The Un-Known Zone

Let’s face it. There’s a big difference between watching a movie for the first time and watching a movie the second time. In December, I watched Home Alone (ironically while I was home alone). It was still entertaining, but because I had already seen the movie at least ten times, I knew how it started, what happened next and how it ended. That same week, my son-in-law took me to see the latest (though maybe not the greatest) Star Wars movie. It was a non-stop thrill ride which grabbed and held my attention. The first movie seemed mild, but the second movie seemed wild. Why was that? When I watched Home Alone, I was in the Known Zone; but when I watched Star Wars (The Rise of Skywalker) I was in the Unknown Zone, and a trip to and through the Unknown Zone is almost always more of a wild than mild experience.

As we set sail into the new year, we can guess, wish and even plan for the journey, but the truth is, none of us knows the good, bad and in-between that is in store for us and those we love. None of us have 20/20 vision when it comes to 2020. When I was in my 30s, my New Year’s question was, “I wonder what pleasant surprises I will experience this coming year?” Now that I’ve hit my 60s, I must confess I often ask, “I wonder what painful surprises I will experience this coming year?”

While our fear can grow when entering the Unknown Zone, so can our faith. In Acts 27, the Apostle Paul sets sail into scary waters. He’s put on a boat and sent to Rome for trial. But long before he gets there, he encounters incredible unexpected challenges and sees his faith go way up and his fear go way down. What did he do, and what can we do, when facing the Unknown Zone?

There are three ways you can go into a scary place: You can (1) Go it alone; (2) Go with those who have minimal affection for you; or (3) Go with companions who care deeply about you. As Paul entered the Unknown Zone, he wasn’t “Home Alone.” In Acts 27:1-3, we read that his ship makes a temporary stop in Sidon and “Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.” When there is uncertainty in your life, keep your eyes open and be certain of this: God will likely provide caring companions to travel alongside you.

When you travel, the last thing you want is turbulence! But God’s Word makes it clear that no matter how godly you are, you will encounter some big bumps along the way. Paul was a spiritual giant, yet his ride to Rome featured tons of turbulence. In Acts 27:4-8, he says “the winds were against us.… We made slow headway … had difficulty … the wind did not allow us to hold our course… with difficulty …” Now that was one crazy cruise! But earlier, God prepared Paul by telling him to expect some turbulent times in the Unknow Zone (Acts 9:16; 20:22-23). We too should expect turbulent times.

Former Notre Dame head coach Frank Leahy once said, “Tradition is a wonderful thing; just don’t let it get in the way of success.” He meant that while a game plan is a good thing, you must be willing to adjust it when unforeseen circumstances arise that prevent you from achieving the ultimate goal. Paul saw the need to change course when certain circumstances arose. While his objective (i.e. go to Rome to preach the gospel) remained the same, his plan and time-table needed to be adjusted. In Acts 27:9-14 we read “….much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous…. So Paul warned them, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous…” The text then says that the man in charge (the Centurion) wouldn’t listen to Paul or change his plan in the face of new information. That was a bad idea! When you stay married to a plan that no longer works, you invite a shipwreck. God’s guys listen to His voice and make changes along the way.

Uncertainty makes us ask what matters most and what doesn’t. When we do that, we find what doesn’t matter (as much as we thought) are our physical and material possessions. Acts 27:15-19 tells us that as their ship began to break up, Paul and his pals “began to throw the cargo overboard…” When they had to choose between their life and their loot, they chose life! The priority of people went up and the priority of possessions went down. When in the Unknown Zone, smart guys make people a priority but even more importantly they make God their premier priority! In Acts 27:23-26 Paul writes “Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me…”

So, as we set sail into this Unknown Zone called 2020, let’s consider our friend Paul’s godly example. First of all, why not look for traveling companions who care? Let’s consider joining a small group or ministry team to hold each other up when times get tough. Second, don’t expect to get through 2020 without some unexpected blessings but also some unexpected hard hits and hurts. As Pastor Jamie said last week, “God’s grace promises all of His kids eternal life and forgiveness from sin, but it doesn’t promise all of us a life of comfort, health and wealth.” Third, stay focused on God’s goal to go where He wants you to go, but be flexible and willing to adapt your plan as God allows new challenges and opportunities along the way. Finally, prioritize what matters most. Ask yourself, “What in my life needs to be thrown overboard; and how will I put God and people first on my journey?” In closing, a great verse for all of us to memorize and hang onto in 2020 might be this:

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow…” – Matthew 6:33, 34a (ESV)