The Beauty of Bad Decisions, Storms, and Shipwrecks
Your initial impulse may be to abandon ship before it runs aground, but you may just be abandoning a beautiful destination.
This post is for all my prophets out there; those that have “I told you so” saved to your auto-complete favorites. And before you navigate away from this page predicting correction and rebuke, I see you.
I am you.
I want to talk to you about the simultaneous burden of being right and no one listening (or not the right people listening.) The agony of seeing the coming iceberg and no one hearing or heeding your voice over music and dancing on the Lido deck.
There have been plenty of times in my life that I could see what was coming; in a friend’s relationship or in an organization’s trajectory. This is an amazing gift if you’re the captain of the ship, but it feels like a curse if you’re just swabbing the deck. Too many times in my life I have cut loose a lifeboat and abandoned ship because people didn’t see what I saw. If people weren’t going to listen, “peace out!”
But what I am discovering, whether because of the onset of wisdom or fatigue, is that there is great beauty in seeing a better way and sticking around while that right way is not taken. There is ample humility to be had in both making the wrong decision and going along with it when you see a better way. There is captivating possibility turning into the storm instead of away from it. There is great opportunity in the reset of the shipwreck.
And more than just a good, “I told you so.”
In the Bible’s Book of Acts, we read about how the early church was formed and how the story of Jesus conquering death spread. One of the main actors in Acts, the apostle Paul, is imprisoned for being a troublemaker because he was preaching this Good News. Paul knew his rights as a Roman citizen, so he appeals to Caesar to plead his case. A soldier is then tasked with taking him to Rome by ship and, as we read in Acts 27 and 28, bad decisions are made where to sail and when to sail, and Paul, the centurion, and the crew get shipwrecked on the island of Malta for three months before they were able to resume their journey. Here are just a few highlights:
Winds didn’t cooperate and fill the sails to move the ship on their chosen route.
Ships anchors were dropped to prevent storm winds from taking them in a direction they didn’t want to go (they were dragged that direction anyway.)
Paul predicted calamity would strike if they did not seek safe harbor. He said,
Men, I can see the voyage is going to end in disaster and great loss not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” But the centurion was more convinced by the captain and the ship’s owner than by what Paul said. - Acts 27:10-11
Paul even slipped in an “I told you so” after they had thrown all the cargo and ship’s gear overboard to keep the ship afloat during the storm, but items crucial for their survival to make their journey.
Since many of them had no desire to eat, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not put out to sea from Crete, thus avoiding this damage and loss. And now I advise you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only the ship will be lost. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve came to me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul! You must stand before Caesar, and God has graciously granted you the safety of all who are sailing with you.’ Therefore keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be just as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.” - Acts 27:21-26
It wasn’t an “I told you so” that came out of arrogance, but out of a desire to shepherd from his shackles for the good of the souls aboard the ship and to complete Paul’s mission to stand in front of Caesar.
So all you prophets who were scared of what was coming, this makes us all look pretty good right? I guess you were wrong! Or were you?
Before this whole Adriatic storm and shipwreck mess that could’ve been avoided to get Paul in front of Caesar, there’s one more bad decision we need to address and, this time, it belonged to Paul. After he was arrested, he pretty much immediately demanded an audience with Caesar; like skipping the appeals process and going straight to the Supreme Court. It’s good medicine for us prophets to take in what happens when King Agrippa arrives to hear Paul before he sets sail:
Do you believe the prophets, King Agrippa? I know that you believe.” Agrippa said to Paul, “In such a short time are you persuading me to become a Christian?” Paul replied, “I pray to God that whether in a short or a long time not only you but also all those who are listening to me today could become such as I am, except for these chains.” So the king got up, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them, and as they were leaving they said to one another, “This man is not doing anything deserving death or imprisonment.” Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Boy, are there some good decision-making lessons here, for prophets and non-prophets. Here are a few I see:
Following an established process, instead of going over someone’s head, can seem like a waste of time when you know you’re in the right. Yet it actually might be better for you both in time and show respect for those in the middle of the process to walk through it, step by step.
Look for and listen to people that regularly see patterns and troubles before you do. People have different gifts that are equally valuable but this one is indispensable in the life of a church or organization. Companies like Nike and Apple regularly ignore what the majority say that they want and, instead, work on developing what they see people wanting in the future. This can be the difference between living reactively and proactively.
Bad decisions, storms, and shipwrecks allow us to be in places that we never would be if were given a(nother) choice. Paul ended up ministering to and healing multiple people on Malta during his three months there.
One last bit of that story. After Paul’s correct prediction of calamity but before the shipwreck, the ship’s crew decides they’re going to take a lifeboat and abandon ship without the others. Paul speaks with authority again:
Then when the sailors tried to escape from the ship and were lowering the ship’s boat into the sea, pretending that they were going to put out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” Then the soldiers cut the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it drift away.
It’s human nature to abandon ship. Sometimes safety and survival demand it. But not always. There is beauty and purpose that can grow from bad decisions, storms, and shipwrecks; God’s sovereign hand working through all three. Whether you’re a prophet or not, it’s fun to see it all work out (ahead of time or in real time.)
There is beauty in trusting the One that sees beyond the decisions, storms, and shipwrecks. There is beauty in that He is with you in all three.
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