I’ve always been mesmerised by the intrepid men and women who leave the safety of the harbour to take on the force and power of the ocean, circumnavigating the globe sometimes completely alone. The challenges those yachtsmen and women take on are vast and varied and paint a picture of our voyage through this life. The uncharted waters of an unexpected diagnosis, a relational breakdown or a financial crisis throw us onto the rocks of fear and dread. There’s a really famous guy in the Bible called Paul, sometimes he’s referred to as the Apostle Paul. He wrote nearly a third of the New Testament, the second volume of the Bible. The bit that covers the life and times of Jesus and then the early years of the church after he had died on the cross, been raised to life after three days and ascended back to Heaven.

Towards the end of the Book of Acts we find Paul proclaiming the Good News of new life through Jesus in the face of great opposition. He ends up on a sea passage to Rome where the ship he’s on gets caught up in a terrifying shipwreck. But first, let’s wind the clock back about 25 years and discover what happened that led to this guy ending up of that ill-fated voyage across the Mediterranean Sea. What we’re going to find out is that God can sometimes only reach us when the ship of our life runs aground. Paul started out as a radicalised religious thug who made sport out of terrorising Christians and shutting down their gatherings. Not your average training programme for a life spent following Jesus, starting up, caring for and growing churches right across the known world at that time.

Sometimes it takes a shipwreck to stop us in our tracks and force us to get fresh directions or even a replacement boat. God met Paul in, perhaps, the most dramatic way imaginable. He had what is sometimes described as a Damascus Road Experience in fact this was the original Damascus Road experience. It took place the road to Damascus and it’s what every other Damascus Road experience is named after. It describes a life changing moment that someone is confronted with that radically changes the course and direction of their life. Becoming a Christian, or a follower of Jesus, is exactly that. Paul was an extreme case and his conversion would require a dramatic crisis.

The Bible says that he was literally blinded for a short time in order that his eyes could be opened to what he was really up to and the man he had become. He would later say that his old life was rubbish (that’s the polite translation) compared to his new life as a follower of Jesus. Paul faced tremendous opposition including verbal abuse, physical attacks, imprisonment and more than one shipwreck, real ones on real ships. The most well-known of his run ins with the ocean happened close to Malta, an island rich in history but best known these days as a holiday destination.

So let’s pick up the story from the Bible, the world’s bestselling book that continues to navigate countless millions of ordinary people across the seas of life en route to an eternal home in Heaven. The sea had become dangerous and Paul said, Our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship, cargo and our life. But instead of listening to what Paul said, the crew followed the advice of the owner of the ship. Before long, they were caught in a hurricane force storm and took such a violent battering that they began throwing the cargo overboard. The storm continued to rage for many days and they gave up all hope of being saved.

Paul stood up before them and said, Men, you should have taken my advice then you would have been spared this damage and loss. But now, keep up your courage, not one of you will be lost but this ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and serve stood beside me and told me not to be afraid and that God would protect me and those with me. I have faith in him that it will happen exactly that way.

In dire situations like that, our natural instinct is to get off the sinking ship. But Paul trusted in what God had told him, he knew that ditching the cargo would not be enough and even the lifeboats wouldn’t save them. The shipwreck had to be endured but God was faithful to his word and everyone onboard survived, all 276 of them. Sure enough the ship was smashed to pieces by the waves but the passengers and crew went ashore on the island of Malta. To be honest, it was a reckless sea journey that they should never have attempted. The promise of God is that he will never leave us or abandon us but often that means being salvaged from the consequences of our bad life choices.

Paul and the others eventually set sail for Rome, the planned destination before the shipwreck but it took two ships to get them there. Becoming a Christian is about realising that the ship that got us this far is not the one that will get us to the final destination. We have to reach a point where we are prepared to leave behind our old life and completely start over. In the words of Jesus to a religious leader, we have to be born again. Paul once told the new Christians in a place called Corinth that if they had committed their lives to Jesus Christ and were determined to live as children of God then everything associated with their previous life had gone and they were brand new people with a fresh hope and purpose in life. Paul was talking from personal experience, it wasn’t something he read in a book.

Jesus said the road that leads to destruction is wide and many travel along it but the road that leads to God and to eternal life is narrow and few find it. Whatever condition your life is in today and whatever your particular crisis looks like, Jesus is the great salvager of shipwrecked lives. He will come and rescue you if you are ready to hand over the control of your life to him and be born again. Maybe you’ve sensed the presence, or even heard the voice of the Master Shipbuilder today. Tune into God’s frequency as best you can and he’ll do the rest, he’s longing to reach you. Reach out to him and commit your life and future into his hands. Be born again today into a brand new life.

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