By Joseph Ametepe
"And yet now I urge you to keep up courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 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....And until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, 'Today is the fourteenth day that you have been going without eating, having taken nothing. Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation; for not a hair from the head of any of you shall perish. And having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all; and he broke it and began to eat. And all of them were encouraged, and they themselves also took food" (Acts 27:22-25, 33-36).
In the previous devotional message from the story of Paul's shipwreck, we learned this precious lesson: God knows exactly when and how to encourage His believing servant in his time of darkness and difficulty. Today, I would like to focus on a second spiritual lesson arising from this blessed passage of Scripture, that is: God encourages His believing servant in his time of darkness in order to encourage others in their time of distress.
Facing a time of difficulty and darkness in his life, where all hope of being delivered from a terrible storm at sea was gradually abandoned, God sent His angelic messenger to bring much needed encouragement to His servant Paul. God knew Paul needed His encouragement. While it might have seemed to us that God's encouragement took longer in coming, as far God was concerned, it came just at the right time. God did not fail Paul. God did not disappoint Paul for trusting in Him during his time of difficulty and darkness. It is comforting to know that the God who did not fail to encourage Paul in his time darkness, will also not disappoint us who are faithfully looking to Him for His encouragement in our time of distress and darkness. He will bring His encouragement to us just at the right time.
On that encouraging note, please carefully observe that after Paul was encouraged by God, he in turn was used by God to bring encouragement and hope to the discouraged and hopeless voyagers on a storm-tossed ship. Earlier, before Paul disclosed to the men on board the ship that an angel had appeared to him, he exhorted them with these words: "And yet now I urge you to keep up courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship" (Acts 27:22). Please notice the words "Now I urge you to keep up your courage." No doubt, the men on board had lost not only their hope but also their courage. Through the Holy Spirit, Paul, who had himself been encouraged by God was now being used as God's instrument to bring encouragement to the sailors and soldiers, the passengers and prisoners, and to the centurion and the captain of the ship. After telling them that an angel of God had appeared to him with a message that they would all safely come through the storm, Paul followed up his first exhortation with a second. Speaking with great conviction of heart, he declared, "therefore, keep up your courage, men" (Acts 27:25). The Greek verb translated "keep up your courage" in verse 22 and 25 is "euthumeo." It literally means to be of good cheer, to cheer up, be cheerful, or be in good spirits. The repetition of this verb stresses the teaching that God encourages His believing servant in his time of darkness in order to encourage others. In other words, God encourages the believer to be an encourager.
The Holy Spirit's work to bring encouragement to the discouraged and hopeless men on board the storm-tossed ship did not end with Paul's two exhortations to them to be of good cheer. It went further. The Bible tells us that "until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, 'Today is the fourteenth day that you have been going without eating, having taken nothing. Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation; for not a hair from the head of any of you shall perish" (Acts 27:33-34). Please notice the repeated use of the verb "encourage" in these verses. The repetition teaches us again that Paul's encouragement of the discouraged people on board was an outflow of God's encouragement of him. In other words, Paul was an effective encourager, simply because God had Himself encouraged him. The Greek verb "encourage" is "parakaleo." It is an important verb. It is used for every kind of calling to a person which is meant to produce a particular effect; comfort, exhort. It is used to beseech with a stronger force than the verb "ask" or "request." Paul really got himself into encouraging his fellow travelers. Indeed, he was passionate about cheering them up. He was not content with the fact that he had been encouraged by God. He wanted the people on board the ship to experience the encouragement he received from God. Now the question is: Did Paul succeed in cheering the spirits of his fellow travelers? The Bible tells us that he did. "And having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all; and he broke it and began to eat. And all of them were encouraged, and they themselves also took food" (Acts 27:35-36). The verb translated "were encouraged" in verse 36 comes from "euthumeo" not "parakaleo." It should therefore literally be translated "and all of them became cheerful or were in good spirits." God had encouraged Paul in his time of difficulty. but God has also used him to encourage others in their time of distress.
In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, the same principle is taught but in reference to comfort. God comforts believers in all their affliction, not just for them to be comfortable but to be comforters. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we are comforted by God." Paul understood the importance of receiving both God's encouragement and comfort and allowing these blessings to flow through him to impact the lives of others. I wonder what would have happened if Paul had not allowed the Holy Spirit to use him to impact his fellow voyagers with the encouragement he had received from God. Certainly, a different story would have been told. But thank God, Paul yielded to the Spirit of God and became God's instrument of encouraging people who were hopeless in their time of darkness and distress.
In your time of darkness and distress as a believer in Jesus Christ, there is one thing you can count on. At the right time, God will give you the encouragement and comfort you need. That is a guarantee. It doesn't matter how dark and discouraging the situation is. God will in His grace come to you and bring into your heart the encouragement you need to move forward in His purposes. He did that for Paul and countless followers of Christ. But remember God does not encourage us just to stay encouraged. His goal for encouraging us is to prepare us to cheer up others in their discouraged and distressed circumstances. In other words, God provides opportunities for us to pass on His encouragement to others. Why? He loves them. He wants His best for them as well. He has their best interests at heart. God who sent His angel to encourage Paul in his time of darkness and difficulty hasn't changed. Has God encouraged you of late in your time of distress? I trust that you poured out your heart in thanksgiving to God. But please understand that that's not where it should end. God's goal for encouraging you is to prepare you to be His instrument of encouragement to others who are discouraged with life. There are many around you who are discouraged and feeling hopeless. God has already prepared you to impact them with the encouragement He had given you. Lean on the Holy Spirit dwelling in you to make yourself available for God to use. Look for God's opportunities to pass on His encouragement to the discouraged and distressed. Let God's Spirit lead you to the person God wants you to touch with His encouragement through you. Learn from Paul's example of being God's instrument of encouraging others with His encouragement.