I well remember my parents talking about stories of their early marriage and God’s provision through the most perilous of times. They were married in 1929 just seven weeks before the economic crash and beginning of the Great Depression.
Diana and I did not face anything quite that deleterious, but there were some crazy times that I even marvel at when remembering certain events. Our first apartment cost $125 a month to rent. The first house we bought was $36,200, and we thought that was a total fortune at the time.
We were married in May of 1977 before my final year of college. I had applied to Dallas Theological Seminary earlier that spring, as the admission process was very selective and one had to apply about 18 months in advance of matriculation. I was not at all certain that I would be accepted, but coming home from our honeymoon we had a letter from Dallas saying I was welcomed to attend after the following year. This was a fork in the road moment for us, and we knew it even at the time.
Our move to Dallas the following year was an adventure, to say the least! We shipped some of our things by a freight company, but we were so broke we moved a bunch of it ourselves. My father-in-law pulled a trailer behind his van, and we drove our packed-out 1968 Rambler Rebel station wagon. The trip was treacherous. The trailer broke loose at one point (in Winchester, VA) and actually passed the van while sliding down the road. It also had multiple hitch and tire problems. So many things went wrong in transit that, when we at last arrived in Dallas at our destination (briefly living with some family who were already there), I completely broke down into tears from the stress of it all.
But God got us there! Clearly it was where we were supposed to be. Life there involved some wild jobs at crazy hours. Diana was a Christian School teacher with a starting salary of $5,600 … whoohoo! I worked for UPS and cleaned swimming pools. I have oft told the story and have surely written somewhere in these 1,000 devotionals about being rejected for a church music position – one for which the person hired was truly not qualified. There was a true injustice in it – and I recall driving home alone that evening after being told I did not win the position, hitting the steering wheel and YELLING at God. It was so unfair. But, three months later a much better and larger church called me out of the blue and gave me the music position there. It was the best experience of the Dallas years – even better than the seminary. And it all worked together to position me for everything else that has happened over the past four decades.
In it all, God knew what He was doing. The journey was sometimes treacherous and often very confusing (even today I wonder about God’s workings and plans with my life moving forward). But God always put me where He wanted me – in the right place at the right time, whether I realized it at that time or not.
As we turn today to Acts 27, we see the Apostle Paul on his actual trip to Rome. By this time in Paul’s life he had experienced so many unusual events and circumstances that he knew he could trust God to get him where he was supposed to go – doing it in ways that could appear confusing but that always served divine purposes. Paul knew God was sending him to Rome; the details would be revealed day by day.
This is a great chapter of the Scriptures. You have to laugh at how Paul is nothing but a prisoner on a ship, but in fact he is essentially in charge when everything around him goes awry with the foul weather conditions for sailing. Paul ends up giving the orders as to what everyone should do.
And though our journey through life might not have quite the drama as the Apostle Paul, we can be sure that we will sail through some storms and difficulties. But that does not mean God is not being faithful, and it does not mean he is displeased with us. He may be working to use us in unique circumstances, or perhaps he is preparing us to be used for some future time. He is faithful. He gets us where we need to go. And trusting him in every event is the best way to enjoy his pleasure and success in being used for his glory.
Paul Sails for Rome
Acts 27:1 – When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. 2 We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.
3 The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. 4 From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. 5 When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. 8 We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.
9 Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement.[in the Fall, as weather was becoming more difficult for sailing] So Paul warned them, 10 “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” 11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.
13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. 15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, 17 so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. 18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19 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 the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.
21 After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”
27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.
33 Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.
39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. 40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. 41 But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.
42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.