Small Group Questions

Introduction:

Budget cuts, car accidents, natural disasters, health problems — we’ve all faced setbacks in life that were outside of our control. Even the apostle Paul was pounded by angry waves and shipwrecked on his way to share God’s word. In this message, we delve into the common mistakes that lead people into the storm and how to anchor your ship before it sinks.  

Something To Talk About:

Using Paul’s shipwreck at Malta found in Acts 27: 1- 44 as reference, we look at what makes people make poor choices that lead to setbacks and storms; what we need to know about storms; and what we should remember when it feels hopeless: 

  1. What causes people to make poor choices that lead to setbacks and storms? First, do not listen to ungodly advice: Psalm 1:1-3 says it pretty plainly: “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do” Any position we have is based on the word of God. Anything less is dangerous, and anything contrary to God’s word is ungodly counsel. As much as possible, avoid the counsel of the ungodly. Second, we copy the crowd. “…You must not follow the crowd in doing wrong.” (Exodus 23:2). Everyone feels the need to belong but following the crowd can be dangerous. In a crowd, there is often a real pressure to do what they do or risk being subject to ridicule, or be alienated.  Nevertheless, Scripture is clear: Whatever the risks, we are not to go along with the crowd in doing wrong.  Third, when we count on circumstances instead of Christ: In Philippians 4:12-13, Paul writes: “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” If anyone went through trials, it was Paul. He was shipwrecked. Beaten. Thrown in prison. Nearly stoned to death. In spite of all this, Paul knew how to look past the circumstances and look to God. Paul was able to joyfully endure trials not by his own strength, but through the strength that Jesus Christ provided him. If we’re going to count it all joy when we face negative circumstances, then we too must depend solely on Jesus Christ. 
  2. What do I need to know about storms? First, they can cause me to drift from my goal. The first thing that storms tend to do is to cause us to drift. We let go of our goals. We forget where we are headed. We forget our values and start drifting. Because they were not equipped with compasses and the stars were completely obscured by the storm, the sailors were in total darkness. When you are in a dark situation, you drift. The waves beat you back and forth, and you are led wherever they take you. In the same way, your circumstances can batter you back and forth. Second, they can cause me to discard what I used to value. The voyage to Rome was not going well. They took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. (Acts 27:18) When a crisis emerges we start discarding things from our lives. With the sailors it was first the cargo, then the ship’s gear, eventually their food (Acts 27:38), and finally themselves. (Acts 27:43-44) Often, when we find ourselves in a crisis of life, we are tempted to throw out the very things that are important to us because we are under pressure and want to get rid of it all. We become impulsive. We run out on relationships. We throw away values that we learned as children. Third, storms can cause me to despair.  In an extreme crisis, we eventually get to the point of despair and the last thing we throw out is hope. Remember the sailors: they gave up hope because they had forgotten that God is in control. They forgot that God had a plan. They forgot that God can inject hope into an absolutely hopeless situation. The amazing part of this story is Paul’s reaction. Paul was calm and confident. He had courage in the crisis. Absolutely nothing fazed him. The sailor’s reactions were the natural responses that we tend to have in a crisis, but they do not have to be our reactions.
  3. What should I remember when it feels hopeless? First, God is with me: The first anchor in a storm is the presence of God. Storms can never hide us from God. We may not see Him, but He sees us. He is with us and is watching us. “…I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” (Hebrews 13:5) We never go through anything by ourselves. No matter what situation you are going through right now, God is with you. He is the anchor that you can fully trust. In Acts 27:24, Paul quotes God’s angel: “Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.” Second, God’s purpose is greater than this setback or storm. You are not here on earth just to take up space; God has a specific purpose and plan for your life. Storms are simply temporary setbacks toward fulfilling that purpose. No matter what happens on the outside, external forces cannot alter God’s purpose for your life, God’s purpose is greater than any situation you will ever experience. God has a plan beyond the problems you are facing right now. Third, remember that God’s promises can be trusted: Storms cannot destroy the child of God, because God’s promise is sure. Some of us are going through devastating crises right now. Our problems are overwhelming, and we think we are going under for the last time. God says this to you: You may lose the cargo; you may lose the tackle of the ship; you may lose the ship; you may even get wet — but you are going to make it because of the promise of God.  What should we do while we are waiting for the crisis to end? The same thing the sailors did: Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. (Acts 27:29) Morning came. The sailors didn’t recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach where they decided to run the ship aground. All 276 people jumped overboard and got safely to land (Acts 27:39-44).                                

Discussion Questions:

  1. Storms can cause us to drift off course, discard what we once valued, and lead us to despair: share a time when a storm caused you to lose focus on your life mission, values, or hope. How did you get back on course?
  2. When we’re in a storm and feeling helpless how can we be steadied by relying on the anchors God provides us—his presence, his purpose, and his promises?
  3. At one point, the sailors tried to abandon the ship, thinking their lifeboat would save them. But Paul said, “You’ll all die unless you stay with the ship!” So the soldiers cut the ropes and let go of their lifeboat. Acts 27:30-32. What manmade lifeboat have you been holding onto? What have you been thinking would save you? Is there something you need to let go of?
  4. Read Isaiah 41:10 and Acts 27:25-26: what do they say about God’s promises? 
  5. How do we stay anchored to God in the storms of life? When we go through a major setback, we can get frustrated and be tempted, like the crew on Paul’s ship, to throw everything overboard—maybe even our faith. Why is this a bad decision? What could help you hold on?
  6. What are you trusting God with today? Are you anxiously or patiently waiting for God to fulfill His promises?
  7. We can trust God, no matter how impossible the circumstances, because God always keeps His promises. Agree or disagree and why? 
  8. Is there one area that has been a hindrance to your living by faith in God’s promises? What can you do this week to remove the hindrance(s)? 
  9. How do we go from bemoaning our circumstances, to rejoicing in them?  
  10. How do you go about applying a sermon to your life?
  11. What would you do differently this week as a result of this message? 

Take one thing home with you:

In 1988 a terrible earthquake shook the country of Armenia. Thousands of people died. In one small town right after the earthquake a father rushed to his son’s school, only to find the building flattened.

Many times this father had promised, “No matter what, I’ll be there for you when you need me.” Now it seemed hopeless, but he started removing some of the rubble. Others discouraged him, but he kept working. After 38 long hours of digging, the exhausted man heard a scream from beneath the rubble. It was his son’s voice! Soon the father saw the first of 13 school children who had survived the quake. When the building had collapsed, they had been spared in a small pocket in the building.

While our earthly fathers will certainly try to keep their promises, we have a Heavenly Father that keeps all His promises. He will fulfill his every promise to us, including every promise to provide for us. Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?”