Acts 27 records Paul’s voyage to Italy. This journey involves a variety of places, and often people don’t understand the details of Paul’s journeys and the spiritual significance behind them. Paul’s four journeys encompassed many different locations and can be confusing to those who haven’t studied it to the point of understanding. When we were reading the Bible this time, we got the illumination of the Holy Spirit; thus, we had a clear understanding of Paul’s fourth journey and had a deeper understanding of the spiritual significance behind it.
We won’t focus on the names of the locations at this point. Instead, let’s pay attention to the problem of the winds blowing against the ship. In this story, a centurion named Julius listened to the words of the ship’s pilot to continue the voyage. Paul advised him not to sail on, but he didn’t listen, and they encountered a storm that nearly cost them their lives. But because Paul received a word from God, he told them that they would not lose their lives, but would just run aground on some island. In the end, as expected, things happened according to Paul’s prophecy, so everyone’s lives were saved. God used the shipwreck so that through Paul, the tribal people on the island of Malta in Chapter 28 were healed and saved.
This is the rough outline of the story. But the details are very important. Acts 27:1 mentioned, “it was decided” that Paul was going to sail to Italy. Who decided that? Was it King Agrippa and Festus? Was this decision correct? Did it come from God? Although the Gentiles made this decision, God’s sovereignty may have come into play, because Jesus told Paul that he would stand trial before Caesar in Rome to testify (Acts 23:11).
They started from Caesarea, which was north of Jerusalem, where Paul was imprisoned in Acts 26. They found a ship from Adramyttium, which was about to sail along the coast of the province of Asia. Paul and others boarded the ship. The Bible also specifically recorded that there was a Macedonian from Thessalonica who was with them (NIV, Acts 27:2). All Scripture is God-breathed (NIV, 2 Timothy 3:16) so this seemingly insignificant information is worth its weight in gold. We felt that the Holy Spirit hinted to us that Paul might have planned to travel to Rome through Macedonia. Thessalonica was near Macedonia. Perhaps Paul would have visited the church he established in Thessalonica.
The third verse also seems to confirm this speculation. This verse says that they landed at Sidon, and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they could provide for his needs. This meant that Paul might have had some freedom to arrange this trip according to his liking. Sidon is north of Caesarea and on the coast of Israel, near Tyre. Verse 4 recorded that the winds were blowing against them, starting from here. Why were the winds blowing against them? Did it come from God, or was it an obstruction from the enemy?
These are all questions we have to think about. These questions apply to our current situation. For example, did the coronavirus come from Satan’s attack or God’s judgment? Should we engage in spiritual warfare against the enemy or repent and ask God for forgiveness? The Bible tells us that Satan comes only to steal and kill and destroy (NIV, John 10:10). We know that bad things come from the enemy. The Bible also tells us that no sparrow will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care (NIV, Matthew 10:29) and that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (NIV, Romans 8:28). We know that because of this wind, Paul took a path that was not planned. This may be what the Holy Spirit wants us to see in this chapter. We surmised that Paul wanted to take the way he was familiar with, which was to go to Rome through Macedonia. But because of the wind and the fact that the centurion did not follow Paul’s advice, they had to take a new path.
Verse 4 went on to say that because the winds were against them, they sailed against the lee of Cyprus, a small island in the Mediterranean. Then verse 5 says that they had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia to Myra in Lycia. The three places here, Cilicia, Pamphylia, and Myra in Lycia, are all within the borders of today’s Turkey. Macedonia is probably today’s Macedonia, and the south of Macedonia is today’s Greece.
Verse 6 says that while in Myra, the centurion found a ship that would sail for Italy, but they made slow headway and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. Cnidus is located southwest of Asia Minor, and it is close to Turkey. Paul had changed course here. Verse 7 says that, because the wind did not allow them to hold their course, they had to sail to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. Crete, an island south of Turkey and Greece, belongs to Greece. It would be equivalent to blowing them to a small island in the south due to the wind. Then verse 8 said that they had difficulty coming to Fair Havens. Fair Havens is south of Crete, and Lasea is west of Fair Havens. Here Paul advised everyone not to continue, but the centurion did not obey Paul. According to natural knowledge, the captain and the ship’s owner may have had their reasons. It also mentions in verse 12 that Fair Havens was unsuitable to winter in, and they hoped to winter in Phoenix. It specifically indicates that Phoenix was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest. The recovery version of the Bible that we are reading, has a note on the phrase “facing both southwest and northwest.” The note reads: “or, facing the southeast winds and the northeast winds.” After the south wind began to blow, they felt confident to set out. It just so happened that Phoenix was northwest of Fair Havens. They wanted to take advantage of the south wind to sail to Phoenix. As a result, verse 14 says that a wind of hurricane force called the “northeaster” came up, and the explanation of the recovery version of the Bible said that this was a northeast wind. I checked the translation of the said verse on STEPBIBLE.ORG, which is also translated into a northeast wind, but the website notes that the original Greek text can also be translated as “southwest wind.” This contradiction seems to echo the fact that the harbor in Crete faces both northeast and southeast.
In Fair Havens, Paul encouraged the centurion not to continue sailing, but the centurion obeyed the captain’s words and continued to Phoenix. As a result, a south wind came, but it became a north wind. They wanted to take advantage of the south wind to go to Phoenix in the north, but the north wind blew them to an island called “Cauda” in the south. Then their journey was changed entirely. In the end, they were blown southwards by the wind, taking a path that they had never intended, nor traveled by many, to an island in the south of Italy called Melita. They went to Italy from there. This trip was not planned by Paul, nor by the captain and the centurion.
We briefly talked about the details of Paul’s journeys and applied them to our spiritual experience. Have you had a similar experience? Have you reached a crossroads in your life? This crossroad may look like Phoenix, with one side facing northeast and one side facing southeast. It seems like you can go in two different directions. Have you encountered circumstances or storms in your life that make you head in a different direction? Or did you think that God was leading you in one direction, but when the circumstance arose, you had to go in another direction? After time has passed and you look back, do you see God’s wonderful leading instead?
I was saved in the Local Church Movement, so I received a lot of help from Watchman Nee’s and Witness Lee’s ministry. Watchman Nee has an article that says that God has Plan A and Plan B. The general idea is that sometimes God will have different plans for us and will lead us to accomplish His mission. Watchman Nee said that after praying, he had the burden to go to an island to spread the gospel. He was confident that it was God-inspired. God also encouraged a man to donate money to help him go to the island. He also promised this man that he would go. But difficult circumstances were rising, and Watchman Nee’s mother felt that it would be unsafe, so she objected. He was in a dilemma at this time, just like the situation of Phoenix depicted here. If he didn’t go, he would lose credibility with this man who had already donated money. Plus, he had agreed to go according to God’s leading. If he did go, he wouldn’t be honoring his mother, and the Bible teaches us to obey the elders. He was in a dilemma. Later, he decided to put the trip off temporarily due to the difficult circumstances. Of course, the man who donated money was angry and misunderstood him, thinking that Watchman Nee couldn’t be trusted. However, Watchman Nee applied the lessons of the cross and did not justify himself. Later, his mother’s attitude changed, allowing him to go to that island and spread the gospel. When he got there, the Holy Spirit had already worked and opened the hearts of those people, so the gospel was very effective. If he had arrived earlier, he might not have been as effective. Watchman Nee cited his own example and said that sometimes God has Plan A and Plan B. Although they may all come from God, sometimes they have different results.
I told this story at the meeting and asked the people who participated in the Bible Study a question. Was there any plan A and plan B during Paul’s journey to Rome? What was God’s original plan? When Paul tried to persuade the centurion not to go to Phoenix in Fair Havens, did it come from Paul himself or God? If they didn’t go to Phoenix, what route would their voyage have taken? The Bible doesn’t tell us, so we have no way of knowing. It is just mentioned in verse 2 that “a Macedonian from Thessalonica” was with Paul. I guess that Paul may have wanted to pass through Thessalonica to visit the church there and then through Macedonia to Italy. Paul may have hoped the journey to Phoenix would be delayed. We don’t know for sure, so we can only speculate. We do know that they were forced to take an unfamiliar path.
Watchman Nee also had a very famous quote, “If God leads you to walk in a way that you know, it will not benefit you as much as If He would lead you to take the way that you do not know. This forces you to have hundreds and thousands of conversations with Him, resulting in a journey that is an everlasting memorial between you and Him.”
By the summer of 2015, I had been attending services at the Local Church Movement for about 13 years. I reached a turning point in my life, which was the “Phoenix” of my spiritual experience. I loved my church and had no thoughts of leaving it. Unfortunately, after nine years of marriage, my wife and I were unable to conceive children. This was like a “northeaster storm” in our lives. In 2015, I went to a special meeting of the Local Church Movement in California as a last resort hoping to get spiritual help from some trusted believers but was disappointed. This was the turning point for me. I was blown into Charismatic meetings by a spiritual “northeaster” in search of divine healing and help to understand the gift of prophecy.
I never imagined serving the Lord on a larger scale outside of my denomination. I planned to focus on providing services for overseas Chinese students within the framework of the Local Church Movement. I had no thoughts of traveling to China and serving churches there or churches in the United States. This ten-year infertility crisis became the “northeaster” of my life and completely blew me into a new life and spiritual direction. Though I received a lot of spiritual growth in The Local Church Movement, they focus more on how to live and share the gospel. I couldn’t get any help with healing or prophesy. This was God’s secret plan B for my life, although I didn’t realize it at the time.
In regards to our infertility problem, we had exhausted Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine without results. I had to put my total trust in God. I secretly sought healing and prophetic help from Charismatic churches. I found a Korean evangelical pastor, Li Che, near Washington, DC, who pastored a Chinese church and preached in Chinese. His sermons online were about inner healing and spiritual healing. He is not gifted in prophecy but he warmly welcomed us and prayed for us. After comforting and encouraging us, he said that he wasn’t sure when we would have children. Still, he felt that God would significantly use me because my situation was similar to others in the Bible, like Abraham, Isaac, and Hannah, the mother of Samuel.
I eventually sought out the Charismatic church and received prophetic words that we would have children. More importantly, God activated my gift of healing and prophecy. I began to pray for my wife every day. I also began to experience spiritual encounters and was able to hear God’s voice more clearly. In January 2016 God told me to get ready to have a child this year. I traveled to China in February and announced the prophecy to my family, but they didn’t believe me. I prayed for two of my cousins to be healed of infertility during that trip. My mother was upset. She said I couldn’t solve my own problems so why was I showing off and praying for others. It was on May 12, 2016 that God appeared to me in a dream and told me we would conceive a baby in the next month. My wife found out she was pregnant on May 28th. Our baby girl’s birth in 2017 caused a radical change in my family. My mother, who held superstitious beliefs about Bodhisattva all of her life, was set free from idol worship and became a believer in Jesus Christ. Ten years of witnessing to my family had not availed much but God’s prophetic word and the subsequent birth of our daughter changed everything. I baptized my parents when I returned to China in 2018. They both pray for me every night before they go to bed.
The prophetic word I received in 2016 is similar to the prophetic words that the angel spoke to Paul in this chapter. As I mentioned previously, The Local Church Movement doesn’t encourage believers to pursue the gift of healing or prophecy. We have members in our Bible study who are trained in this movement, so I asked them a question. What if Paul didn’t get a prophetic word from the angel and didn’t know in advance what would happen? Would his testimony have been as effective? In Acts 28, if Paul didn’t pray for the father of the tribal leader and others to be healed, would the gospel be spread as effectively? One man who still belongs to The Local Church Movement said Paul might have been able to do that, but he felt like his relationship with God wasn’t close enough for God to speak to him. I corrected him saying that a fundamental principle of the Bible is that everyone who asks, receives. I told him to believe that God would give him a prophetic word, and he would get one. God is not holding out on us; it’s our mind that hinders us. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He used Paul to heal and prophesy, and he will use us to do the same.
Though the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements do involve some inconsistencies and chaos, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Although many don’t get healed or prophecies are inaccurate, we should not refrain from pursuing these gifts. We must lead a balanced life by pursuing our relationship with God first and his gifts second. It’s not biblical to do one or the other exclusively. I was saved in The Local Church Movement, and when I left, a well-meaning brother told me not to forget the life lessons that I had learned. I promised him I would not forget. In the process of pursuing spiritual gifts, I encountered evil spirits that tried to deceive and attack me, but I held on to the life lessons learned in the Local Church Movement. My relationship with the Lord was held above all else. I’m not pursuing gifts for the sake of pursuing them. Judging things carefully has kept me safe. It also makes me victorious over the deception and attack of the evil spirits. It’s important to grow spiritually and pursue gifts. Believers in the Local Church Movement don’t pursue gifts because they are afraid of being deceived by evil spirits. This logic stems from unbelief and the lack of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us to trample on snakes, scorpions, and evil spirits (Luke 10:19). Our destiny is to judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). We cannot be afraid of being deceived. This would hinder our spiritual growth. It is clearly a sign of immaturity. A mature believer has the courage to pursue gifts, not to exalt himself or herself, but to use the tools God gave us to help others. The fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit come from the Holy Spirit and shouldn’t be neglected.
After sharing my experience, I realized that it was actually similar to that of Paul in this chapter. A wind of hurricane force called the “northeaster” rose in my life. It took me in a different direction than what the Local Church Movement taught me. There are many truths of life in the Local Church Movement, and they hope that many Christians will accept them, but the church was misunderstood and opposed instead. After I researched the Pentecostal Movement, especially after studying Doctor of Ministry at the United Theological Seminary, which has a background of Methodist and John Wesley, I met many American Christian friends. I often had the opportunity to share with them some of the truths I learned in the Local Church Movement. Most were very curious and open. God has appeared to me in dreams many times, assuring me that the Local Church Movement will one day receive the fullness and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
I was led by the Holy Spirit on a path I never planned on. But as the saying goes, “All roads lead to Rome.” “God’s wisdom is higher than our wisdom; His ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts” (NIV, Isaiah 55:9).
I shared a truth I learned from Brother Witness Lee at the meeting. He taught that Christians should learn how to hear from God in three different ways. First, we must read God’s Word in the Bible and get inspiration from it; second, we must learn how the Holy Spirit moves within us to get illumination; third, we must learn how the circumstances that God arranges for us can lead us where he intends for us to go.
I went to California in the summer of 2015, hoping to get help from a fellow believer. He was relatively indifferent to me. I knew that this was God speaking to me through the circumstances. God didn’t want me to find help through the Local church Movement for our infertility issue. It’s like when Jacob saw Laban and his sons look differently at him; he knew that it was God telling him to return to Bethel. God could certainly have used the Local Church Movement to pray for us and give us words of knowledge about our desire to have children. He didn’t do this because we would never have left our church. My wife and I have always said that if we have a few children as soon as we get married, we will never leave the Local Church Movement because there are rich truths there, and the people love us. Our minds were entirely shaped by the Local Church Movement, so leaving was never an option we considered. If we hadn’t left, I would have missed out on the truths that the Pentecostal Movement and other churches have taught, and my spiritual growth and faith would have been stunted.
This is similar to when Joseph was abducted to Egypt. He later told his brothers that their intention was evil, but God’s intention was to use it for good. He was brought to Egypt in advance to prepare food and provide salvation for the Israelites. God’s plan always exceeds that of man’s. Because I walked an unfamiliar path, it forced me to pray to God continually and have fellowship with Him thousands of times. Through this, not only did I get a miracle baby, this experience has also become the most beautiful memory between God and me.
I will never forget the time that I was praying in the park every afternoon in 2014, pouring my heart out to God by confessing my sins, repenting, dedicating myself, and praying for healing. Many times after praying, I felt like I came down from the clouds because I had unknowingly entered God’s presence. I told my wife that if I had to do it over again, I would choose this current path because our ten years of infertility and prayers have allowed us to experience God and increase our faith. These can never be replaced. I gradually grew spiritually due to these sufferings and hardships.
Therefore, I speculate that perhaps Paul’s plan here was also to follow the original path that they were familiar with, which was passing through the old road to Thessalonica and Macedonia. But circumstances changed, and God led them along an unfamiliar path. Though it was an unfamiliar path, God’s presence kept Paul and his fellow shipmates safe, and through Paul’s prophetic words and final achievements, these fellow shipmates were saved. Perhaps they are in heaven with Paul today.
My mind was so deeply influenced by the Local Church Movement that it never entered my mind to look for help from the Charismatic church. God changed the circumstances and blocked me from getting help from my church. The spiritual storm that He arranged took me to the Pentecostal Movement, which activated my gifts. This showed me how important it is to balance both life lessons as well as spiritual gifts. They are both necessary for spiritual growth. We cannot neglect one for the other.
Similarly, Paul may have had his own idea to follow the original road to Rome. This was plan A, But God’s wonderful plan B achieved greater beauty. Perhaps the centurion, soldiers, and other shipmates, and even many people on the island of Malta, were saved. This was God’s leading through circumstances. God often leads us in the spirit, but our soul, which is made up of our mind, will, and emotions can’t always keep up with God’s leading because of religion, culture, personality, etc., so He often has to change our circumstances to guide us. Through all of the wonderful experiences that God has given me, I’m seeing His plan for my life unfold in the different paths that he has led me. The Local Church Movement’s vision is to spread the truth that God gave to Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. They believe we are in the age of body ministry and do not encourage individual ministry. The heart of this vision is right on, and I was prepared to serve this church for life. Things changed in 2016 when God told me that Jairus Bible World Ministry came from Him. The Holy Spirit told me that China would have a great revival in the future. Many Charismatic prophets, apart from Pastor Li Che, prophesied that God would greatly use me. I was also told by a Korean prophet that God would allow me to travel all over China to serve Chinese churches as well as serving American churches. God has established many vital connections through my experiences in the Pentecostal movement as well as through the United Theological Seminary, where I am studying my Doctor of Ministry. All of these connections, many of which have become friends, are part of the future path that God has prepared for me.
On December 31st, 2017, I was taken to heaven in a dream. The Lord Jesus affirmed that He would greatly use me. I don’t say this to promote myself. Instead, I want to show that God’s call on our lives goes above and beyond anything we can imagine. Though we aren’t worthy in ourselves, through His righteousness, nothing is impossible as long as we are surrendered to Him. God is not limited, but our thinking may be keeping us from doing all that He has purposed for us.
Living in God’s presence is what’s most important. In His presence, it’s possible to go both North and South. The GPS may be set at a particular address, but as storms arrive in our lives, we may have to deviate from the original path. If we live in His presence, being filled with the Holy Spirit and His gifts, God’s good intentions for our lives will come to pass, and we will reach our destination safely.