ARWhen a Gentle South Wind BlowsA seasoned sailor learns that even a good wind can't always be trusted—and how the only sure thing is the word of God. A story from the book of Acts remains a lesson for us today.Life is rarely smooth sailing, so when unforeseen events happen we are surprised by their suddenness. With faith and reliance on God we can overcome anything with peace and joy. We are not helpless in the face of unpredictable events such as sudden accidents or tragic deaths. They attest to the undeniable fact that unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain; and unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stay awake in vain (Ps 127:1). Reliance on God is the only way in which we can confidently walk through the valley of death.
Paul's imprisonment, he and some other prisoners were escorted by the
Imperial Regiment centurion, Julius, aboard a cargo ship destined for
Italy. They sailed slowly through the Mediterranean Sea and, after many
days, docked at Fair Havens, on Crete, where they stayed until the Jewish
Fast was over. Sailing after the Fast was considered dangerous because of
the increased winds and likelihood of severe storms, yet the majority on
the ship wanted to press on, hoping they could reach Phoenix and spend the
winter there. What should they do? Should they take the risk and press on
toward Phoenix, hoping that the weather cooperates, or should they stay at
Fair Havens for the winter? (Acts 27:1-8).
Guided by God
regarding their journey, Paul advised the crew to be patient and wait
until more favorable conditions prevailed. When a gentle south wind began
to blow, the centurion and the crew thought they had obtained the sign
they were looking for. After considering Paul's and the crew's opinions,
the centurion gave the command to weigh anchor and sail toward Phoenix.
But before long, the ship was caught in a tempest that lasted for many
days, endangering everyone on board. Despite barely securing the lifeboat,
lowering the sea anchor, and throwing the cargo and tackle overboard, they
were battered and unable to control the ship. When neither sun nor stars
appeared for many days and the storm continued to rage, they lost all hope
of being saved (Acts 27:9-10).
Fortunately for Paul
and the rest of those on board, God showed mercy and delivered them from
the angry seas (Acts 27:22-24). Following this harrowing experience, the
centurion came to know the power, mercy, and grace of God. He learned that
all of his experience and knowledge amounted to nothing. Even a gentle
wind blowing was not the signal he understood it to be. Nothing was
guaranteed except the word of God, which never changes and is fully
trustworthy. Realizing this, the centurion began to respect Paul and took
his suggestions seriously, and all hands were saved (Acts 27:22-26, 31-32,
By Faith or by Sight?
With the benefit of
hindsight, it is obvious that the centurion did not make the right
decision. Yet when we consider the process he used in making his decision,
he seems to have chosen a rational course of action. After all, he
understood the dilemma facing him and the risks involved. He asked the
ship's owner and crew for expert and experienced advice, listened to the
majority, and, when the gentle south wind began blowing, he recognized an
opportunity to reach his goal.
did not consider one critical element: God, the Creator of heaven and
earth. God gives life to men, determines their lifespans, and, more
relevant to the ship's occupants, controls the winds and the seas (Ps
95:3-5; 104:1-10; Acts 17:25-28). On the surface, it might seem that men
have the freedom to decide their own fate, but clearly, it is the Lord who
ultimately decides (Jer 10:23).
highlights what happens when the paths of human judgment and the will of
God converge. Faced with a challenge, the rational person will naturally
begin an analytical process that will culminate in a decision. The
decision-making process may take into account past experience, general
knowledge, observation of the environment, and the pros and cons of the
decision. This all sounds very logical and reasonable, yet the decision
maker runs into trouble when his judgment contradicts God's will. The
centurion certainly made what, at first, appears to have been a reasonable
decision. A gentle south wind was blowing, which in past experience had
always signaled a calm journey. In the same situation, how would we
decide-by faith or by sight?
making is a healthy and necessary process in the course of daily living.
However, we must never let pride distort our decision making. Pride
incites people to forget God, to discount His power and His will. The
proud do not acknowledge God's sovereignty or trust Him. Instead, they
only trust their own wisdom and understanding, living by sight rather than
by faith, worshiping the advice of "experts" and respecting the
rule of the majority. Like a gentle wind, pride lulls the unsuspecting
into a false sense of complacency, driving them toward destruction.
We must entrust
ourselves to God and be vigilant against such complacency. While men may
be deceitful, God is faithful (Rom 3:3-4); where there is indecision, God
stands firm (Ps 119:89); and while the imbeciles consider themselves wise,
God's foolishness is wiser than man's wisdom (1 Cor 1:25). Compared to the
Creator, the nations of this world are worthless (Is 40:13-17). The
rationality and intelligence that God has given us must be tempered with
the humble realization that we are nothing without our Lord, the Creator.
Reliance on God
As the men in Paul's
boat could attest, life is rarely smooth sailing. Unforeseen events
happen, and we are surprised by their suddenness. Can our rationality
predict such incidents? Could it have predicted the tragic death of
Princess Diana? Or an airplane crash? In spite of the rapid advance of
science and technology, we still cannot predict or prevent many accidents.
Yet we are not
helpless in the face of such unpredictable events. They attest to the
undeniable fact that unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor
in vain; and unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stay
awake in vain (Ps 127:1). Reliance on God is the only way in which we can
confidently walk through the valley of death.
confidence in the Lord often erodes; while Jesus never changes (Heb 3:14),
our faith wavers from time to time. We complacently drift along,
surrendering ourselves to the trends and pleasures of the moment. We
replace our confidence in the Lord with a confidence in human rationality,
and we perversely alter the truths of the Scriptures to suit our own
needs. Like the scoffers found in 2 Peter 3:3-7, we may begin to wonder
about the validity of the Scripture: "Where is the second coming that
Jesus predicted? Everything is the same since the beginning of
creation." Is this what God desires of us? Clearly, the answer is no.
Yet on a daily basis
we are faced with choices that force us to answer a very basic question:
do we decide by sight or by faith? Do we rely on God or on our own
rationality? Let us not be like the centurion, who allowed the gentle
south wind to caress his face and cloud his judgment. Instead, let us
choose to rely on God and not become complacent in our own intelligence