Troubling Our Own Waters
One of the most perilous stretches along our faith journey is the path between worldly ambition and divine contentment. When we sweep ourselves up in pursuing more than we’re meant to have, neglecting the blessings already in our laps, sometimes it takes drastic forces to set us back on course. But God’s mercy and grace follow us despite the many sidetracks of our selfish priorities. Even when we’re tempest-tossed in storms of our own making, he is faithful in guiding us toward the safe harbor of his love. The apostle Paul experiences this literally during his voyage to Rome in Acts 27.
The winds are against his ship from the get-go. It’s a dangerous season for sailing, but the expected profits of the goods (likely exotic imports from Persia being shipped to major trade centers in Egypt and Italy) on board are too tempting to wait. But after losing considerable time fighting the weather, the crew is forced to drop anchor at Fair Havens.
What an apt name, don’t you think? Fair Havens: a place of safety and respite.
There seasoned traveler Paul warns of the disaster awaiting if they keep pursuing their current course. No, Fair Havens isn’t a typical port for wintering in, but it offers the essentials they need to survive until the right time comes. But the authorities on the ship – the owner, pilot, and centurion – decide to press their fortune and make for the more familiar and accommodating harbor at Phoenix just a short distance west. Why risk their paychecks and reputations by practicing contentment where they are when a better situation is so near? What catastrophe could possibly befall them on such a fleeting journey along the coast?
How often do we think the same way? The Lord blesses us with everything we need, offering us soul-deep contentment, but we strive against that lesson in pursuit of more, thinking the water must be bluer on the other side of the island. If we go just a while longer, just a little further, we’ll be satisfied with that new job, nicer home, romantic partner, etc. Greed and ambition cloud our vision until we can’t see how God intends our current circumstances for our greatest good.
And that short jaunt may begin smoothly for us leading us to believe we’re doing the right thing. When Paul’s ship leaves for Phoenix, a gentle wind provides the needed momentum to go the mere 50-mile or so distance. What a good omen! But that gentle wind quickly whips into a two-week-long hurricane so dark the crew can’t decipher day from night. In desperation they cast their precious cargo overboard. With the wind against them, impeded visibility, inability to row, and lifeboat inoperable, they lose control of the ship and soon begin losing control of their own bodies. Frustrated by being so close to their goal, beaten down by cold and stress, they quit eating, which makes the trial even harder. There is no way they will survive under their own power.
We can’t always trust fair winds in life. The motivations propelling us toward our selfish goals can quickly blow overwhelmingly out of proportion. Jesus guaranteed us troubles, but those troubles, if we trust him through them, he will work to our advantage and his glory (John 16:33). When we’re forced to give up the very things we value and protect in order to save ourselves, we begin realizing that God is our only reliable savior. He loves us and doesn’t want anything – our possessions, ambitions, business, relationships – to pull us away from relationship with him and all he desires to do for, with, and through us.
Just as the ship’s passengers run out of options, God steps in through Paul and offers hope. He reassures of his saving grace and calms the crew enough to eat so they have the stamina to survive the upcoming consequence of running aground. They must willingly let go of any sense of control they have left over their present and future, and trust God’s promise. When they do, the ship and its wares are destroyed, but everyone lives. God doesn’t always spare us the consequences of our disobedience, but he stays beside us through them. He loves us too much to let us off the hook and not learn anything from our mistakes. He remains faithful to us as he brings us back to faith in him.
In what area(s) of your life are your striving for more when perhaps God is calling you to find contentment with what you have?
Is it more natural for you to clamor for control or to trust God in your circumstances?
What do you need to let go of in order to reconnect with Christ as your only Savior?