Christians are not spared the storms of life. This came home to me afresh when I met three medical students in Budapest recently. Coming from Nigeria they had paid a hefty cost to enter a medical school in Ukraine. They were in the 3rd and 4th years of their studies. They had dreams of specialisations; one wanted to specialise in neurology, another in paediatrics, and yet another was hoping to be a thoracic surgeon. But when Russia invaded Ukraine they were among the six million who fled the country for their lives. And now their medical training and their lives are in limbo. Kind souls had donated Airbnb time to house them, but it meant they had to live out of their suitcases because each Airbnb accommodation was only for a month and they had to move at the end of each month. All three of them are very strong Christians but there is no Teflon coating for Christians this side of heaven that protects us from the pains of a broken world.
If anyone understood this it would be the apostle Paul. Acts 27 records for us Paul’s journey to Rome and how the boat in which he was travelling was caught in a terrible storm. The storm threatened to sink the boat and take the lives of all, Christian or not. What was remarkable was that in the midst of the storm, Paul celebrated the Lord’s supper and as was the practice in the early church, linked it with an actual meal.
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. 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.” 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. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. (Acts 27:33–36 NIV)
The worst of the storm was probably over but they were still in rough seas. What is interesting is that not only did Paul encourage his shipmates to eat, he took bread, gave thanks to God and broke it, words that are clearly linked to the Lord’s supper. We are not told if there were other Christians on board but Paul remembered the Cross and gave thanks in the midst of the storm. How could Paul celebrate communion in the midst of the storm? Because he knew something his shipmates did not.
But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 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.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” (Acts 27:22–25 NIV)
Paul was able to give thanks in the storm because God had revealed to Him what He was going to do. Paul’s faith was not an expression of blind optimism but a response to God’s revelation.
How then can followers of Christ be strong, be thankful and encourage others in the many storms that besiege us today? By the things we know.
- We know that God is sovereign and in control of history.
- We know that God is working out His purposes even through the tragedies of life.
- We know that death and evil have been defeated because of Good Friday and Easter.
- We know that God will return one day and usher in the new heavens and the new earth where there will be no more evil, sorrow, sickness, and death.
- We know that God is with us even in the midst of the storm.
No, God has not promised that we will be spared the storms of life. But we can be strong, we can be thankful, and we can encourage others like Paul did in his storm, because we know things. And when people ask us how we can be thankful in the storms of life, we tell them about Jesus.