Coping with Danger: Shipwreck by Justin Welby

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In today's devotion Justin Welby looks at St Paul's experiences following a shipwreck

After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said, "Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 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 whose I am 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."

On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. They took soundings and found that the water was one hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow.

Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved." So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away.

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. Altogether there were 276 of us on board. When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.

When daylight came, they did not recognise the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. But the ship struck a sand-bar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul's life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety. (Acts 27:21-44)

Prolonged and intense danger lead to exhaustion, so that people long for death rather than having to continue to struggle. Paul knows that and sees it looming. People in long-term critical illness will reach the point when despair sets in. Carers can be consumed by guilt when exhaustion leads to fantasies about the death of the person for whom they care, when they begin to long for a solution, any solution. A con- stant threat of redundancy wears down employees; a constant fear of domestic violence exhausts a marriage, so that the remnants of love and hope of reconciliation are lost and the well-deserved end has to come.

Paul rises above the most intense exhaustion, and does so by a gift of grace and a voice of faith. The centurion is incapacitated, the crew in despair, but Paul is able to exercise leadership in the face of danger. That is a great gift. Leadership in dangerous situations requires personal cour- age and public assurance, but it renews hope so that those being led are able to take action. It is hard to imagine the effort of will required by Paul, but it comes, again, from being present to God and allowing God to be present to him. He has learnt the lessons and is prepared; his atti- tude is right: 'For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain' (Philippians 1:21, TNIV).

We need to teach ourselves, by constant practice, to want Christ more than anything else. Cardinal Van Thuan, who was Archbishop of Saigon when it fell to the North Vietnamese army in 1974, was arrested, stripped of all he had, including his name, and thrown into a cargo boat with many other prisoners, steaming north to torture and suffering. In the darkness of the hold, with people shrieking around him and with- out buckets for toilets or nausea, God whispered to him, 'Now you have only me,' and he was reassured and ministered to others. In prison he led others to Christ and started a church. Such leadership will be required of many of us in different ways, among family members, col- leagues, friends or even strangers. It needs foundations of intimacy with Christ, self-awareness and clear priorities.

Taken from Guidelines published by Bible Reading Fellowship. Purchase Guidelines from Eden.

(Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton publishers. All rights reserved.)

9th February

February 9th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Ian Matthews

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