This morning’s devotion speaks to the gracious honesty that comes in the shipwrecks of our lives, which speaks to the heart of control (or lack thereof) in the lives of those of us who try so earnestly to render it. It comes from Aaron Zimmerman, who will be one of our speakers at this year’s New York Conference.

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.  So they cast off the anchors and…they made for the beach.  But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground.  The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf.  The centurion…ordered those who could swim to throw themselves overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship.

This passage from Acts finds St. Paul and St. Luke (the author of the passage) on a boat in the middle of a terrifying storm. The wind is relentless. They are at the mercy of the elements. Verse 15 graphically describes their predicament: “when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven.” They recognized their impotence and yielded.

Trying to save themselves, they start taking well-intentioned steps to control the situation. This is a normal human response. First, the crew girded the ship by tying ropes around the hull. (v. 17) This doesn’t work. So the next day, they throw cargo overboard. (v. 18) This also fails, so they throw the tackle overboard. (v. 19) Rational steps, right? But in the end, they have made no progress.

Will God now step in and rescue them? No: verse 20 reads, “And when neither sun nor stars appeared for many a day, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.” Shocking words. Especially coming from St. Luke, the writer of two books of the Bible and a devout Christian in the company of St. Paul, the greatest missionary of all time. And yet, Luke says, they abandoned all hope of being saved.

When we face storms in our life—internal and external—we often try to control them, like Luke and his shipmates. But our attempts just as often fail. We try to make the right person love us; we try to beat an addiction through will-power; we try to change a spouse’s behavior; we try to perfectly develop our career; we try to attract a wayward child home through cajoling, pleading, or yelling. But our efforts fail. Despite all Luke and Paul’s efforts, they are shipwrecked. In fact, the surf totally destroys the boat. Paul and his companions are washed on shore clinging to broken pieces of the ship.

This kind of shipwreck story is paradigm for the Christian life. After all, the One Christians call Lord died forsaken on a cross. For all of us, storms will come and all hope will be lost. Of all people, Christians should remember that death must come before resurrection.

The problem is many of us are working really, really hard to keep the ship together. We’ve strapped ropes around the ships of our lives in a desperate attempt to keep them afloat. We tell ourselves that things are not that bad, our spouse will change, our job will change, we will change, things will get better.

Such self-deception is exhausting. This passage tells us that sometimes the ship must break apart. There must be a moment when we realize our marriage fails, our child has cut herself off from the family, our career is at a dead-end. This admission is honesty with ourselves and with God. In other words, repentance—because when we realize how bad it is, we call out for help. And in doing so, we trust God. This is the place where, in religious terms, we are saved.

God, in His mercy, may let the whole ship, everything around you, break apart. And you may be washed on shore with only the clothes on your back, metaphorically speaking. But God is at work, and you may be surprised where you wash ashore.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)