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Purpose on the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean Sea plays host to some incredible stories in the Bible. Two of my favorites are about harrowing shipwrecks. One involves Jonah (Jonah 1), and the other is the Apostle Paul (Acts 27).

The prophet Jonah was called by God to travel to Nineveh (in present-day Iraq) and inform them of God’s plan to utterly destroy their city. Jonah decides to run away from God’s purpose by boarding a ship heading for Tarshish on the southwestern coast of Spain. In his day, Tarshish was about as far away from God as Jonah could run.

While on the Mediterranean, a terrible storm hits the ship. Jonah confesses that the storm is his fault and suggests the crew throw him overboard. They are hesitant, but ultimately, that’s exactly what they did. Jonah is then swallowed by a great fish. He learns his lesson the hard way and reluctantly heads for Nineveh.

God called on Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles. In pursuit of that calling, Paul spent a lot of time sailing on the Mediterranean during his missionary travels. In Acts 27, he is once again sailing on the sea, but this time he is a prisoner being taken to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. Being a prisoner must have been a terrible storm for Paul, but it’s not the only storm he faced on that trip.

While at sea, a terrible storm called a Nor’easter hits and rages relentlessly for two weeks. The story is a real nail-biter. The ship finally runs aground on a sandbar and is destroyed, but none of the 276 souls on board are lost.

Two men. Two purposes. Two very different responses.

Purpose is defined as the reason something exists or for which it has been done or made. According to Paul, we have all been created by God for holy purposes:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

Paul and Jonah both had purpose. One ran toward his purpose, and the other ran away, but…

Both ran into storms. Being obedient doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing. In fact, God sometimes allows the storms to toughen us and to reveal His sovereignty. When we encounter a storm, we often assume we’ve done something wrong. Not true. Storms happen to everyone. Yes, even those who obediently pursue God’s purposes will be hit by storms. So, be careful not to judge the success or failure of a mission by a storm. Instead, move boldly in the direction of God’s purpose—regardless of the storm.

Both fulfilled God’s purpose. Paul did it willingly and with passion; Jonah did it unwillingly and with bitterness. Pour Jonah; even at the end of his story, he is still bitter!

Know this: God always accomplishes His purposes. Job declares to God in Job 42:2, “No purpose of yours can be thwarted.” My friends, we can pursue God’s purposes with a smile and passion or with a frown and bitter attitude, but either way, His purposes will be accomplished.

Sadly, God sometimes calls someone else. How many times have we said no to God—and the blessings of purposeful obedience went to someone else? That’s what happened to the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10:17-22. He said no to following Jesus, and he missed out on a glorious adventure! That’s what happens when we say no to God. God made you for a purpose, and when you reject that purpose, you also miss out on the awesome experiences and privileges that come with fulfilling that purpose. A terrible loss indeed.

Shakespeare acknowledged this truth when he wrote in Julius Caesar, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures.” Have you said no to God? If so, whether you realize it or not, you have missed the high tide of God’s purposes — and now you’re stuck in the shallows and the muck.

My friends, divine purpose always involves risk. No mission advances without it. God is calling. Are you willing? What is holding you back? Do you think you are safe in ignoring Him or hiding or running away? Jonah discovered the hard way that running from God’s purposes can also be risky and miserable.

The best place to be is in the center of God’s will. It may seem safer, more profitable, or more attractive somewhere else, but don’t be fooled by lesser things. The greatest value in life is experienced by accomplishing the purposes of God.

That’s what Jesus did. Setting his face resolutely toward Jerusalem meant walking directly into a fierce storm called the crucifixion. But because He was willing, “God exalted Him to the highest place.” See Philippians 2. In John 17:4, Jesus declares to His Father, “I brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” It was a declaration of mission accomplished!

In Acts 23:1, Paul declares, “I have fulfilled my responsibility to God in all good conscience.”

Such declarations can be ours too! Obedience won’t be easy. The storms will hit — and sometimes they will be fierce. But if we walk resolutely in the direction of obedience, then we will bring God glory as we fulfill our holy purposes. Doing so is the pinnacle of human existence on earth.

My friend, it’s never too late. There is no time for regret in the Kingdom of Heaven. God has purposes for you — and you can begin moving in the direction of obedience today! If you are willing, then the tide is always rising.