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How do we minister in difficult times?

As Christians, we are called to bring transformation to our calling-places with hope, faith, and love. The question is how can we do that when we face obstacles, and difficulties that are standing against our way?

In Acts 27, we meet an apostle Paul travelling on a boat to Rome. Paul went to Jerusalem to serve the church and to witness for the Gospel. But, he was actually imprisoned by the Jews that were claiming that Paul was preaching the false Gospel. So, Paul, being a Roman citizen, had to appeal to the Roman emperor for his defense against his Jewish prosecutors. So, Paul in our text today is on his way to Rome in a boat as a prisoner to go through a legal hearing in Rome.

But, the boat that was carrying Paul and the other prisoners to Rome embraces a storm in the sea. It says in verses 14-15: “But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.” So, the sailors fearing that the boat would sink starts doing whatever they can to lighten the ship and stay afloat. It says in verses 18-19, “Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. And on the third day they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands.” So, did this work?

Well, no. It says in verse 20, “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.” Here, Paul and the sailors faced a complete lockdown in the vast ocean with no hope of being rescued. How can we encourage people in such difficult circumstances?

1. Strengthen hope in God’s words.

First, before helping others, we first need to renew our hope by strengthening our hope in God’s words. It says in verses 21-24:

"Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 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.’"

Here, Paul firmly trusted in God’s words that the voyage of ship, even though it was in a completely lockdown in a stormy vast ocean, will not come to a lose of life. How did Paul know about this? Well, Paul believed in God’s words. The angel of the Lord appeared to Paul not just this instance but again and again in the Book of Acts and told Paul that he would stand before the Roman Emperor, the Caesar, and would testify the Gospel in Rome. So, based on God’s words, Paul firmly believed that he had a mission to testify for Jesus in Rome, and as long as that mission was not completed, Paul knew that God would preserve and sustain his life.

So, in the midst of crisis and in the midst of chaos that make us realize that things are beyond our control and that causes us worry, we need to hold firmly onto God’s words. From God’s words, we need to hear and clarify the calling and the mission that God has given to us in our lives. As long as we are on that mission, God keeps our lives in his hand.

2. Minister hope with God’s words

But, the life of Christianity is not just about us. God calls us to also minister to the needs of others. In the midst of difficult circumstances, how can we minister hope to those who are suffering and who are hurting in need. Well, we need to minister hope with God’s words.

After Paul gives encouragement from God's words, Paul says in verse 25: So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.” Here, Paul was telling the people who did know who God was to exercise their faith in trusting in God’s words. In the time of crisis and chaos, what people need the most I believe is God’s words. People need to hear that there is God who loves them and who cares for them. People need to come to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ that not only saves them from sins but transforms their lives to live with hope, love, and purpose.

What would have happened if Paul was not in that ship that was locked down in the vast ocean. The sailors may never have had a chance to hear the hope of God’s words. But, there was Paul in the midst of a lost ship locked down in the vast ocean who stood up and proclaimed God’s words to the people who were hurting and suffering without a hope.

God calls not just the pastors. But, he also calls ordinary men and women of God to be the Kingdom Ambassadors. Wherever we go, we are representing the kingdom of God. God desires that through our presences in our calling-places of work, school, and community, we would bring God’s rule, God’s order, and God’s beauty into this world.

3. Serve hope with what you have

So, in the midst of crisis, we can strengthen our hope in God’s words, and also minister hope with God’s words to the people around us. We can also help people renew their hope by serving with what we have. After Paul gives God’s words to the people, he encourages them to eat as well. Paul says in verses 34-35:

"Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.”

Paul not only proclaimed God’s words, but here we see Paul encouraging people to have some food. Often, we think that to do the Kingdom work, we need to have a lot of money, a lot of manpower, and a lot resources. But, in Matthew 14, when Jesus fed five thousand people at once, he did it with only five loaves and two fish. Jesus had an absolute faith that five loaves and two fish were more than enough to feed 5,000 men. Jesus believed that as he started to serve with what he has, God will do the miracles. God’s infinite power is shown when we start serving with what we have by trusting God will work through it.

So, in the midst of a lost and locked down boat in a vast ocean, where there was no sign of sun, stars, and land, when everyone was losing their hope. Paul renewed himself in the Lord, and Paul stood up and ministered hope with God’s words. Then, Paul served the hope with God’s resources with what he had.

So, what happened after that? Well, remember in verse 20, it said: “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.” But, after Paul’s ministry it says in verse 36, “Then they all were encouraged.”

So, even in difficult times, God can use our lives to bless the people around as we strengthen our hope in God's words, minister with God's words, and serve the people with what we have. Christians are called to be live as an agent of light and shine as a signpost of God's kingdom that is coming soon. May God use our lives to do that.

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