In 1752, one of London's great minds and political leaders, Samuel Johnson, wrote after the death of his wife, "Grant, O Lord, that I may not languish in fruitless and unavailing sorrow." He prayed that God would give him the "peace which the world cannot give." He committed himself to God "with faith and confidence."
We all like to believe we, too, commit ourselves to God with full faith and confidence. We pray to Him often, especially when our lives aren't going the way we want. But, how often do we remember to pray to Him when we feel good, but our lives just seem a little stuck? We're fearful to speak up at our jobs or to our spouses for help, because we're afraid of losing our jobs or our marriages. Sometimes, we feel our lives are not progressing as quickly as we want, as we see others "whizzing" by, making a lot more money, traveling the world, living out our dreams, etc.? We're often trying to keep up with the Jones' instead of trying to keep up with Jesus. We realize we're stuck in our comfort zone, but do we ask Him for guidance, discernment, and direction? Or, do we just complain, give up, or not seek His help, at all? Do we IGNORE God's commands when change makes us uncomfortable, or when we think we may know better?
In the Book of Acts, Paul is taken as a prisoner on a ship. God favors Paul and advises Paul on what to tell the captain and crew as they are in imminent danger.
17 Then we banded the ship with ropes to strengthen the hull. The sailors were afraid of being driven across to the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast, so they lowered the sea anchor and were thus driven before the wind. 18 The next day, as gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing the cargo overboard. 19 The following day they even threw out the ship's equipment and anything else they could lay their hands on. 20 The terrible storm raged unabated for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. 21 No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, "Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Fair Havens. You would have avoided all this injury and loss. 22 But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. 23 For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, 24 and he said, 'Don't be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What's more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.' 25 So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. 26 But we will be shipwrecked on an island." 27 About midnight on the fourteenth night of the storm, as we were being driven across the Sea of Adria, the sailors sensed land was near. 28 They took soundings and found the water was only 120 feet deep. A little later they sounded again and found only 90 feet. 29 At this rate they were afraid we would soon be driven against the rocks along the shore, so they threw out four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 Then the sailors tried to abandon the ship; they lowered the lifeboat as though they were going to put out anchors from the prow. 31 But Paul said to the commanding officer and the soldiers, "You will all die unless the sailors stay aboard." 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes and let the boat fall off. 33 As the darkness gave way to the early morning light, Paul begged everyone to eat. "You haven't touched food for two weeks," he said. 34 "Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish." 35 Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. 36 Then everyone was encouraged, 37 and all 276 of us began eating -- for that is the number we had aboard. 38 After eating, the crew lightened the ship further by throwing the cargo of wheat overboard. 39 When morning dawned, they didn't recognize the coastline, but they saw a bay with a beach and wondered if they could get between the rocks and get the ship safely to shore. 40 So they cut off the anchors and left them in the sea. Then they lowered the rudders, raised the foresail, and headed toward shore. 41 But the ship hit a shoal and ran aground. The bow of the ship stuck fast, while the stern was repeatedly smashed by the force of the waves and began to break apart. 42 The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners to make sure they didn't swim ashore and escape. 43 But the commanding officer wanted to spare Paul, so he didn't let them carry out their plan. Then he ordered all who could swim to jump overboard first and make for land, 44 and he told the others to try for it on planks and debris from the broken ship. So everyone escaped safely ashore! [Acts 27:17-44 (NLT)]
In this text, Paul told the captain and his men to listen to what God told him about the voyage, and how to keep everyone safe. Not surprisingly, the crew ignored Paul, believing they knew more than he. In verse 21, Paul gently admonishes the crew and tells them, "Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Fair Havens. You would have avoided all this injury and loss."
Don't you hate it when someone has every right to tell you, "I told you so!"? Here, Paul is trying to get the men to recognize their mistakes and get them to follow him...to follow God's command. Growing up, my parents rightfully warned me to follow their instructions. If I disobeyed, or rather, did not follow their exact directions, most often, I ended up paying for it. Then came that other culturally stinging quote, "a hard head makes a soft behind!"
Just like when the seamen didn't follow instructions, and therefore, the bow of the ship stuck fast, while the stern was repeatedly smashed by the force of the waves and began to break apart, when we don't follow God's instructions, our lives seem absolutely stuck and life repeatedly smashes us with the gale force consequences God didn't plan for us.
For example, we don't tithe to our church, and we live beyond our means. Then we're repeatedly "smashed" with overdue bills, resulting in bad credit, low self-esteem, and the like. We sin by gossiping, lying, being unkind to one another, committing adultery, and countless other unsavory acts. That's when our lives really seem stuck. We fall into a rut of sin, ignoring God, not praying to Him for help when we obviously need it, and even when think we don't need it. And like Paul's ship, the force of life breaks us apart (i.e., our families, our finances, our health, our faith).
But God! gives us victory. He forgives us again and again, when we ask for it. He instructs us to cling to the broken pieces of our lives, hang on by our faith, and He will deliver us...just like when the crew and prisoners of Paul's ship were told to float on the broken pieces of their vessel. Like them, we need to keep the faith and float on the planks and debris of our lives. According to His will, God will restore whatever was broken within our lives, within our hearts, within our souls. God will not abandon us!
When we think God's not listening to our desperate pleas for help, perhaps God is telling us to pull up anchor on our own carnal desires, and listen to Him. Perhaps He's telling us to pull up our anchors of distrust, fear, or that relentless comfort zone that keeps us stuck where we can't realize the future joy God has planned for us if we just let go of the past. When we feel merely good for too long, we reject feeling our best in whatever it is God has planned for us when we step out on faith!
When we finally figure out we can't make it through life on our own, without His direction, discernment, and counsel; when we begin to continually pray to God and follow His Word, will, and way, we, too, can swim safely to shore. We, too, can be saved. So, pull up your anchors and follow Him!