October 13, 2022

God and the Storms of Life Manuscript

SERMON TITLE: God and the Storms of Life
TEXT: Acts 27:1-28:10 ESV (Read by Emily Hanson live after bumper)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
DATE: 10-16-22

Watch the sermon here.
Take notes here.


As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time or are joining us at our North Main Campus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too. 


Just this and next week and then we’ll have finished our time in the book of Acts. The book of Acts is the written account of the story of the early church. And — for the past few months — we’ve been following the apostle Paul as he heads to Rome. He’s a prisoner — being sent to Rome at his request — so he can appeal his case before the emperor. And — all of this — as we’ve seen — is the will of God — for God’s plan is that Paul will go to Rome. 

But — as we’ve just heard — the trip to Rome was no easy journey for Paul and his companions. In fact — as we’ve seen throughout Scripture — often following the will of God is a path that leads directly into storms of life. For there’s a refining that happens in the storms of life — a special purification or cleansing that seems to happen only during storms of life. Whether the storm be literal or figurative — God often uses storms to help clarify for us what it means to follow him, what it means to love him, and what it means to be loved by him. God uses storms to sift us like wheat. But he uses storms — not to break us — for that’s never his intent with his children — but to bend and mold us so that we endure — not only the current storms of life — but any future storms as well. 


We see literal storms in Paul’s life in many of our verses. Let me read a few for you and — notice — how everything — even nature — seems to be against Paul. So if you’ve ever felt like everything was against you — know that — in our verses — you’re reading of someone who can relate.

“And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us…7 We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. 8 Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea. 9 Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there…14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat…18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo.” (Acts 27:4, 7-12, 14-16, 18 ESV)

What’s the greatest storm you’ve ever experienced? Not something you witnessed on TV, but a storm you went through. Growing up in Florida, I experienced a couple of hurricanes growing up, but we were far enough inland that we never had the devastation that others experienced. 

When we lived in West Virginia, there were two significant storms we experienced. One was the derecho storm of 2012 — you all experienced the same storm here. My mom was visiting us and we were about to run a fourth of July weekend 5K race as the storm hit. She and I booked it back to my car, drove home while tree limbs and debris were flying across the Interstate. Power was going out across the area as we’re driving back — including at our house — so I did the only sensible thing I could think of. I called the local pizza place in town to see if they still had power — which they did! — so I ordered a few pizzas which I picked up on our way home. It was a genius move on my part — if I do say so myself. Why? Well by the time I picked up the pizzas — they had stopped taking phone and online orders as they were one of a handful of places still with power. The line at the pizza place was so long as word spread and everyone in town heard that they still had power. And who doesn’t want some hot pizza to eat on a stormy night? 

A few years later — we’re still in West Virginia — but this time it was a snowstorm — and it was crazy! We got over 18 inches of snow in less than 24 hours. One of my elders and I walked the one mile trek to the church building just to make sure the building was OK with all of the snow piling up on the roof. All of that snow was like a scene out of an apocalyptic movie. I picked up some pizzas on the walk home that day as well — if you’re catching a theme of what the Hansons go to meal is during storms.

The final storm story I have is from when I was in college. Have I ever shared that I played the saxophone to you all? Just kidding. Anyway, I was part of a group who spent a week at sea playing a show on a cruise ship. And the seas were choppy the entire week — and I mean really rocking the cruise ship choppy. Thankfully, I somehow don’t get seasick, but everyone else on the cruise ship was not so lucky. People were spewing their guts out the entire week — which did keep the buffet line down — which I appreciated! 

What about you — what’s the craziest storm you’ve ever experienced? A hurricane, a tornado, maybe you had more snow than us in West Virginia. Or maybe it’s not a literal storm — but a figurative one — like your battle with cancer. Or the culture of your workplace. Or your marriage or parenting your kids. Maybe your storm is singleness as you’re desperate to be married and wonder how long this storm will last.

For Paul and his team — it’s pretty obvious that nature is against them. Three times it’s mentioned that they sailed with difficulty. Additionally, we’re told that the trip was dangerous due to the weather and they were being tossed around by a violent storm. But — don’t forget — it’s the will of the Lord for Paul to go to Rome. And between Jesus telling Paul — way back in chapter 23 — “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” (Acts 23:11b ESV) — and Paul arriving in Rome to testify — are all of these difficult and dangerous and violent storms and winds that are against him. 

This reminds me of our time in Mark’s gospel from years ago. This was right after the miracle where Jesus fed five thousand men — not including all of the women and children who also ate — after Jesus fed thousands of people with just a few pieces of bread and a couple of fish…“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.” (Mark 6:45-51a ESV)

Jesus made his disciples get in a boat. He pointed them in the direction they were to sail. And following his lead — their obedience — led them straight into a storm. And the winds were against them — Mark tells us. Just like the winds were against Paul. Just like the winds may be against you. Sometimes obeying Jesus leads you right into a storm, doesn’t it? Realizing this — the question for us then is: What will we do when following Jesus leads us straight into a storm? Will we remain faithful? Will we continue to trust him? Or will we abandon the course and turn away?

I ask — because — we’ve seen the examples of Paul and the disciples — and their obedience leading them into a storm — but then there’s Jonah. And — if you know his story — disobedience led him straight into a storm. Jonah refused to do what God had told him to do. Thus — because of his disobedience — he found himself in a violent storm — with the ship about to be lost — unless the crew threw him overboard. 

So a bit of disturbing news about following Jesus. Both our obedience and disobedience can lead us into a storm. Obeying Jesus may lead you right into a storm. And disobeying Jesus may result in you being tossed back and forth by the storms of life.

What kind of winds are against you, right now? Maybe there are none against you. If so, rejoice! For this is God’s grace and nothing you’ve earned. When life is calm — and the seas are storm free — it’s so easy to think we’ve figured things out — as opposed to viewing the calm waters of life as being an undeserved gift — a reason to be grateful to God for such sweet mercy.

Or maybe you’re in a storm of life — facing winds that are against you. Do you want to know something counterintuitive about your situation? This too is God’s grace. For just as he used storms in the life of his disciples, and Paul, and Jonah, and countless others — so too God is using the storms in your life to draw you to Christ — so you hear and respond to his words of mercy and grace. “Take heart; it is I. I’m right here with you in this storm — do not be afraid.” What mercy as the waves crash around you and the winds push against you. Christ is speaking to you and his words to you are, “Take heart. Have courage. I’m here — in this storm — with you.”

Regardless of whether your storm is health related, marriage related, parenting related, work related, school related, or whatever may be bringing the winds of life against you — do you hear Jesus saying to you, “Take heart; I’m here with you. Have courage — there’s no need to be afraid.” These words of promise and hope are being spoken to you regardless if you find yourself in this storm due to obedience or disobedience. Know that your Savior is saying to you, “Take heart; I’m here with you. Have courage — there’s no need to be afraid.”


I remind you of this because it’s all too common to become hopeless in the storm. We see this in Paul’s story when — at one point — we read, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.” (Acts 27:20 ESV) . Leading some of the sailors — due to their loss of hope — “seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow.” (Acts 27:30b). And then — after the shipwreck and making it to shore — “When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.”” (Acts 28:3-4 ESV).

Having escaped dangerous storm after dangerous storm — the ship’s destruction and having to swim for his life to the shore — Paul’s bitten by a poisonous snake. Come on, man! This is like some mad Wile E. Coyote situation — but Paul’s not trying to trap the Road Runner — he’s the one being chased. And — yet — he gets bit by the snake! What a hopeless and depressing situation, right? It reminds me of something we read from the prophet Amos. “What sorrow awaits you who say, “If only the day of the Lord were here!” You have no idea what you are wishing for. That day will bring darkness, not light. 19 In that day you will be like a man who runs from a lion — only to meet a bear. Escaping from the bear, he leans his hand against a wall in his house — and he’s bitten by a snake. 20 Yes, the day of the Lord will be dark and hopeless, without a ray of joy or hope.” (Amos 5:18-20 NLT)

Can you imagine being chased by a lion — outrun it — which you’re ecstatic about. Only to have a bear start chasing you — which — miracle of miracles — you outrun it — safely arrive in your house. Exhale a sigh of relief. Think all is well. Lean against a wall and — bam — a poisonous snake bites you. Come on, man! 

But there’s a big difference between the day that Amos is writing about and the storms we face in life. We often confuse the storms of our life as if it’s the day of the Lord that Amos speaks of. But let’s not confuse the two. For the day of the Lord is not yet upon us. And — for the people of God — that day will not be a day of darkness, but one of light. Not a day of hopelessness, but of hope and joy as our Savior returns. For those who don’t know Christ as their Savior — it will be a hopeless day — a day without a ray of joy — but for those who do know Christ what a day of hope and joy it will be.

And — since this is the promise guaranteed to us on that great and final day — what hope are we to have in our stormy days? Great hope! Why? Because — as we’ve already seen — Christ is with us. 

So even when you find yourself escaping one storm of life — only to be bit by a snake — or find yourself right in another storm — don’t lose hope. You may go from one stormy event to another — from one doctor’s report to another — from one bad boss at work to another — from one conflict in your marriage to another — from one parenting challenge to another — from one relationship ending in disappointment to another — regardless of the storms — people of God — don’t give up hope. For hope and joy are promised to us even as the storms of life crash against us.

Though he goes from one storm to the next — with the wind against him — and nothing but darkness and rain for days on end — and the soldiers wanting to kill him when it’s finally time to swim to shore — to finally making it on dry ground only to be bit by a snake — Paul doesn’t lose hope. Why? Because he had been told by Christ to “take heart — to have courage” and Paul trusted his Savior. And — dear Christian — know that even when it feels as if all hope is lost in life — hope has been promised to you. Hope has been guaranteed because of Christ’s work and his presence and his love for you.


Back in Acts chapter 27 — we read — “Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”” (Acts 27:21-26 ESV)

And when some of the sailors tried to escape from the ship — “Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.” (Acts 27:31-32 ESV)

And as the morning sun was rising, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.” (Acts 27:33-36 ESV)

Twice Paul tells the crew of the ship to take heart — eerily similar words — by the way — as what Jesus said to his disciples as they found themselves in the middle of the storm. Jesus told his disciples “to be encouraged — to have courage — it is I — I am with you.” And Paul tells the crew of the ship to “take heart” — to have courage. Why? Because “the God I worship and serve has told me that not one of us will lose his life in this storm.” And when the men tried to escape the storm early — Paul warned that there’s only one way of salvation out of this storm. Just as there’s only one way of salvation out of the storm you’re in. Just as there’s only one way of salvation — only one way of escape from the day of the Lord that Amos warned of. Jesus is the only way of salvation for he is the only One who saves.

And — because the way of salvation is offered to us — we’re to respond with thanksgiving and praise even while we’re in the storms of life. While the waves were beating against the ship and the rain was pouring down and the days of darkness had yet to give way to the morning light — Paul gave thanks to God for the provision of food they ate as a last meal before their salvation from the storm. Paul didn’t wait until the storm had passed to give thanks for he knew that his God was with him in the storm — thus — in the storm — he praised and thanked God.


In what way do you need to take heart — to have courage — to be encouraged — in this season of life? Maybe you need to take heart by remembering that God’s sovereignty — his control over all things — includes the storms of life you’re facing? Storms cause us to feel insecure — they convince us that life is out of control and chaotic. But we worship the God whose voice once told the chaotic stormy sea to be still — and it obeyed him. 

Maybe you need to be encouraged to wrestle with the truth that God often directs his people into storms — for he uses storms in our lives to reveal to us his goodness and protection. The doubts of our heart — and the cunning ways of our enemy — want us to believe that God can’t be behind these storms — that he can’t be found in them — that he isn’t with us — but has abandoned us in the storm. These are the lies we must reject as we cling fast to the promises that are ours: “I will never leave you,” Jesus says, “nor forsake you. Even if you must walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will walk right beside you.” Let me encourage you to explore these promises that are yours — in the storms — if you believe in Christ.

Maybe you need to take heart by allowing God to comfort you in this storm. To be your hope. To trust in your Savior who walks on water directly towards those he loves when they’re in the storms of life. One of the scariest things in life is to realize that — in this particular situation — I have no control. Yet — one of the greatest catalysts that causes our faith in Christ to grow — is to find ourselves in a situation where we have absolutely no control and have to trust in him who is in control. 

I have no idea what kind of season of life you’re in — but what I do know is that the command to take heart — to have courage — to be encouraged — is to be obeyed when the seas are calm and when the seas are dangerous and violent. Trusting our Savior — Jesus — who is always with us — is how we’re to navigate life. Trusting him — hoping in him — finding joy in him — when our obedience leads us into a storm and when our disobedience is the reason for the choppy waters. As God’s children — as followers of Jesus — the promise that is ours is that we have a Savior who loves us — who is with us always — even in the storms. Let’s pray. 


Heavenly Father, we praise you for being sovereign over all things. You are in control of all of life — the calm and peaceful days — the choppy and storm tossed days. Nothing is outside of your control — thus nothing in our life is outside of your control.

Spirit of God, remind us of the hope we have when the darkness of life doesn’t lift. Hope that seems foolish to the world — hope that may seem empty and shallow when life is against us — but hope that is true and guaranteed nonetheless. Spirit, we need your help and your power to give us hope in the promises that are ours when life is against us.

And — Jesus — to you we give our thanks. Thank you for always being with us. Thank you for walking on the water, straight into the storm, to be present with us. Thank you for using storms to call us back to you when we’re disobedient. And — as hard as this might be — we thank you for the storms we find ourselves in due to our obedience. Storms that we trust you will use to draw us closer to you. In your name we pray. Amen.


Whether life is calm waters or choppy seas — may you go knowing that your Savior — who loves you — is with you now and always. Amen.

God loves you. I love you. You are sent.