"As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 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.” And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea." (Acts 27:33–38)
The scene above takes place on the ship which was carrying Paul to Rome. Paul had warned the captain and officers that there would be danger if they set sail at that time. But they paid no attention to him. But that all changed when they ran into trouble. A vicious nor'easter came upon them which threatened to claim every life on board. They realized Paul was right and had some bizarre insight into future events. But Paul had good news. No one was going to perish so long as every person remained on board. Some wanted to escape and get off the ship but seeing that Paul had been right once, they trusted that he would be right again.
That brings us to this beautiful moment which I quoted above. The situation is very grim. The sea is violently pounding the boat while the wind is driving it towards what they fear could be rocks or reefs. The crew has jettisoned nearly all of the cargo and supplies. They are in suspense, not knowing how this will work out.
And then Paul does that thing he does so well. He boldly declares his faith in Christ to 276 people. But he does more than declare it: he demonstrates it by facing this dire and seemingly hopeless circumstance with a peace and a hope unavailable to the worshippers of the Greek and Roman pantheon. The Roman sailors and soldiers likely took this to mean Poseidon or Neptune was unhappy with them. But Paul knew that those gods were no gods at all, and that the God he worships is sovereign over all things, including this storm and the day of each man's death. And this is why he could assure each of them that they would not perish in the storm and why he could give thanks in the midst of the storm.
I wish we had a transcript of Paul's prayer so I wouldn't be tempted to speculate, but I suspect that Paul gave thanks for more than just the food. I suspect his prayer included thanksgiving for the present circumstances, for God's mercy to each one thus far, and for the opportunity to represent Christ Jesus to a captive audience which was not only hungry for food but for hope. I say this because of what we know about Paul's faith and perspective on the world.
This is the same Paul who said, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18)
And, "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6–7)
When we gather with family and friends today we will do so in the midst of many different storms: financial storms, marital storms, health storms, spiritual storms or some other personal storm. But we all share in the suspense of the social, political, moral and theological storms currently pounding on our hull and threatening to drive us into the reef. We see this on both the national level, and the global level. Christians are being persecuted all over the world. Evil is on the rise everywhere, even within the Church. From a human perspective, it doesn't make sense to be "thankful". Yet, despite all of this, we have access to the same peace and hope which Paul had in the midst of a powerful storm on a doomed ship.
Paul's offering of thanksgiving made no sense from a human perspective. But Paul could thank God because he did not see anything form a mere human perspective. Paul saw everything from a heavenly perspective. This enabled him to see that the suspenseful situation they were in was ordained by God for his glory and for the good of all 276 people on board.
We can give thanks today in the midst of these storms with full confidence that in the same way God will manifest his glory. Even if the ship breaks apart, He will preserve his people and bring them safely to shore! Let us give thanks to the Lord today that he is sovereign over the storms, that he is working our his perfect will in our lives and in the world. Let us give thanks in all circumstances!