Could this be why you're having a hard time getting ahead?
The other day, I was reading an online forum and came across a post from a woman who said, “I need serious help! I am drowning in credit card debt to the point that I am so far behind, I just quit paying them just to be able to pay mortgage, car insurance and monthly necessities. I took out a loan with a very high interest rate to try to catch up. All I have gained is another stupid payment. I have gone from a decent credit score to unable to finance a pack of gum, lol. Somebody please tell me where to start to get this under control. I am desperate here.”
Can you identify with that woman’s struggle? Have you ever experienced a financial hardship that felt like you’d never get ahead? Have you ever experienced hardship in another area of life, relationships, schooling, health, or work that felt similar? As much as you tried to make progress toward getting ahead, you felt stuck. Your body and mind are tired because you’re expending a lot of effort, but you aren’t moving forward. Does this sound familiar?
We’ve all probably experienced either a category or season of life that felt that way. We aren’t alone. In Mark 6:45-56, we’re given a glimpse into the lives of the apostles after Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people. They were exhausted, but I believe they needed to be brought close to a breaking point for their hearts to be able to see what Jesus was trying to show them.
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. (Mark 6:45-47)
After the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and head toward the city of Bethsaida after spending time in either the harbor or hills outside the city. They were exhausted from serving people all day and probably looked forward to a little downtime away from the crowds. As they were going, Jesus took care of dismissing the large crowd that had gathered.
It’s interesting to look at the companion Scriptures to this passage because we’re given additional insights into why Jesus dismissed the crowd. In John 6:15, we’re told that the crowd had the intention to seize Jesus by force and make Him their king, but that would have been a deviation from what Christ was seeking to do at that moment. There will be a day when He is lifted up and recognized as King, but His mission during His first coming was to be a Suffering Servant who was lifted up on the cross to die for the sins of humanity.
To prevent the crowd from seizing Him, Jesus left them and went up to the mountain to pray alone. Scripture indicates that Jesus would do this regularly. He would often find a solitary place to go and pray to the Father with whom He has enjoyed perfect fellowship from eternity past. I’m guessing these times of prayer were restful, energizing, and helpful for remaining focused on the mission at hand.
And if I may, let me encourage you to seek this kind of fellowship and alone time with the Lord as well, particularly if you’re going through a season that’s stretching you in abnormally difficult ways. About ten years ago, I went through a season that felt particularly stretching. I look back on it now as a huge blessing to my life, my family, and our church, but to help me shoulder some of my burdens at the time, I spent a few days at a rustic cabin that a friend of mine let me use for free. I spent time in prayer, brought things to read and things to listen to, and I left that cabin genuinely refreshed.
After Jesus spent time alone in prayer, it was time for Him to continue the work He was doing with the apostles teaching the lessons He was attempting to teach them, particularly because there were still many things they didn’t understand about His nature and His mission.
And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Mark 6:48-50)
Christ’s apostles were well acquainted with fishing. Some of them were directly involved in that trade and those who weren’t grew up in a context where fishing was common. They understood what it was like to be out on the water at night. They also understood that sometimes, unexpected winds and storms had the potential to make life on the water difficult or even treacherous.
This particular night, the winds were working against the apostles and they were struggling to make progress. It seemed like no matter how much energy they expended, they couldn’t get ahead. They were already exhausted from serving thousands of people all day. Now they were forced to row against the wind in the middle of the night. In fact, the Scripture tells us that these events were taking place during the fourth watch of the night which would be between 3:00-6:00 AM.
I would be curious to know how the apostles described this event years later, but I have a guess as to what they might have said. I think they learned something about Jesus through this experience that they weren’t likely to learn any other way. I think Jesus will often allow us to become exhausted from trying to do everything in our own strength to help teach us the lesson that life isn’t meant to be lived that way. Once we become convinced that our striving and strength isn’t sufficient, our hearts are in the ideal place to learn that we desperately need the help of Jesus. And as we see in Scripture, that’s right when He showed up to help the apostles.
Jesus walked on the water to the place where the apostles were stuck. Peter, who was Mark’s main source for this account, reveals that it looked to them like Jesus was going to walk right by them, but when the apostles cried out for fear that they were seeing a ghost, Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
If you’ve spent the majority of your life primarily trusting in yourself, your strength, your effort, or your wisdom, it can take a little while to correct that line of thinking.
And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:51-52)
Christ’s apostles had hearts that were still rather hard at this point, and even though they had witnessed many miraculous things, they weren’t yet at the place of full trust and full surrender to Jesus. So Jesus used moments like this to teach them they can rest in Him regardless of whatever headwind they might be facing. Jesus caused the wind to cease and He sat down in the boat with them.
The Lord taught me a ministry lesson some years ago that has a pretty clear application to our walk with Him that I’d like to take a moment to share. For most of my adult life, I have been involved with various church planting or revitalizing ministries. In some cases, I have been asked to assist churches that are struggling to bounce back and regain a position of health.
The pattern I’ve noticed in just about all the churches or ministries I’ve tried to help is that the churches that were still trying to survive in their own strength didn’t progress to the point of health. Some fought to the death but eventually died. But the churches that humbly submitted themselves to the Lord and the work He could do through outside intervention have by and large experienced new life and a new season of fruitful ministry. In each case where progress was made, faith in the Lord and submission to the plan He had placed before us was necessary.
Our spiritual lives operate in much the same way. When we insist on self-reliance and walking by sight, we miss the greater things the Lord is attempting to show us. When we stop fighting the Lord and learn to trust Him enough to submit ourselves to Him, we begin to witness the kind of miraculous interventions only He can orchestrate.
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 4:7)
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
The apostles still had hard hearts, so they fought against the wind and made no progress. But Jesus mercifully came near to them and gave them grace to help in their time of need. He stilled the wind and sat down with them in the boat. What a beautiful demonstration of His power and His calming presence. And just like the apostles, we need His merciful and gracious intervention as well otherwise we will waste our time and energy fighting against the wind and going nowhere.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. (Mark 6:53-56)
No matter which era you live in, there are limits to the medical care you’ll find available. That is true in our era, and it was true during the days when Christ was fulfilling His earthly ministry. And when we or those we love face severe medical needs, that can be a scary time. Typically, we will exhaust every effort and attempt every solution known to man, but in many cases, our needs remain.
2,000 years ago, many people were desperate for physical healing, and they would do just about anything to get it. When Jesus and the apostles came to shore, there were people who recognized Him and spread word far and wide that He had arrived. As He walked through the villages, cities, and countryside, people begged for the privilege to simply touch His clothing because they believed He could make them well, and that’s exactly what He did.
As wonderful as their physical healing was, are any of those people still with us today? No, they aren’t. Eventually, as will be the case with us all, their physical bodies expired and their time on this earth came to an end. But those who trusted in Jesus for more than physical healing continue to live on. They are present with Him and enjoy the rewards of eternal fellowship with Christ.
Jesus offers that kind of fellowship to us as well. He’s giving us the opportunity to let our minds and faith see far beyond this present moment. He’s granting us the privilege to be made well in the eternal sense. He’s inviting us, just as He did the apostles, to stop hardening our hearts against Him so we can forever draw near to Him with confidence, knowing that in Him, we will find grace to help us in our time of need.
© John Stange, 2024