The main point of today’s post takes a little bit of time to set up, so I hope you’ll bear with me as I lay all the groundwork. That groundwork involves a brief overview of Acts chapter 27. In that chapter, we are given Luke’s highly detailed account of Paul’s fateful voyage to Rome.
Technically, Paul sailed as a prisoner of the empire, along with some fellow prisoners (v.1). However, Julius, the Roman centurion in charge of the prisoners, treated Paul kindly. He even allowed him to go ashore during a port of call at Sidon to receive care from friends (v.3). Later on, at the port of Myra, Julius, Paul, and the other prisoners changed ships and boarded an Alexandrian cargo ship (v.6). Their inclusion raised the ship’s total number of passengers to 276 (v.37).
It was at this point of the journey that the winds turned contrary and the sailing became difficult (v.7). They managed to sail from Myra toward the island of Cnidus and then southwest to the south side of Crete, but the weather was against them all the way and caused them to make slow time. The weather on the Mediterranean Sea during that time of year (late September to early October) was notoriously harsh. As a matter of fact, all sea traffic usually ceased by early November. Finally, they harbored at a place called Fair Havens just off the coast of Crete (v.8).
Here Paul advised Julius and the others in charge to suspend the journey and ride out the winter there in Fair Havens, lest the voyage end in much loss of life and cargo (v.9-10). The problem was that Fair Havens was not really an ideal place for such a long term stay. So Julius, the ship’s helmsman, and the ship’s owner ignored Paul’s advice and made the decision to sail on for the Crete harbor of Phoenix, which would be more suitable (v.11-12). Their plan was to skirt along the coastline and avoid the open sea. And, much to their delight, not long after they made that decision a south wind began to blow softly. Naturally, as human nature would dictate, they took that soft southerly wind as confirmation that their decision was the correct one (v.13).
But it wasn’t. Not long into the sailing the ship got caught in a hurricane-like storm called a Euroclydon, which was an incredibly powerful northeaster. The storm drove the ship helplessly out into the open sea (v.14-15), and from there it was one adventurous episode after another. They managed to make it to the small island of Clauda, which was twenty-five miles south of Crete. There they pulled in the skift (lifeboat) they had in tow and tried to shore up the ship as best they could (v.v.16-17). The storm, however, continued to rage. Fearing they would be run aground, they set sail again and let the winds drive them back out into the open sea (v.17). The following day they lightened the ship by throwing the cargo overboard (v.18). The day afterward they threw over the rigging (v.19). Thus began a period where they saw neither the sun nor the stars for several days and battled a strong wind every second (v.20). They sailed for days with nothing to eat and finally gave up all hope of survival (v.20-21).
And that’s when Paul stood up in the midst of them and basically said, “I told you so back at Crete.” You’ve got to love that, don’t you? But that wasn’t all he said. He also explained that an angel had stood by him and confirmed that he must be brought before Caesar so that he could testify to Caesar. For this reason, the men needn’t fear for their lives. The ship would indeed be lost, but not one human life would be lost with it (v.21-26).
I won’t go into all the remaining details of the story, but the ship eventually shipwrecked at the island of Malta, some sixty miles south of Sicily. All aboard then took to the water, either swimming or floating on boards or other parts of the broken ship, and made it safely onto the island. In two weeks time, the great northeaster storm had carried them 600 miles from Fair Havens in Crete and had brought them to the brink of utter desperation and hopelessness. As Paul had said, though, not one life had been lost. The group remained there on Malta for the next three months and then boarded another Alexandrian ship and sailed on to Rome (Acts 28:11-16). Whew, what a trip!
Obviously, there are a hundred life-lessons and spiritual truths that I could pull from this whole story, but let me just latch onto one and leave it with you today. It goes like this: When you step out of God’s will and do your own thing, things oftentimes go well for a little while before the storm breaks loose. Do you remember what happened right after those men ignored Paul advice about spending the winter in Fair Havens and decided instead to try to skirt down the coastline to the harbor of Phoenix? Acts 27:13-14 says:
When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete. But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon. (N.K.J.V.)
Ladies and gentlemen, let me warn you about those south winds that blow softly and make your wrong course of action seem like a good move. Beware, such winds are always followed by a Euroclydon storm! And when that big northeast wind starts blowing, who knows where you might end up out on life’s open sea? Surely it won’t be a good place, and surely a shipwreck will be eminent.
So where does this post find you today? Are you toying around with choosing a course of action that isn’t God’s will? Do you feel those south winds rising and beckoning you out into forbidden waters? Are you thinking, “I’ll just safely ease down this coastline and keep out of the dangerous open sea?” If all this describes you, allow me to play the same role that Paul played for those men. Hear me when I say, “Don’t do what you are planning to do!”
You say, “But Russell, you don’t understand my current situation. You don’t know what a struggle I’m having. You don’t know how rough it’s been. I just can’t stay here!” Yes, you can. If God wants you to ride out the storm and the winter there in your Fair Haven, He’ll make a way for you to do so. You just have to trust Him. Most likely there will come a time when He will let you set sail for a new place in His will, but you must wait for His perfect timing. And if being told to stay where you are upsets you, just keep your alternative in mind: You can chase those south winds to what you think is a better, safer, more pleasing situation, but major trouble will be right on the heels of those fleeting soft winds. You heard it here first.