I have two irrational fears. The first is boats. The other one is snakes. Now, to be fair, I only hate three kinds of snakes. I hate big snakes, and I hate little snakes. And I hate sticks that look like snakes.
Second, I hate boats. Here’s why. When I was a young boy, my dad took me fishing on a lake in east Texas. We got in the middle of the lake, and the boat took on water and sank. For over 30 minutes, I was just trying to keep my head above water. I wasn’t a very good swimmer, and after about 30 minutes in that frigid water, someone came and rescued us. So maybe you can understand why I have to summon up probably more courage than you do to get on a little boat in a big body of water.
My bet is that you have some experience in your past that’s kind of traumatic and it takes a lot of courage for you to put yourself in a place where that could happen again.
Now where am I going with all this? Well, there’s this verse in 2 Corinthians where Paul says three times he was shipwrecked, and he spent a night and day in the open sea. Are you kidding me? He’s on a boat that sinks, and then he intentionally gets on a boat again? And Paul would say, yeah, if you’re going to follow Jesus, you’ve got to make some tough decisions. You’ve got to be strong and courageous.
So I want to tell you a story about one of those shipwrecks. Here’s the backstory. Paul wants to go to Rome. He’s been in Israel, wrongly imprisoned for two years, and he finally makes his plea to stand before Caesar and to make his case. So he gets on a boat with a bunch of soldiers and other prisoners, and they head off to Rome.
Well, Dr. Luke, the author of Acts, says they get on the way and they hit a hurricane. We’re talking not just a few hours; we’re talking days. The storm is just blowing his boat all over the place. Just trying to survive, they cut the lifeboat. They throw cargo overboard. Luke says they had given up all hope—but not Paul. Paul gets up in front of everybody on that boat and says the Lord spoke to him in a vision. For one thing, the Lord had said, they were going to have a shipwreck. “Take courage,” he says. Two different times, he says, “Keep up your courage” (Acts 27:22, 25).
You’re going to need courage to grow through what you go through because storms are coming and shipwrecks are a part of navigating life.
Storms come sometimes because we make bad choices and we face the consequences. Sometimes other people make bad choices and we face the consequences. Sometimes storms just come because they come, and that’s just part of navigating life. When they come, will you have the courage to grow through what you’re going to go through?
You don’t know what’s coming. So what you need is courage for whatever comes. So I’m going to show you two ways I think you’ll need courage for what’s coming.
In Acts 28, we learn that Paul and everybody on board made it safely to shore. The island was called Malta. The islanders showed them kindness, building them a fire because it was raining and cold. Paul went and gathered a pile of brushwood, but as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. It bit him so hard its fangs stuck in his hand, just hanging from his hand.
When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other that this guy had to be a murderer or something evil like that. For even though he had escaped from the sea, the gods of justice had not allowed him to live. Yet Paul shook the snake off onto the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people had expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing usual happen to him, they changed their minds and concluded he must be a god himself.
Let’s say I’m Paul. I have spent two years in prison for something I didn’t do. I’ve spent two weeks losing my lunch in this storm. I get shipwrecked and thrown in the frigid water. I make it to shore. It’s raining, it’s cold. All I’m trying to do is build a fire, and a snake bites me on a hand. I mean, I would look up to heaven and say, Seriously?! I mean, come on!
Paul faced his storm with amazing courage. How?
First, he was able to have the courage he needed because he was able to find his identity in what God said about him and not what other people said about him.
When you go through a storm, people are going to be quick to explain why you’re there. They may not know what they’re talking about, but they’re going to give you their opinion anyway. They’re going to tell you why you’re going through what you’re going through, because it’s easier to give people a label than it is to give them a hand.
So here’s Paul. He got a snake hanging from his hand, and people that don’t even know him are trying to explain why he’s going through it. They’re pointing at him and saying, you must be a really bad dude. What people say about you is fickle. But what God says is faithful.
Here’s what you’re going to have to do when a storm comes: you’re going to have to decide who decides who you are. Whose voice do you listen to?
I’ve got a lot of young single adults in my church. So, for example, the culture is constantly telling them, unless you’re having a lot of sex with a lot of people, you couldn’t possibly be living a fulfilling life. The voice of the Lord tells them that their greatest joy is intimacy with Him; so they ought to guard their purity. It takes a ton of courage to be a young, single adult in Dallas/Fort Worth and listen to God instead of the culture.
Another example: Everything about the culture says your net worth determines your self worth. And so you should horde and grab and work and acquire and amass. But the Lord God says, why are you going to spend the rest of your life acquiring what’s only going to burn up when Jesus comes back? In this day, it takes a ton of courage to listen to what God says about you instead of what everybody else wants to say about you.
One of the hardest, toughest, fiercest storms waiting for you is the struggle to overcome the temptation to approval addiction. Who’s going to tell you who you are when life gets hard?
For part 2, click here.