Storms come. And no matter how little or how much warning we have, once they hit, we are stripped of control, finding ourselves at their mercy, holding on for dear life for as long as they last, having no way of knowing what depths we will be taken to before it’s over.
The Apostle Paul knew deep down by observing the trend of the season that a storm was coming. Appealing to the centurion, whose prisoner he was, as well as the ship’s officers, he told them that if they sailed, they would suffer great loss–not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of lives. But the captain persuaded the centurion that they needed to find a safer harbor for winter.
So when a moderate south wind arose, supposing they had attained their purpose, they set sail. Before long, a violent wind rushed down on them, seizing control of their ship. Battered by wind, they lunged sickeningly high upon towering waves to plunge suddenly down the massive walls of water threatening to crush them. They could do nothing but hang on for dear life. Anchors dragging, the crew jettisoned cargo and the ship’s tackle overboard. Neither sun nor stars could be seen day after day as leaden sky and drenching rain closed over them.
In the grip of fear, wretchedly sea-sick, exhausted, having gone days without food, all hope of being saved was abandoned by even the stoutest of hearts–except for Paul. The prisoner of Rome remained centered and calm, a refuge in the storm.
Paul had the amazing ability to exist in two dimensions simultaneously:
the natural and the supernatural.
He was enduring the same storm in the natural, just like everyone else, with the same harrowing physical threat. But Paul also inhabited that solid, certain, comforting place no storm on earth can touch. . . the secret place of the Most High. The hearts of the soldiers and sailors melted with fear, but Paul was free of fear. When they had no hope, Paul came to them with comfort and assurance from God. When they weren’t sure of what to do, and every man began to scheme for himself, Paul instructed those with him what was going to happen and how they were to proceed.
Before they set sail from Crete, no one had listened to Paul’s warning. But in the storm– when the power of God’s presence demonstrated itself in his serenity, calm, courage and authority–men began to listen. After much prayer, having heard from God, Paul was able to assure them that they would suffer no loss of life–only the loss of the ship–if they submitted to the authority of the directions God was giving him.
This is an important point . . .
God could presumably preserve their lives no matter what they did or didn’t do. But He specifically chose to give Paul directions to which they had to submit, if He was going to save them.
How many times have I told myself
that God is going to do what God is going to do,
without pausing to consider if
my submission to His authority
is the condition for His power to come through?
Paul exhorted everyone to keep up their courage and eat, telling them they must run aground on a certain island. And Paul warned the centurion and his soldiers that the sailors were plotting to escape–and if this happened, they could not be saved. Submitting to that word of authority, the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat, letting it fall away. When daylight came, strengthened by the food they’d eaten, they drove the ship onto a reef, swimming to shore as their ship was broken by the waves.
And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land. (Acts 27)
This story shows us how we receive God’s power into our lives.
Paul knew how to find the strong tower
Paul’s ability to inhabit that second dimension and his ability to demonstrate God-given serenity and security in the face of peril are related.
Paul knew how to find that secret place, that sanctum rising unseen in the midst of our harried lives. It is described in Proverbs 18:10–
The name of the LORD is a strong tower; The righteous runs into it and is safe.
Paul knew how to find that strong tower because he knew the name of the LORD from personal experience . . . he knew Who God was and what He was like, the One to whom he belonged, the God Whom he served (Acts 27:23).
The writer of Psalm 91 gives us his own description of this place, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust! . . .
But God’s response is enlightening as to how we find it, “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.” Because Paul loved Him, because Paul knew God’s name, he could find his tower of refuge, the secret place of the Most High, that sanctum of the unseen that lies beyond the reach of any storm.
Knowing God’s name is crucial. But what does this mean? Does it really matter what we call Him? Yes, it matters what we call Him, because that is our name for Him . . . and how we think about Him is everything, when it comes to being kept by Him.
To know the name of God is to know Who He really is and what He is really like. He is not who or what we think He should be.
He is Who He is–who He has revealed Himself to be. He is the God of the whole Bible and not just The New Testament. He is the God of judgment and redemption, holy and righteous. . . the God who will not flinch from doing whatever it takes to bring forth His righteousness in His people . . . the God of Jesus Christ . . . the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. . . the God who formed this earth and has told us what is going to come to pass in history. . . the God who reaches out day after day, saying “Here I am” to a people who ignore Him.
To know the name of God, we need to submit our opinions about Him to the authority of His revelation of Himself–in both scripture and current events.
- We can’t write off The Old Testament revelation of God as having no relevance–and know His name.
- We can’t discount the correlation between distressing current events and how Scripture characterizes the same throughout history–and know His name.
To fully know His name will take all of eternity. But to the degree that I open myself to Him now– eager to embrace His revelation of Himself in every word, on all sides and in every circumstance — finding the strong tower becomes ever more certain.
We know God by studying His Word, yes . . . but our study has to go beyond intellect into communion, where we learn to recognize His voice, His touch, the brush of His fingers upon our circumstances, His whisper of divine direction, His rigorous discipline, His sense of humor, and the reality of His strong sweet comfort.
We practice for the storm as we become intentional in our walk with God,
submitting our understanding of Him
to the authority of His revelation of Himself in His Word .
Paul was in full submission to God’s authority
One of my greatest griefs is the apparent powerlessness of the Western church. Evidently “being a Christian,” “studying Scripture,” “attending worship regularly” and “praying” do not guarantee that God’s power will be gloriously demonstrated in our lives. Why?
Try as we might at all these things, God’s power gives no evidence in our lives, where we are not in submission to God’s authority.
No power? No movement of God in your circumstances? No direction? No intervention? No answered prayer? Ask God to show you if there is a place where you are not in submission to His authority.
Jesus was in complete submission to his Father’s authority at all times. He was very clear that “ the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19) Jesus’s ability to demonstrate God’s power was dependent upon his complete submission to what He saw the Father doing.
We know that God chose to release the power of redemption into the earth through the absolute obedience of His Son, who was in all things fully submitted to His Father’s authority. So why would it surprise us if He makes His saving power evident in us only as we become fully submitted to His authority?
In every instance where I have seen the most powerful movements of God in my life, it has been a place where I began to submit, where I had not been in submission to His authority before. He coaches each of us forward in this, but we have to recognize and embrace the process.
On The Damascus Road, Paul was coached forward in his submission to Jesus’ authority, so that he forever wanted to be fully submitted to that authority over him. Well practiced in submission, Paul’s life showed constant evidence of God’s power.
What did Paul’s submission to God’s authority look like?
Paul had a strong sense of God’s sovereignty in all things. He never balked at or complained about what befell him. He accepted his beatings, his scourges, his loss of freedom, his being taken as a prisoner to Rome as God-ordained/ God-permitted events fitting into God’s plan and purpose for his life. . . through which God’s power could be seen. He was eager to be taken as a prisoner to Rome, even if it meant his death, because he was confident that nothing would happen to him apart from God’s powerful sovereign purpose for his life.
When a strong sense of God’s sovereignty shapes our responses, we’ll find ourselves working with God instead of against Him. . . and obviously, God’s power flows with His purposes, not against them.
Do we see God’s sovereignty in our trying circumstances? Do we see our losses as the place where we are being given the opportunity to witness for Him? Or are we fighting to protect ourselves against every possible loss with a strategy of control? Paul’s strong sense of God’s sovereignty lifted him beyond fear, helping him accept what was hard as what was necessary . . . for him to fulfill the mission he’d been given. He trusted God implicitly.
Having a strong sense of God’s sovereignty enables us to come into submission to God’s authority. The two go together. If you face a storm where you doubt God’s sovereignty, you’ll not be able to submit to His authority, and God’s power will have little access to demonstrate itself for you.
Remember, God can do whatever He pleases . . . but in His wisdom, for the sake of His own purposes, He has chosen to release His power into this earth through submission to His authority. In our surrender, His power is seen.
A true story
She is my friend. The storm broke in all its fury with very little warning when she learned that her loving Christian husband was addicted to pornography. It had happened suddenly, as he sought relief from the intense stress of his practice. He never meant for it to happen. He adored her. He didn’t want to hurt her. She is darling, beautiful, bright and fun. . . the most competent partner in his practice and life he could ever imagine . . . but he couldn’t stop.
She fumed, she wept, she felt betrayed–their relationship violated by his lust for images of other women. She set controls on the computer, but then came the iPhone and the iPad and her desperate realization that she could not control what he was doing in secret. It was agony. Towering waves threatened to crush her. She prayed. She sought God with tears, petitioning Him from the depths of her heart. But He did not intervene.
And then, at a women’s retreat, she broke down. She told her story. She surrendered. She gave up her last illusion of control, sobbing from the depths of her heart. She knelt before God’s sovereignty, surrendering all of her brokenness to Him.
She returned home, having found the strong tower of her protection, beyond the reach of what had been threatening to destroy her. A few days, a few weeks and the power of her solace, the power of her being held by and kept by God began to be felt by him: he who was precious, but hurting, ashamed, and helpless.
Today this wonderful man, our friend, is not helpless but strong in ministry to men who are caught up in pornography. A passionate disciple of Christ, he is a living example of God’s power to set free. She is an example of God’s most tender power to heal, strong in love, able to trust and forgive. Together they are something else! God is all over them and everything they do. They are a powerhouse. For God has restored not just their marriage–but their hearts, lives and souls. Most truly, they love each other more now than they did the day they married.
In our surrender to His authority, His power is seen.
Storms come and go.
There are seasons when we can expect more storms than usual. I believe we’ve entered one of those seasons. And in my gut I feel a storm coming, as I watch the trend of this time.
I write and fight to understand how we can receive God’s power into our lives, because I want so desperately for us to be like Paul in the coming storm. I want us to have his amazing ability to exist in two dimensions simultaneously: the natural and the supernatural. . . enduring the same harrowing threats in the natural as everyone else, but free of fear because we live beyond its reach. When the hearts of others melt with fear, I long for us to be a place refuge. When others lose hope, I want us to be able to give them the comfort with which God is comforting us. When no one knows what to do, I want us to be able to receive direction from God so that we know how to proceed.
Are we ready? Are we practiced?
If not, use every opportunity–no matter how big or how small–to practice. Be in full submission to God’s authority. Be correlating His revelation of Himself to you in life with His revelation of Himself in His Word. Be careful how you think of Him, how you name Him. Embrace His sovereignty, trusting His loving wisdom to unflinchingly pursue His best for you. Develop the mindset that no matter what happens, He will cause it to serve His highest purpose in your life and in His redemption of the earth.