Straining at the Oars (He see’s you!)

“He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.” (Mark 6:48)

An incredible miracle had just happened. Jesus had told his disciples to feed a crowd of over 5,000 people, but all they had was five loaves of bread and two fish. Their initial discouragement and bewilderment turned to overwhelming joy and wonder as the bread and fish kept multiplying until all were satisfied. More in fact was left over than what they had started with! As they obeyed, giving and using what they had available (little as it was), the supernatural and impossible happened because Jesus was with them.

But we are told immediately following this “Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them he went up on a mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:45-46). Before going on, notice two things. First of all Jesus was the one who instructed them and led them to get into a boat and go on ahead of him. Secondly notice that he “left them” in order to spend some time in prayer.

With that in mind, here is what happened next: “When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately, he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and they wind died down.” (Mark 6:47-52).

Do you ever feel like you are stuck in the middle of a lake, straining at the oars but getting nowhere? As I write this, this is the place I feel I am in. When I think of this time last year compared to this year, the contrast couldn’t be starker. In several areas where I am doing a similar thing again; there just seemed to be a supernatural grace last time. Now it feels like I am straining at the oars and getting nowhere.

If you feel the same way, take comfort in verse forty-eight of this passage: “He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.” He is watching. He sees your efforts and hard work. He knows your struggle. He understands the situation you’re in and how your “back is up against the wall” or the “wind is against you.”

Are you wondering where God is? Are you panicking at the fact that He doesn’t seem to be responding? Notice even though Jesus saw them, he didn’t come to them right away. He saw their evening struggle, but it wasn’t until the near dawning of the morning that He came to them. God’s ways are simply not our ways. And his timing rarely is our timing either! Nor is the way in which He often comes. It often isn’t recognizable at first!

Notice also a curious phrase at the end of verse forty-eight: “He was about to pass them by…” Do you feel like God is “elusive” right now? I’ve come to realize something. God likes to play “hide and seek!” This doesn’t always make our lives easy, but it does result in reward. I’ve noticed that challenges make us cry out or seek him in ways we simply don’t when we are just “sailing along” in life.

In this case, when they saw him, they cried out, not in faith but fear. They simply didn’t expect him to come to them and show up in this way. Plus they were exhausted from a long night of toil and struggle in this “storm.” Their nerves were shot. Their minds or mental capacity was fried. Yet notice how quick Jesus was in his grace to calm their fears in verse fifty: “immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and they wind died down.”

Here are some take away lessons to apply to our lives and situations today.

First of all, just because Jesus instructs us to do something doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact, obeying His commands means we will find ourselves opposed by the prince of darkness. Obedience means we will find ourselves swimming upstream against a world going the opposite direction. It means the wind will be against us at times. It means there will be long “nights” of struggling and straining at the oars.

Secondly, this story (and situations like this in our lives) are important reminders of how we truly can do nothing apart from Jesus. I don’t know about you, but it is very easy to begin to take credit for or think you are something special when God uses you. Remember, right before this the disciples had fed a multitude. They were a part of that miracle. But the secret was not them; it was Jesus with them. As Jesus put it in John 15:15: “apart from me you can do nothing.” We could also say, without him with us we can get and go nowhere! We have no power to fulfill what He has commanded apart from his enabling grace, power and presence.

Thirdly, we learn that he sees our striving, straining and struggling. He is watching. He knows our toil and labor. He sees the effort we are putting forth. He is not ignoring us; he is interceding for us! He is not callous towards our struggle; he is compassionate as our Savior! Take heart, that even if no one else knows, if no one else see’s, if no one else seems to care, the eyes of a Sovereign God and caring Savior are watching you! As an old hymn puts it:

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,

Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,

When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me!

Fourthly, we see that even though he delays, He will not disappoint. He saw their struggle in the evening, yet it wasn’t until the near breaking of a new day that he showed up. Though He linger; don’t lose heart. Why does he linger? Well, perhaps by lingering He builds in us a certain fortitude and patient perseverance that is important for our being conformed more into his image and likeness. Perhaps by lingering, we are reminded of how we can truly do nothing without him and how desperately we truly need Him every hour of every day. Perhaps by lingering, a longing for Him is developed to a greater capacity. But whatever His reasons, let not his lingering convince us he has abandoned us or doesn’t care about us.

Fifthly, Jesus doesn’t always come (when he comes) in the way we might be expecting. The disciples in fact totally mistook him for something else! They didn’t recognize him. As a result, their hearts were filled with fear rather than joy! Understand, the way He “comes” may not be the way you are looking for, but he will come, often at the “break of day!” Life has its seasons, but seasons are just that. They eventually give way to a “new season” or “new day.”

Sixthly, Jesus is just as concerned about calming our hearts on the inside as the storms on the outside. In fact before He even made the winds die down, he spoke peace to his disciples to calm their fears down! And what made the difference? His presence with them. It’s the knowledge and assurance of Him with us that gives us the peace we need in whatever situations we find ourselves in. And it is His power that can change in an instant whatever situation we find ourselves in! Anytime we ever need anything, it is always found in him! His presence is our provision and he possesses the power we need to overcome as we walk in obedience to what he instructs and leads us to do.

Lastly, heaven’s silence doesn’t mean God is ignoring us. Jesus in fact ever lives to intercede for us! Not only that, but his intercession means he will intervene! Again, it might not come immediately or instantaneously. And how he works or “shows up” may not be as we expect or are looking for. But the point remains, He is not callous towards our struggle; he is compassionate as our Savior. He is watching. He neither slumbers nor sleeps. He has not forgotten you. He sees. He cares. And he will come!

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