This photo was taken on the island of Malta in the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. There really is a St. Paul’s Shipwreck Church on Malta and St. Paul really did survive a shipwreck somewhere on the shores of the island. If you can’t read the fine print on the sign, it says “Worth Visiting – Entrance through side door around the corner.”
Why Visit a Shipwreck?
Every time I “visit” the story of Paul’s shipwreck, as I did this morning, in Acts chapters 27-28, I think of this picture. A visit to this particular shipwreck always gives me hope and confidence that God is with me even when part of my life is falling apart.
The Back Story
Paul had been under arrest for unsubstantiated charges for a couple of years. Finally, as
was his right as a Roman citizen, he appealed his case to Caesar. He and other prisoners set sail for Rome under the guard of a centurion named Julius. It was rough sailing from the beginning. Paul warned them not to make the last leg of the trip, for “I can see
that our voyage is going to be disastrous…” Julius didn’t believe him and was persuaded by the owner and pilot of the ship to sail ahead anyway. Sure enough, they ran into a huge “northeaster” and fought for their lives for “many days” before losing all hope.
At some point in the storm Paul had a visit from an angel who 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.” Paul shared this with his shipmates and said, “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.” Which they did. The ship was destroyed, but all the passengers, prisoners and soldiers and sailors, swam or paddled on planks safely to shore.
Paul’s seafaring adventure teaches me a few things about surviving life’s shipwrecks.
Control in the Chaos
God knew the storm was coming and had apparently warned his guy Paul. Paul, in turn, warned those in charge of the ship, but they didn’t want to hear it. No doubt the owner and pilot of the ship had economic motives for sailing as planned. Sometimes those steering the ship foolishly steer it into a storm. (Our nation’s economy and the wisdom of our leaders, of both political parties, who are navigating our national ship come to mind…but I digress.) It looked violent and chaotic, but God was firmly in control. He had plans for Paul in Rome, therefore Paul would indeed get to Rome. In a stunning display of God’s generosity and kindness, all of those who happened to be on the ship with Paul were saved with him.
Lifesavers in the Wreckage
The Maltese people, with “unusual kindness,” welcomed the bedraggled swimmers, warmed and fed them. Paul got their attention by surviving a poisonous snake bite and then he healed all the sick people on the island. The shipwreck was a disaster for Paul and company, but it was a lifesaver for the residents of Malta.
Surviving Our Shipwrecks
When Dan and I visited Malta as a stop on a Mediterranean Cruise five years ago, I was six months out from surviving my own shattering health shipwreck of cancer. This picture and the associated story represent very real truths in my life. Many of you know exactly what I mean. For others, perhaps you have experienced, or are experiencing, shipwrecks of other kinds: financial, relational, vocational, emotional, or spiritual. If any part of your life is breaking up beneath your feet, I hope you will be encouraged by the truths that we learn from a visit to St. Paul’s Shipwrech Church: God is in control, even if your situation looks like chaos; he is generous and gracious to you and your fellow travelers; and sometimes our own shipwrecks can be lifesavers for someone else.