fire, a snake slithered out of the brush because of the heat and bit Paul on the hand and fastened himself on. Even the islanders saw the horrible irony. Acts 28:4 says, "When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, 'This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.'" 

If it were me, I'd be so discouraged and put out! How disheartening, to be bitten by a mere snake! But that isn't how Paul handles the situation. Acts 28:5-6 says, "But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god."

God had promised Paul that he would appear in Rome before Caesar, and I fully believe that Paul handled both the shipwreck and the snake situation so well because He knew that no matter what he went through, God had promised to bring good out of the situation. He trusted God to get him through the rough times and God never let Paul down. 

And check out what happened on Malta after the snake incident. Luke writes, "There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. They honored us in many ways and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed." If Paul had never been shipwrecked, he would never have gone to Malta. Paul died later in Rome, and if it weren't for the shipwreck, that little island called Malta would never have been reached with the Gospel. And if Paul had not been bitten by that snake, the islanders would probably not have noticed that there was something different about Paul, and they probably wouldn't have treated the crew as well as they did.

So if you are feeling like God has shipwrecked your life, my question to you is this: Is your trust and confidence in Him, or do your actions show that you doubt His sovereignty and the unparalleled wisdom of His plans? If your life has been shipwrecked, and if you've been tossed around and shaken up, are you sitting there nursing your wounds and patting your own back, or are you making the most of the opportunity to further His kingdom and to be a light in a dark situation?

When your life gets wrecked, I encourage you to look for ways you can serve God through the wreckage that you never could before. Just as Paul would never have reached Malta, what impact can you make, what people can you reach, who's life can you change because of the storm and the shipwreck that you have been through? 

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