By Joseph Ametepe
"For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.' Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn out exactly as I have been told" (Acts 27:23-25).
There are several spiritual lessons in the story of Paul's shipwreck on his way to Rome as a prisoner. It is my privilege to share three of them with you in the next three devotional articles. I would like to begin with this: God knows exactly when and how to encourage His believing servant in his time of darkness and difficulty.
Having been imprisoned for two years in Caesarea, Paul and other prisoners and passengers embarked on an Adramyttian ship to sail to Italy. Paul was accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica (Acts 27:2). Dr Luke also traveled with Paul on this occasion as indicated by the repeated use of the personal pronoun "we" in this chapter. Paul was treated kindly by Julius, the centurion, who was to deliver him safely to the authorities in Rome (Acts 27:1, 3). Things went very smoothly for the crew and passengers for the first many days of their journey. But soon they began to encounter difficulty on the voyage. Although a prisoner, Paul warned the captain and his crew and the centurion about damage and great loss they would encounter on their way should they pursue their course of action. Paul's warning was brushed aside. The centurion chose to go ahead with decision of the captain of the ship which was supported by the majority on board the ship (Acts 27:9-13). The majority decision got a major boost when a moderate south wind came up. But before very long the northeaster violent wind, also called the Euraquilo, rushed down with violent hurricane force. The ship was caught in it. Since the ship could not face the violent wind, they let themselves be driven along. From that point on things went from bad to worse for them. They were storm-tossed. Cargo was thrown overboard to lighten the ship in the storm. For many days, sun nor stars appeared. Worst of all, all hope of being delivered from danger at sea was gradually abandoned. Those on board would go a long time without food (Acts 27:13-21). In fact, the Bible tells us later that they had been without food for fourteen days (Acts 27:33). Simply put, the voyagers hit rock bottom. They reached the end of their rope. They were stuck in a bad situation.
But it was precisely at this moment of reaching the end of their rope that God's encouragement came to His believing servant Paul. God's encouragement to Paul came just at the right time. No doubt, Paul and Aristarchus and Dr. Luke might have prayed earnestly for days for a breakthrough in their situation. But day after day, the northeaster hurled its violent force at them as if to mock them. It pounded the ship with its relentless force and fury. It lifted up the waves of the sea. Literally, they rose up to the heavens and went down to the depths. But Paul and his believing brothers on board the storm-tossed ship pressed on in their silent prayers to God. I imagine Paul silently praying on board the ship: "Lord, You are the Creator of heaven and earth and the seas. You rule over all. You have promised me in Jerusalem that just as I have witnessed to Your cause in Jerusalem, so I must witness at Rome also (Acts 23:11). Lord, I believe Your word. O Lord, in Your grace, fulfill Your word to me. We have reached the end of our rope. Please, send us Your help."
Whether such a prayer was prayed or not, one thing is certain and clear, God knew exactly how and when to encourage Paul in his time of darkness and difficulty. At the right time, He chose to send His angelic messenger to deliver a message of encouragement and hope to Paul in his time of darkness and difficulty. How the angelic messenger was revealed to Paul on board a crowded ship of two hundred and seventy-six persons (Acts 27:37), we are not told. We are not even told how he looked like or what he wore. But what we are told is that his message brought much needed encouragement and hope to Paul. Notice that the angel's first words to Paul was a prohibition: "Do not be afraid." This is best rendered "stop being fearful, frightened, terrified, or afraid." The great apostle was giving in to fear. Fear was griping his heart. Fear was ruling in his heart. He was therefore exhorted not to allow fear to control his heart. Having done this, the angel quickly reassured Paul that he would stand before Caesar. In other words, the angel is saying to Paul, "Paul, I want you to know this. This storm ain't going to stop you from going to Rome. Remember, the Risen Christ Himself had already assured of that. You'll get to Rome no matter what. Moreover, the people who are traveling with you will be safe. No life will be lost though the storm be fierce and furious." What a timely encouragement in a time of darkness and difficulty!
The God who sent His angel to encourage Paul in his time of darkness and difficulty hasn't changed. He is still in the business of bringing much needed encouragement to His believing children in their time of darkness and difficulty. Are you being storm-tossed today? Are you being pounded by the storms of life? Are you feeling like you have reached the end of your rope? Are you feeling like you have hit rock bottom? Are you 'stuck" in a bad situation? Is all hope of being delivered from your present predicament gradually fading? Remember, God knows exactly when and how to encourage His believing servant in his time of darkness and difficulty. By the power of the Holy Spirit, pray on in faith! Press on confidently knowing that He will bring His encouragement to you at the right time! Patiently look up to Him for His help! Persevere in watching and waiting for His breakthrough in your life and circumstance! Proclaim His goodness daily!