GIVING THANKS FOR SOGGY BREAD
The following is by a friend of mine who teaches, among other things, preaching at the Baptist College of Florida. This is an example of what is called inductive preaching. I think it has a great insight into the text
This story of Paul’s shipwreck on the way to Rome is one of my favorite stories in the New Testament. It is a favorite of mine because, like most favorite stories do, it leaves us with more of a picture than a plot. Great stories paint great images for us to look at and think about and learn from.
And you might not immediately see the picture when you first read this story. On the surface, this chapter seems to be simply an overly-detailed description of a sea voyage â€œgone bad. And knowing that this is the Book of Acts we are reading, you might even wonder why Luke would devote a whole chapter to this single event in the life of Paul.
Shipwrecks were actually commonplace in the first century. When Paul wrote the Book of II Corinthians, he said he had already been in three shipwrecks! So it hardly seems right to take up a whole chapter in the story of the early church (only 28 chapters long) with just this one story.
And Luke gives every single detail of the trip. He tells where they left from, and when. He tells which way the wind was blowing. He talks about the time of year. In v28, he tells how deep the water was. And in v37 he makes sure we know exactly how many people were on board.
I think these all details were written to get us thinking about the rest of the details that surround this story. If we can put ourselves into the story with these details, then maybe we can also understand the tremendous pressures that weighed on Paul as he took this journey to Rome to stand trial.
Here was a man who had no real home. Since the day Jesus had spoken to him on the Damascus Road, he had given everything to the cause of the Gospel! He traveled from place to place, telling people about Christ.
He worked hard to start churches in places where there were no churches, and now his reward is to be arrested…to be arrested and sentenced to the ultimate fate. He must appear before the highest human court in the world–the court of the emperor of Rome. And no one will stand with him when he gets there. He is alone. He has given all and lost all.
And if his troubles were not enough, now the ship that is taking him to his fate is sinking in a winter storm, even after he had told the captain of the ship that it was going to happen! This is the ultimate Murphy’s Law in action! “If you are sailing to a Roman trial and near-certain death, your ship will also sink.”
So what does Paul do? I know what I would have done. Griping and whining would have been the order of the day! “I told them this was going to happen, but does anybody ever listen to me? NOOOOOO!”
But instead of griping, whining, or general discouragement, I see the incredible picture of Paul begins to emerge in verse 33:
- after 14 days of being blown off course,
- after fourteen days of being so seasick that they could not eat,
- after 14 days of being in a storm so bad that he couldn’t sleep (v33 says this happened just before dawn, “as the day was coming on”),
- after 14 days of pure misery, the Apostle Paul kneels on a cold deck, in the pouring rain, in the blowing wind, and gives thanks over a piece of soggy bread. “After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.”
That is the image I want you to see and to keep. And it is an amazing picture! It is not “singing in the rain,” but “giving thanks in the rain.” It is not just saying that everything is fine; it is knowing that things are not fine and giving thanks in faith.
Why would anyone do that? Why would anyone give thanks for soggy bread in the middle of a storm? Why would anyone give thanks when the situation seems hopeless? The only answer is that Paul knew that things would only be hopeless if they DID NOT give thanks.
That really was Paul’s philosophy. That really was what Paul believed:
- You live by giving thanks. You stay strong by giving thanks.
- You survive by giving thanks.
It all explains the blanket statements that Paul made in the rest of the New Testament:
- In Eph 5:4, Paul tells the Christians to give up their old ways of foolishness and coarse jesting and put, of all things, thanksgiving in its place.
- In Eph 5:20, Paul says to give thanks at all times for all things.
- In Col 2:7, Paul says to overflow with thanksgiving.
- In I Thess 5:18, Paul writes those words that some of you have even memorized…”in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
These are all BLANKET STATEMENTS. NONE of these verses ask what the circumstances are, and they should not. That is the whole point:
- Giving thanks lives outside of circumstances.
- Giving thanks is what delivers us from being prisoners to circumstances.
That is why we are drug through this story detail by detail: because we are supposed to see Paul kneeling on the deck of a tossing ship and realize that thanksgiving is also our strength, our deliverance, from the storms, the discouragements of life. Thanksgiving is our spiritual food.
Leadership Journal told the story of a woman who bought a parrot to keep her company, but she could not get the parrot to talk. She returned the bird to the pet store and complained, “This bird doesn’t talk.” The owner asked if the parrot had a mirror in its cage…”Parrots love mirrors, they can seem themselves and start a conversation with themselves.” So the woman bought a mirror.
The next day she was back and complained that the parrot would still not talk. The owner asked her if the parrot had a ladder in its cage. “Parrots love ladders, and a happy parrot is a talking parrot.” So the woman bought a ladder.
But the next day she was back again. This time the owner asked if the parrot had a swing in his cage. “Parrots love to swing. Once he starts swinging, he’ll talk up a storm.” So woman bought a swing.
She was back on the fourth day, but this time she came with sad news. She told the owner, “my parrot died.” The store owner was shocked and said, “Oh, I am sorry…did he ever talk before he died?” “Yes,” the woman said, “just before he died, he looked up at me and said–‘don’t they sell any food at that pet store?'”
The act of giving thanks is our spiritual food. It takes us through the unbearable. It allows us to bow before God in the worst of circumstances and come away with encouragement and confidence that God is with us and knows all about our situation. We were never meant to live without gratitude.
Several years ago, a fine man named Lamar Breland died. You don’t know his name, but I wanted to tell you about him. He is one of those unsung church heroes. He was one of our deacons, and a wonderful man. He loved to fish. He loved to tell stories. You knew it was going to be a classic Lamar Breland story when he would say, “now here’s a sho-nuff true story!” With Lamar, they were all “sho-nuff” true stories. He loved to see friends and family. He just loved to see folks.
But at the end of his life, he went through the mill. It started with pneumonia. And then for some reason, he got an awful case of TMJ. Every time I saw him, he was just in agony. And the pain from that would aggravate his heart problems. And then finally, the cancer came.
One day at his house, after the doctors had told Lamar there was nothing else they could do, Lamar was sitting in his chair and he looked at me and said, “You know Ed, God has given me a wonderful life.”
And for just a moment, I could have sworn that I saw a man on a ship, kneeling in the rain, thanking God for soggy bread. And it made me wonder if I had really yet tapped into the power God has placed in the simple act of giving thanks.