Mt. Ida, to their north, had a peak of over eight thousand feet, and the wind that came down that mountain, to the sea, forced its way to their ship with determination. And it was feared.
The only choice for any boat was to let the wind have it way, and hope for some sense of control in time.
The boat had little to lose, though. A government edict stated that anyone willing to transport grain in the worst sailing season of the year would be guaranteed a bonus. Even if they lost their grain along the way, the Roman government would reimburse them. So these sailors didn’t mind the gamble.
But the wind was awful. Terrifying. They passed ropes beneath the ship to hold it together. They secured the dinghy on the deck, for fear of losing it. They feared running aground, so they let their anchor drag to slow their speed. They threw their gear and tackle overboard, to slow the ship’s progress. Sun and stars weren’t visible for days, and without their gear, the fear was growing that the ship would be lost.
With little hope, now, and with little strength, the Roman sailors take the advice of the Jewish prisoner named Paul, who was on board, traveling to Rome with a fellow prisoner Aristarchus and a doctor named Luke. Paul had previously warned them to not sail for fear of danger, but they refused to heed his prophecy.
Now, though, they listen, as he reassured them that God will save them all. For Paul was no ordinary traveler. He was a survivor of three previous shipwrecks already, and knew what he was talking about.
But he foresaw the inevitable.
Their ship would be destroyed.
Fourteen days passed, and they drifted until they saw land, and then made plans to run their ship aground. But the water was growing more shallow and they feared their ship would be dashed against the rocks. If that happened, most of them would surely die.
So they dropped their anchors, and prayed for daylight. And when some of the sailors tried to escape, the soldiers cut the lifeboat, and watched it sail away.
Their prisoner Paul encouraged them to eat, to build their strength for the trial that was surely to be theirs. But the wind didn’t stop, and to lighten their load, they threw overboard all of the grain they were transporting.
And they held tight when the ship ran aground.
The stern was destroyed. But even in the aftermath of the terrifying storm, all of the sailors, soldiers, passengers, and prisoners found pieces of wood to ride the waves the beaches of the island of Malta, whose name meant refuge.
There are certainly moments for us when we are imprisoned in circumstances that are either the makings of our own mistakes, or because God has sent us a test to grow our faith. We are surrounded by people who care very little for us. We struggle for peace when our situation grows from bad to worse — when the winds began to batten our little ship.
We can’t escape those moments. But there are a few things we can do, even while we stand on the threatened boats in our own lives, enchained and unable to move, imprisoned by our own circumstance.
We must lighten our load. Whatever we carry, whatever distractions are keeping us from the security found in God, must be thrown overboard. Relationships, possessions, or worries. They’ve got to go.
We’ve got to drop our anchors and pray for daylight. It is in those moments, in the dark, when the flash of our storm seems to have quieted, that we just do whatever we can do to survive the night. The sun will rise again with hope, for God’s new mercy comes to us every morning.
We’ve got to keep our strength. We may spend days without food and nourishment, and become weakened in our own storm. But the winds won’t stop, and we must be prepared for whatever comes next.
We must let our lifeboats float away. The very things we think can save us need to be abandoned. God whittles us down to nothing, because he wants us to trust him, even in the very worst of moments. Because hope, in the wrong thing, is hopelessness.
And when our ship is destroyed, we must accept the gift of its brokenness. The shattered pieces of wood from our own battered ship will be there, and will carry us to the shore when we can’t sail anymore.
Because God will deliver us to our own island of Malta.
He will deliver us to our own island of refuge.
Because God sometimes blesses us with storms.