Have you ever found a message in a bottle? You have more chance of finding one if you live or holiday near the North Atlantic Ocean. In the past 16 years Harold Hackett, who lives in Prince Edward Island on Canada’s eastern coastline, has thrown around 5,000 messages in a bottle into the Atlantic Ocean.
Harold dates each message, and asks the finder to respond. He uses plastic fruit juice bottles, only sending them out when there’s a westerly wind, which will carry the bottles around and across the Atlantic Ocean. His messages have been found in places as far apart as Iceland and the Bahamas, Russia and Florida, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Africa! So far he has received more than 3,100 replies, and those who respond often keep in contact. “I usually get about 150 Christmas cards, Christmas gifts, souvenirs,” Harold said in a BBC video. “I just love doing it the old way. The reason I won’t put my phone number on my letters is they’d all call me back, and I wouldn’t get any letters.”
Harold casts his bottles into the unknown, never knowing which message, if any, will be found and read. “I never dreamt I’d get that many back that quick,” he said, speaking about his thousands of replies.
Someone else who was an inveterate sender of letters which travelled far and wide – but not in bottles – was a 1st Century Jewish rabbi, Sha’ul of Tarsus, who had studied at the feet of Gamaliel, grandson of Rabbi Hillel. Better known as Paul, he wrote to growing churches that he and others had planted around present-day Greece and Turkey. A number of his letters were written while he was imprisoned for his faith. When he wrote them Paul never knew that those letters would still be being read, not just locally, but worldwide almost 2,000 years later. A product of his confinement, his letters to the Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians are some of the most beautiful and profound pieces of literature ever written. Today they form part of the world’s best selling book, the Bible.
From the New Testament we read that Paul was remarkably relaxed while under arrest, which was surprising when you consider that his life’s purpose was to travel far and wide telling people about Jesus and the power of His resurrection. Being confined to a prison cell or being under house arrest constrained both him and his message, and maybe there’s someone reading this today who knows how it feels to be constrained by circumstances, hemmed in by debt or illness, unemployment, addiction or divorce. Life can be hard. Paul was only at peace with his circumstances, because he knew that God, the Creator of the universe, was his strength. God knew what Paul was going through, and he cared. Although God was ultimately in control, He didn’t immediately set Paul free, but instead He was working for good in Paul’s situation. Without Paul’s imprisonment we wouldn’t have these amazing letters, which have been a source of strength and spiritual guidance for many millions of people. Maybe God is working for good in your situation, maybe He’s doing something that you don’t recognise right now that will ultimately turn out for your good. Whatever happens remember that God is near, only a prayer away, wanting to help, sustain and strengthen you, and maybe even set you free. Jesus’s brother Yacov once wrote, “You don’t have because you don’t ask God.” (James 4:2) Why not invite God into your situation like the writer of Psalm 118, who wrote, “In my distress I cried to the Lord, and He answered me and set me free. The Lord is with me; so I will not be afraid. What can mere people do to me? Yes, the Lord is for me; He is my helper. I will look in triumph on those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people.” (Psalm 118:5-8)
No matter what you’re going through, God is still in control. He can, and will, see you through your hard times as you open up your life to Him. As Paul himself wrote, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)