If you are going through something difficult, something that despite your best efforts, just isn’t improving, you are also at your most teachable.
This may not be what you want to hear. You’d prefer answers, a solution to your problem. You’d prefer relief from the ongoing struggle or the never-ending pain. You’re tired of trying to find the positive in something negative. Wouldn’t it be great if someone arrived and took your problem away or helped you deal with it better?
As Christians, we have that someone. God has told us again and again that He is there when we need Him – we only need to ask. The problem is that we frequently forget to do that. When we do ask, it’s generally for the answer WE think is best in solving our problem. Rarely do we have the guts to pray for the answer that is best for us, because that might come with even more pain and suffering, and it may come with a lesson we don’t want to learn.
Jesus experienced this with his disciples many, many times. No matter how many times he tried to teach them, they balked or simply didn’t listen. And each and every time it got them into trouble.
We all remember the story of the celebration where Jesus produced fish and loaves to feed everyone in attendance. It was a happy affair, and although Jesus demonstrated a miracle that should have blown the apostles away, they barely noticed it. They couldn’t see, even in that moment of witnessing a miracle, that they needed to rely on Jesus and trust that He had their best interests at heart.
That very same night, therefore, Jesus decided to get their attention another way. It’s the famous walking on water scene we all recall, but do we remember the lesson we’re supposed to get out of that passage? As a refresher, here it is from Mark 6:
Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away. After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray. When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.” Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.
When we come across the phrase “their hearts were hardened,” it means that the apostles were not open to learning the lessons when all was going well. During the happy wedding when God made plenty for them, they reveled in it but didn’t appreciate the miracle – only the results. But God didn’t give up on them. He knew he had to wake them up to truly get their attention.
So he put them in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, and used that vast body of water as the classroom. Did you know that sea is 8 miles wide and 13 miles long? As such, it can be wildly turbulent, and when you’re in a small boat battling bad weather, it can be downright terrifying.
That was exactly the apostle’s experience on the day Jesus walked on water – His second miracle of the day but the one that caught their attention – to calm them and to save them.
In verses 47-48, the situation is described in detail. It is evening, a scary time to be on the water, even in the best conditions. The disciples’ boat is in the middle of the sea; they’re not close to shore. They are straining to row, but the wind is tossing them about, making their efforts futile. It is a relentless, continuous, tiring, exhausting head wind that does not die down, pushing them where they do not want to go. They felt helpless in that moment, and they needed Jesus.
When he appeared before them, walking calmly across the water, they were ready to see that miracle for what it was. They were vulnerable, humbled before him, in need of his comfort.
Jesus told them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.” He had their attention, and he instantly calmed them. He can do that for us, as well. Unfortunately, we are so stubborn that it usually takes our darkest moments to expose our vulnerability to the point that we are ready to let God in. It’s during these times that our own efforts are not enough, when we’re exhausted from rowing against the wind and the current, that we allow God to come into our life and make it infinitely better.
Jesus will find a way to teach us that lesson one way or another. It’s much easier and better for us if we recognize the lesson when it presents itself to us.