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The disciples were more at ease following after Jesus, but this time he sent them out ahead so he could talk to his Father in heaven, alone.
Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitudes away. When He had sent the multitudes away, He departed to the mountain to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them.
About the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. Immediately He talked with them and said to them, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid."
Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.
Mark 6:45-52 NKJV, condensed
Dark Days & Rough Nights
That morning, thoughts of having the day off came to a sudden halt. Jesus had come to this remote place to pray and give his disciples some rest, but things did not go as planned. The interruption became an unscheduled interlude as Jesus welcomed the crowd with compassion and fed them before sending them home.
We don't usually think of Jesus as acting with haste, but when the meal was over, he moved into high gear. Jesus immediately directed his disciples to get into a boat and go on ahead of him. Then he sent the flock away so that finally he was free to go up into the mountain to pray. At last, he was alone. Through prayer, Jesus kept his eyes on his Father in heaven, so he could stay the course and complete the work God had for him to do. He prayed most of the night.
Meanwhile, his disciples had lost control of their boat and ended up in the middle of the lake, as far from shore as they could get. They were hit by one of those sudden squalls that stormed across the Galilee. Jesus, who could have stilled the wind and made it easier for them, was conspicuously absent. The disciples had been up all day contending with an uninvited mass of people who prevented them from having the rest Jesus promised. Now they were struggling all night against an angry sea, doing battle with both the elements without and fear within.
It is a puzzle to us why Jesus sent them out into the deep that night. Didn't Jesus know how powerful those storms could be? And how tired they were and in need of sleep? These were the same disciples Jesus had sent out a few weeks earlier to preach, heal and cast out demons. Probably about now they had a few demons of their own to contend with!
When the night was almost over, Jesus walked across the stormy sea. He was fresh from a night of talking with his Father in heaven. His disciples were wet, weary and still fighting the wind and crashing waves. They thought he looked like a ghost. He assured them there was nothing to fear. Which was so easy for Jesus to say but so difficult for the Twelve to internalize, especially now. Jesus wanted them to practice courage and strength, not fear and weakness--right here, in the midst of it all!
Is there a disconnect here too? Jesus had compassion for the multitude because, as he said, they looked like sheep without a shepherd. Well, what did the disciples look like out there straining at the oars! Why didn't Jesus have compassion on them? And help them instead of letting them struggle all night? It's a question people often ask in their own lives. We wonder why does everything have to be so difficult! Athletes use the phrase, No pain, no gain! But generally we want life to be an easy ride, knowing full well, the smoother the road the less likely we are to learn how to handle the bumps. Jesus certainly didn't baby his disciples. They were not going to be wimps, but giants of faith, strong and able to withstand anything the enemy sent their way.
The last paragraph gives us a startling and unwelcome insight. Disciples, like everyone else, can experience hard hearts. When plans are interrupted and hopes thwarted, negative attitudes have an adverse effect on the ability of our spiritual senses to see, hear, and understand the ways and workings of our Father in heaven. Irritability inhibits us from receiving good things from God in the same way that those disciples of old did not discern what was happening when Jesus fed more than five thousand people with five loaves and two fish.
There are rough days when we question God's compassion and don't know where God is. Even the saints wrote about the dark nights of their soul. These experiences are a part of the life of every disciple. Although we don't like to admit it, adversity can be a good teacher. Not only in correcting our errors, but also in opening up amazing new vistas of faith and companionship with our lost-and-found Lord.
Jesus did have his eye on the Twelve, and in the end, calmed the wind and accompanied them all to shore.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Time now for storm stories and how you reacted in the midst of it.
Name some frequent interruptions with which you have to deal.Finish the sentence: The problem with interruptions is that . . . . . . . .What emotions surface in you when your plans are delayed or changed?What is the key to dealing with interruptions in a positive way?
While the disciples rowed vigorously against the wind, Jesus prayed. How do you picture Jesus at prayer? Do you think his prayer time was active or passive?Maybe Jesus was just as weary after praying as the disciples were after rowing against the wind! Could that be, what do you think? Why was prayer so important that he would stay up all night to pray?
The Sea of Galilee is approximately 13 miles long and 7 miles wide. The night was dark, yet Jesus could see his disciples out there in the middle. He was also able to walk on the water and get to them quickly. But Jesus waited until it was almost morning before rescuing them. Does it sound to you like Jesus knowingly sent them into a tempest? Why would Jesus let them struggle all night and not come to their aid? When have you felt like God left you alone to struggle with a problem?
The disciples knew Jesus could have stilled the storm earlier than he did, yet they still followed him devotedly? How do you explain that? What is the incentive for following Jesus if he doesn't make life easier for his disciples?
"Fear is the great enemy of trust." --Is that a true statement? Did Jesus really mean for the disciples to not be afraid even though they were in a life-threatening situation? How have you learned to trust God in the midst of difficulties?
What are some things you have discovered about yourself and about God from your "dark days and rough nights"? When has your heart been hardened toward God? How did it get softened up again?
In the Bible the process of refining precious gems in fire is likened to God's children being tried in the fires of adversity. Read Psalms 66, and pay special attention to verse 10 in the middle of this psalm of praise.