MVMT 13: The storms of life

Acts 27:13-38

Acts 27:21-26 – 21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”


If there is a universal year of storms, it is 2020. But for me, it was 2009. I just graduated from Bible college after five years in Dallas to prepare my life for ministry. I came back to Sydney, ready to change the world for Jesus. And two weeks later, a big storm hit my life. I forgot the exact date, but I remember it was Monday, in the month of June. I was very fit back then. That morning, I did a morning run around the complex of my house. Then I took a shower and went to my GP for an annual blood check. Everything seemed fine. After GP, I went and did my daily activities. Then around 8 PM, my home phone rang. I hardly ever answered the phone at home. But that night, my parents were not home, and my sister and Iluh were somewhere else. So, I picked up the phone and it was my GP. And I thought, “This is weird. Why is my GP calling us at this time?” He asked if he could speak to my parents. I told him that they were not at home and he can leave his message with me. But he declined. He preferred to speak to them in person. I should have noticed that there was something wrong, but I didn’t. I hung up the phone and went back to my room. About an hour later, my parents got home, and they told me to come down to the living room. They told me to sit down because they wanted to talk to me. And let me tell you, I was very worried. Because that usually meant I did something stupid and my parents found out and I was in trouble. Then my dad told me. My GP called my parents to tell them that I had been diagnosed with leukemia and I had to be taken to the hospital immediately. In June 2009, I was hit with the biggest storm in my life so far.

One of the questions that we must deal with as we play part in the gospel movement is the question of the storms of life. Let me make a confession. Many things in the Bible bewildered me. And one of the questions that often baffle me is the question of pain and suffering, the storms of life. Why did God allow Christians to experience tremendous pain and suffering? If God loves us so much, why life is so hard? If God is powerful, why did he allow suffering? Why did my parents get divorced? Why did my family member die of coronavirus? Why did my sister get raped? Why did I lose my job? Why is following Jesus so hard? This is the question that our text is dealing with. And this is very important for all of us. When we play part in the gospel movement, we are not exempted from the storms of life. Christians will face the storms of life.

This is where prosperity theology gets it very wrong. If you are not familiar with prosperity theology, it is a popular teaching that tells you that if you follow Christ, then God will bless you with health and wealth. It is not God’s will for Christians to go through pain and suffering. However today, many Christians realised the flaw of this theology. It is extremely unrealistic and inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible. What is very common among Christians today is not prosperity but soft-prosperity theology. Or let me call it the Disney theology. They believe that Christians will go through many trials but ultimately the purpose of every trial is for God to bless you with material blessings. They say that you might experience pain right now but hold on. Because if you hold on, God will restore your life and bless you with double blessings in this life.

To be fair, there is a part that they get right. It is God’s desire to bless us. God desires to bless us more than we desire his blessings. John says that God is a fountain of living water that will finally quench our thirsts. We are to drink from him and receive blessings and satisfaction from him. What is amazing about this living water is that he is the one who pursues us. We are the one with a thirst, but we keep drinking from a wrong fountain. Yet he pursues us and offers us to drink from him. He wants to bless us when we are not even looking. So, praise God for his generosity and his desires to bless us. But this is where prosperity theology gets it very wrong. They equate God’s ultimate blessing to health and wealth, while the Bible tells us that the greatest blessing God can ever give us is the gift of himself. God is the greatest blessing of the gospel. He is the living water that quenches our thirst. He is the bread of life that satisfies our hunger. He is the song that we sing. He is the joy that fills our hearts. He is the reason we live. Christ is. Full stop. Not health, not wealth, not family, not success, not power, not money. Christ is our ultimate treasure. The gospel is not if we trust Jesus then we will get everything we want; the gospel is if we trust Jesus, we get Jesus. It is only when we get the gospel right that we can face the storms of life.

Let me give you the context of our passage first. By this time, Paul had gone through a few trials because of his faith. And in all those trials, Paul was proven innocent. Paul could have been released from the trial if it was not for the reason that he appealed his case to Caesar. Therefore, Paul had to be transported to Rome. A Roman centurion named Julius was assigned to take Paul and other prisoners to Rome. But there was no direct route Caesarea to Italy. They had to travel in different stages using different ships. And Paul advised Julius that they should stop at Fair Havens and wait for a few months before continuing their journey because it was not a safe season for them to sail. But of course, what does a preacher know about sailing right? Julius listened to the advice of sailors and ignored Paul’s advice. And because of it, they encountered a huge storm that threatened their life. And apparently, Luke was on board with Paul. We can see this by the use of “we” in the story and also by its accurate, precise and vivid descriptions of the journey. This is interesting. Why did Luke write such a long and detail explanation of this narrative? I think Luke is trying to teach us about the storms of life. Luke witnessed how Paul dealt with the storms of life. And watching how Paul deal with his storms teaches us something about how we can deal with all storms, all sufferings, all troubles when they come into our lives. None of us is exempted from storms. Everyone who follows Jesus will face the storms of life. And what is unique about this storm is there was no supernatural intervention of God to stop the storm. There was no Jesus in the boat shouting, “Be still” and immediately everything stood still. In this storm, there was no miracle. But here is what we know: God kept his words. What God has promised, he will accomplish.

I separate this narrative into four sections. The storm; The paradox; The purpose; The presence.

The storm

Acts 27:13-20 – 13 Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. 17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. 18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.

When they begin to travel, everything looks fine. There is no hint of a storm. It starts with a gentle breeze of the south wind. So, they embark on their journey. But very soon after, a gentle breeze turns into a horrific storm. And just like that, the ship is carried by the storm. The people in the ship do everything humanly possible to save themselves and the boat. I am not going to explain every little detail that they do because I am not a sailor. I am not going to pretend that I understand the technicality behind the details of what they do. But the point of this vivid description is to show the severity of the storm. Luke does not want us to miss it. Acts 27:20 – When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. It is a hopeless situation. There is nothing else that they can do. They are at the end of themselves.

What can we learn from here? We learn that the storms of life can come anytime, anywhere, and without invitation. I wish the storms of life would call me in advance to let me know that they are coming. But they don’t. All it takes is a single phone call to turn a gentle breeze into a tempest. One moment, everything is perfect. The sky is blue, and the sun shines bright. The next moment, our life is unravelling. The sky is dark, and the sun is nowhere to be seen. 2020 teaches us that storms do not need an invitation. Covid19 happens just like that and all of us are still recovering from its effect today. Here is something that we must understand about Christian life. God never promises smooth journey in life. Two years before the storm, God told Paul that he would go to Rome and stand before Caesar to testify of Christ. So, Paul knew that he would eventually get to Rome. But what Paul might not expect is how he will get to Rome. In our lives, we often only care for the destination. We only care about making it to Rome. But God is far more interested in how we get to Rome. Let me put it this way. We are more interested in getting to the destination while God is far more interested in the journey to the destination.

But here is a question that we must deal with. Why storms? I mean, we can understand a storm for Jonah. One day, God came to Jonah and told him to go to Nineveh to preach to the city. But Jonah disobeyed God and went on a boat to Tarshish instead. And because of it, God sent a huge storm that threatened to destroy the boat and kill everyone on the boat. We get that right? God sent a storm to discipline the disobedient Jonah. But a storm for Paul? Paul has done nothing wrong. Paul is living in obedience to the word of God. Paul is walking in the will of God. But why does God allow a huge storm to threaten his journey to fulfil the will of God? And this is the question that we will encounter sooner or later in our walk with God. And this is the question for many people as well. The question usually goes like this. “If God is good and powerful, why did he allow evil and suffering?” Two logical answers. Either God is powerful, and he is not loving OR God is loving but not powerful. If God is powerful, then he is able to get rid of evil and suffering in a single heartbeat. But because there are evil and suffering, that means that God is not loving enough to do it. OR. God is loving but he is not powerful enough to get rid of evil and suffering. You will hear this argument being used a lot against Christianity. Because Christians believe in the all-powerful and all-loving God. He is not one or the other. He is both powerful and loving at the same time. So how do we answer the problem of evil and suffering?

Let me show you one big flaw in dealing with the question of the storms of life. There is one assumption inside this train of thought that is extremely flawed. Here is the wrong assumption: Since we can’t see any point to the storms of life, since we can’t find any good reason behind it, it means that there cannot be any point to it. Do you realize how foolish this is? Let me give you an example. When I was 18, I was broken-hearted because my ex girlfriend cheated on me three times in a matter of one month. And what made it worse, she was the one who ended the relationship. I mean, after cheating on me three times, at least give me the courtesy to be the one who ended the relationship. But she broke up with me. And I was devastated. That was the first serious dating relationship in my life. I really thought I was going to marry her. And I could not see any reason why I had to go through what I went through. But now, looking back at it, I am extremely grateful that I did not marry her. It would have been the worst person for me to marry. However, at the time of the incident, I was convinced that she was the one. Here is something that aging teaches us. The older we are, the more thankful we are that we did not have what we wanted really bad before. Am I right? Married couple, raise your hand if you are glad that you did not marry your ex. And if you are married and your hand is not raised, I am letting you know in advance that you will certainly have a difficult conversation with your spouse on your way home from church. Just because we cannot find any reason, it does not mean there isn’t one. Aging shows that to us. If that is true about the 15 years intellectual gap between who we are today and who we were before, how much more true is it for God? The intellectual gap between us and God is infinite. How can we ever assume that there is no reason behind the storms of life that God allows?

The paradox

Acts 27:21-32 – 21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.” 27 When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. 28 So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. 29 And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.

So how do we deal with storms of life? There are two truths that we must hold together. First, trust in God’s providence. Look at what Paul does. He can’t resist starting off by telling them, “I told you so.” If they would have listened to him in the first place, none of this would happen. But now that they are already in the predicament, Paul tells them to take heart. He says that an angel of the Lord told him that not a single person will die on that journey. Only the ship will be destroyed. And the angel affirms what the Lord had told Paul before that he would stand before Caesar. That’s the reason Paul is calm. Paul is confident in God’s promise that he will make it to Rome and stand before Caesar. God will not fail. It is confidence in God’s purpose for us that will preserve us in the storms of life. Until God’s purpose for us is accomplished, we are invincible. If our work on earth is not done, nothing can kill us. But if our work on earth is done, why would we want to stay here a minute longer? Paul has absolute trust in God’s providence. Nothing happens by chance. That’s the first truth.

Second, embrace responsibility. Just because Paul has absolute trust in God’s providence, does not mean he remains idle. He does not say, “You guys can do whatever you want. You can go snorkelling if you want. I am just going to pray. And don’t worry, we’ll make it to Rome.” Paul does not do that. But rather, he takes responsibility. When some of the sailors try to escape from the ship, Paul does not remain idle. He does not say, “It doesn’t really matter if the sailors escape or not. God has promised that I will make it to Rome so I will.” But Paul says to Julius, “If you let these sailors escape, we are going to die.” Wait. Doesn’t God promise that they will make it to Rome without any death? Yes. But God’s promise presupposed that they would stay together. With another word, get this. Trust in God’s providence is not a passive trust but an active trust. The promise of God does not negate human responsibility. God always keeps his promises. Whenever he promises something, we should never doubt him no matter how difficult it seems. But it does not mean we are free from responsibility.

Here is why this is important. You and I like to choose one over the other. If God is in control of the future, if the future is fixed, then our choices do not matter. On the other hand, if our choices matter, it means that the future is open, and we have to power to shape our future by our choices. We like to think it’s either-or. Either God is sovereign, or we are responsible. But the Bible says it’s not either-or but both. The Bible teaches us that God is absolutely in control and our choices absolutely matter. And I know what you are thinking right now. “Yos, it does not make any sense. I can’t put the two together.” And I don’t blame you. It is one of the mysteries of the Bible how these two truths work in harmony together. And it is not as if God is responsible for 50% and we are responsible for the other 50%. It is not 80/20, 70/30 etc. It is 100/100. God is 100% in charge and we are 100% responsible for what we do.

Let’s rewind back to early 2018. At the end of January 2018, when it finally daunted on me that Ps Ferdinand had left for Melbourne, anxiety hit. I woke up one morning and I could feel a tremendous weight on my shoulder. I thought it was just a momentary panic attack and it would go away on its own. But it didn’t. In fact, it got worse. I believed that God was calling us to be an international church. He wants to use us not only to save the Indonesian in this city but nations. I believed that with all my heart. Here was the problem though. I did not think I have what it takes to do it. As your pastor, I did not think I have what it takes to go where God wanted me to go and I was very scared. And not only that, but I was also responsible to lead all of you in this journey. I was extremely scared to the point that I thought this was a mistake. I was on my knee and I said to God, “I don’t think I can do it. I don’t have what it takes to do it.” But as I prayed and begged God for help, a fire burned in my heart. I felt like the Spirit inside of me was saying, “God got this.” I had this sense that he was saying, “Now we can dance. I’ve been waiting for this moment. I know you cannot do it, but I can. I know you don’t know what to do but that’s okay. This is my mission and not yours. I’ll take the lead and you just follow. Do not be afraid.” That night I received the promise and the conviction from God. And we started RSI on March 2018. But that was not the end of the story.

If I only trust in God’s providence, I would be very passive. My attitude would be, “Okay God, do what you want to do. I’ll get my popcorn and watch.” I mean, who cares what I do right? The future is fixed. Will we be here today? Of course not. But if it were all up to me, how could I wake up in the morning? If the future of this church is simply the outcome of my choices, I would be extremely pressured and frightened. If you are not utterly panicked at the thought of having full control of your life and God has no control over your life, you are not thinking straight. One small wrong decision could destroy your future forever. But the Bible teaches us both God’s sovereignty and human’s responsibility. Paul believes in both. That is why he is not panic amid the storms. But he is not passive either. He is totally in charge. He is making wise decisions. Nothing is more practical than to believe we are absolutely responsible for our choices and God is absolutely in control at the same time. We need to hold both truths because it is empowering and comforting. It is empowering because it teaches us that our choices do matter, and it is comforting because we know that we cannot mess up God’s plan for our life. This is the paradox of Christian life.

The purpose

Acts 27:33-38 – 33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) 38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea.

Now we can see clearly what the purpose of the storm is. Look at it. All the sailors and passengers in the ship have lost hope, including Luke. But not Paul. Paul trusts in the promise of God and he also acts responsibly. When everyone has no appetite to eat, Paul urges them to eat. Paul understands that these people must eat if they want to survive. He uses common sense. Sometimes people say that Christians are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly use. But the truth is the opposite. It is those who are heavenly minded that is of earthly use. People who are earthly minded have no hope when the storms of life come. It is only those who are heavenly minded that have hope and able to help others when the storms of life come. This is the key to practical Christianity. Paul is able to help and encourage others. And that is why God puts Paul in the boat that is heading for the storm. Think about it. Without Paul on board, no doubt that everyone in the boat would perish. They would drown at the sea. But Paul’s presence in the boat changes everything. Do you see what happened? Our storms are not just about us. Our storms are for the sake of others to see Christ in us. People do not take notice of us in the gentle breeze of life. But they take notice of us when we act differently from everyone else in the storms of life. How we face our storms attract the attention of people around us and it brings glory to God.

Paul puts it this way. Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Paul does not say that all the bad things that happen to us are actually good things. Neither Paul says “We only need to see the bad things from different perspectives. If we can see it from different perspectives, then bad things are actually good things.” No, a thousand no. Evil is evil. Bad is bad. Storm is storm. It is wrong to call evil, good. Evil is not part of God’s original purpose for us. So, what does this verse mean? It means that there is a God who is at work! A lot of times we don’t see it or feel it, but it does not mean that God is not doing anything. 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 3600 seconds an hour, God is always at work. And I know what is in your mind. You are saying right now, “Well, that’s good to know that God is always at work. But I still don’t see the why behind my storms.” It is simple. We cannot see the why because our story is not finished. From God’s vantage point, it is done. But from our point of view, it is still in the process. And if you know anything about a good story, resolution comes at the end of the story. But we know that even at this very second, God is working in ways that we cannot see and comprehend to accomplish his good purpose in us.

I keep saying this and I won’t get bored of saying it. Leukemia is one of the best things that ever happened to me. Some people think I am crazy for saying it. But I do not believe for one second that God was surprised when I got leukemia. “Oh no, angel number 040186, why did you not protect Yosi from leukemia?” “Sorry God, I was on toilet break when the enemy attacked.” I don’t buy it. I’m not saying leukemia is good. It is evil. It kills many people. And I know the enemy meant evil against me. The enemy wanted to kill me with leukemia. But God in Heaven was laughing. “Go ahead and do your things devil. Go ahead and try to kill him. Inflict him with leukemia. While you do your things, I’ll also do my things. Do you want to kill Yosi with leukemia? I will open his eyes and let him see who I am through leukemia.” Exact same event, two different purposes. But God always has the last word!

And what’s amazing is God is working all things together. That means there is no random occurrence in our life. God uses every little detail of our lives, every one of our life experience, pain, and joy, and put them together as part of his great story. Not a single part of our life is wasted. What happened to us when we were 3 will work together with what happen to us when we are 50. There is no such thing as a mistake in God’s agenda. He can, he does, and he will take every little detail of our life and use it for his good purpose. Are you with me? This is God’s providence. Christians are not exempted from the storms of life, but Christians have absolute confidence that everything happens under the control of the good and sovereign God. Every bad thing that happens to us only leads to something more glorious and beautiful at the end. God’s providence does not remove storms from our lives but sustains us through the storms to accomplish his good and greater purposes. And until God’s purpose for us on earth is done, we are invincible!

The presence

The storms of life do not necessarily make Christians better. Storms can make us bitter and kill us. It is not the storms that make Christians better but the response to the storms that make the difference. For us to remain strong in the storms of life, we need to know that Jesus is with us in our storms. Listen to Paul’s words. Acts 27:23 – For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship. To whom I belong. This is a covenant language. Paul is God’s possession. In the midst of the storm, he is saying “I know I belong to God. I know I am his. I know he is with me. I know he loves me.” Paul does not make the mistake we often make in storms. When we are in the midst of the storms of life, we often think, “God does not care about me.” Or “God is punishing me.” But not Paul. He is saying, “God is with me in the storms.”

How does Paul have the confidence that God is with him in the storms? Here is how. Matthew 12:40-41 – For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. Jesus calls himself the ultimate Jonah. Do you remember what happened to Jonah? Jonah sins against God and disobeys God. He gets in a boat with sailors, but God sends a storm of God’s wrath after Jonah. When Jonah sees the storm, he realises that it is God’s punishment for his sin. He tells the sailor to throw him into the sea and they will be saved. They do and the storm ceases. When Jesus says that he is the ultimate Jonah, he says that there is a storm that all of us deserved. We have sinned against God and we deserved God’s storm of wrath to punish us. But if we believe in Jesus, Jesus says, “I will take that storm for you. I will give my life for you. I will be thrown into the storm that you might be saved. I will take all the storms that you deserved.” When we know what Jesus has done for us, when we face storms, we know that it is not God’s punishment for us. Jesus is with us in our storms and he will accomplish his good purpose in us.

And this is what separates Christianity from other religions. There is no other religion that teaches that God is with us in our storms. That God lost his Son for our sake. That God entered into our suffering, tortured, rejected and become a victim of injustice. We might not know the reason for our suffering, but it cannot be that God does not care. We might not have the answer to the problem of evil and suffering, but we have something much better. We have Jesus. He entered into our suffering and he is with us in our suffering. And not only that, but we also have the hope of a glorious future. Do you know what’s going to happen on the day of resurrection? Everything sad will become untrue. There will be no more tear, pain and suffering. We will read the end of our story and know that every storm of life was designed for our good and God’s glory. Not a single storm is wasted. How do we know? Because of Jesus. When we finally see Jesus in all his glory, we will not only see his beauty. Do you know what else we will see? We will also see the nail-pierced hands. Revelations 5 tells us that when we see Jesus, we will see the lamb of God standing as though it had been slain. We will see the evidence of his suffering for us. But we will not be sad because of it. We will worship him for eternity because of it. The suffering that Jesus endured at the cross only made Jesus far more glorious and beautiful for eternity. Our storms will only make our future far more glorious than it would have been without the storms. And that is God’s promise for our storms of life.

Let me close with this. Friends, we have the opportunity to make much of Jesus through our storms. One of the brightest billboards to the beauty of the gospel is not our strengths but our weaknesses. It is when we are in the midst of the storms of life, but we continue to have hope and trust in the sufficiency of God’s grace to sustain us every single step. The world has no vocabulary for it. They will take notice of us in our storms. Do not waste our storms. God keeps his words. It is God’s task to bring good out of our storms, it is our task to trust him at all times and act responsibly. Let’s pray.

Discussion questions:

  1. Look back at 2020. List out the storms of life that you experienced in your own life or people around you.
  2. Explain where prosperity theology gets it right and where it is wrong.
  3. Why is it wrong to assume that if we can’t see any good reason behind our storms, it means that there is none? Share your personal story.
  4. Why is it important to embrace both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility? What happens when we choose one over the other?
  5. Read Romans 8:28. How does this verse encourage us to face the storms of life?
  6. What makes Christian better amid the storms of life?
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