My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26
Followers of Christ might as well face it. Ours is a pilgrimage of faith and obedience to God’s call to go unto all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.[i] It will most likely prove an eventful journey. Not necessarily a predictable or safe one.
The Apostle Paul knew this from personal experience. His Christian walk was one continuous melodrama, starting with his lightning-rod conversion. His preaching circuit ruffled religious feathers, triggered offense, incited riots. At one point fellow disciples had to lower him down the city wall in a basket in order to save his hide.[ii]
The 1981 movie Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark has nothing on Acts 21–28 when it comes to nail-biting action and suspense. In these chapters Paul faces down an out-of-control mob at the temple and a Sanhedrin council conspiring against him. Roman soldiers take him prisoner—again saving his hide from a threatening mob. When a diabolical plot to kill him is discovered, he is delivered to the higher ups in Roman government. But not without help from an army of two hundred foot soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen.
Exhausting! Not safe.
For two years, Paul is passed from governor, to governor, to king. Staying true to his witness for Christ, he testifies to small and great alike. Their bellies finally full of his preaching, they want to be free of him. God has other plans. He launches Paul into the next phase of his pilgrimage . . . for as you have borne faithful witness concerning Me at Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.
So off to Rome Paul goes to stand before the emperor, Caesar—not only a prisoner aboard ship, but a faithful prisoner of Christ. A man on a mission with divine appointments still awaiting him.[iii]
After many snail-paced days of sailing due to a typhoon-strength storm, their ship docks at a seaport called Fair Havens. That is; Fair as in fine, clear, balmy, favorable, and Haven as in shelter, refuge, a safe or peaceful place. Breathing space between harrowing experiences. Had they listened to Paul’s Spirit-led advice, they could’ve been spared a boatload of problems. But human reasoning and a misleading south wind wins out. They put to sea again.
Only to meet another violent storm. Days pass with the tempest tossing them, driving them along wherever it wills. We’re talking lost at sea, crashing waves pummeling them. To lighten ship, they throw the freight overboard. The third day, the ship’s equipment is tossed.
Paul is silent. No doubt he is praying, fasting, listening for the Lord’s leading . . . suffering along with the rest of the crew.
Again, not safe.
When all seems lost, the Lord gives him his next cue. “Men, you should have listened to me,” Paul says (in a bonafide ‘I told you so’), “and should not have put to sea from Crete and brought on this disaster and harm and misery and loss. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed, God has granted you all those who sail with you’.”
Paul is at it again, witnessing to the two-hundred-seventy-six-man audience on board. A captive audience might I add. And staying true to His word, God spares them all.
But Paul’s preaching doesn’t stop there. Neither does his action-packed drama. There is still shipwreck, snake bite, and an appointment with yet another king waiting for him on the island of Malta. Locals there are in dire need of prayer and healing. And Jesus.
Chapter 28 ends with Paul finally making it to Rome, where he boldly witnesses over the next two years to all who will listen—giving us readers a chance to catch our breaths.
Paul’s pilgrimage was extreme. God never promised our journey this side of heaven would be a safe one. Obedience to the call of God is not for the weak-kneed. Fiery trials will test us.[iv]Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword are part of the package.[v]
Can we agree, not safe?
When asked if Aslan, The Great Lion, creator, and one true king of the fiction world Narnia is safe, Mr. Beaver exclaims, “Safe? . . . who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”[vi]
Should the course of our pilgrimage take some unexpected turns, and tribulations push us to this life’s limits, we have a safe place beyond any storm’s reach. His name is Jesus—our Fair Haven, the strength of my heart and my portion forever.