Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 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.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island. (Acts 27:22–26)
Years ago, the town we lived in held a plebiscite concerning practices in the local hospital regarding abortion. A Christian friend was absolutely certain that this vote would go against it, but it didn’t happen as she was sure it would. Since then, I’ve wondered how a Christian can tell the difference between the certainty of faith and the strong emotions of wishful thinking.
Paul knew. It helped to have an angel stand before him, but even if that had not happened, there is a clue in this story that helps me understand why his message to the sailors was about faith. The clue is that Paul’s emotions ran contrary to the message God sent by this angel. The angel said, “Do not be afraid.”
Wishful thinking or any form of presumption is usually without any inner conflict. It is boldly confident and sure of itself, declaring what it wants without hesitation.
On the other hand, faith is from the Spirit of God and always opposes our natural inclinations. As Galatians 5:17 says, “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
Not only do flesh and Spirit clash regarding motivations and what we want to do, they clash in our emotional life too. Paul was afraid, otherwise the angel would not have told him to not be afraid, but presumption is seldom fearful. If I am over-confident and without fear, I’m apt to be operating on wishful thinking.
Another clue is in the words, “take heart,” indicating a choice to be made. The sailors could make decisions based on their rationale or on what Paul told them. In this scenario, they knew they were in trouble and that the ship would run aground. They also knew what happens to the crew in such events. To believe this promise from God ran contrary to all that made sense to them.
This also helps me know the difference between faith and wishful thinking. Presumption makes sense, but faith often runs contrary to human reasoning, particularly to those who do not know the power of God.
It is the same with me as the sailors. When God makes a promise, I have a choice. I can listen to my own rationale, or I can believe what He says, whether it makes sense or not. This is the “take heart” challenge of faith. God asks for a choice based not on what I think, but on faithfulness of the One who is talking to me. Paul said, “have faith in God” knowing that God will do exactly what He promises to do.
Lord, as I go through my day, let me remember and believe in Your promises. The dangers and challenges of the day will not be anything like a literal shipwreck, but there are decisions and choices ahead that could make havoc of my life. My fears about choices are not large fears, yet I know that choices have consequences. However, You promise to be with me always, to guide and direct me, and to give me Your wisdom. I need it. I cannot assume that I will know what to do and, like Paul, am seeking Your Word to me for whatever storms, small or large, might come my way. Never let me replace faith with presumption.