The question that confronts most of us when we pray is not whether we believe God can help us but whether He will. We wonder if its His plan. We wonder if we have enough faith. We wonder if we might have done something wrong in the past that will block His answer. In fact so many uncertainties rush through our mind that even when we ask for help we assume theres probably some reason He wont. Our faith that He can is so undermined by our doubt that He will that we function like those who have no faith at all. Believing that God can do miracles becomes meaningless if I have no expectancy that He will. And its this issue of expecting a miracle that Jesus deals with in His disciples in this lesson.
The lesson of the loaves (Mk 6:51-52)
Mark says the reason the disciples were afraid in the storm and so shocked when Jesus helped them was because they didnt understand the lesson of the loaves. Listen:
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
loaves, but their heart was hardened (Mk 6:51-52).
What was that lesson? What truth had their hardened hearts not heard? The key that unlocks the answer is a question that can be asked about the need for bread on the east side of the lake, or about exhausted rowers caught in a violent storm, or about Peter trying to walk on water. The question is this: Why were the disciples in trouble? And the answer is the same in each case: They were in that situation because they were doing what Jesus told them to do. They faced a massive, hungry crowd because Jesus had decided to teach and minister all day. Had He turned the boat around when He saw everyone waiting on the beach or kept walking after they landed, there would have been no problem. And it was Jesus who made the disciples get into the boat late in the evening just as a windstorm was beginning to blow. There were at least four fishermen in that boat who knew better than to launch out in those conditions, but they did as they were told. Later that night when Peter saw Jesus walking on the water he didnt impulsively jump overboard. He asked Jesus first, and Jesus had commanded him to Come! Otherwise, he would have stayed in the boat.
Do you see it? In every case they were in trouble because Jesus got them into trouble. The crises were His fault if we want to blame someone. And seeing that fact begins to explain why Jesus was so frustrated by their lack of faith.
These situations are not unlike Israel during the Exodus. Time and again the cloud and the fire led the nation into trouble. God led them to a beach where they were trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army (Ex 14). He led them to a place where there was nothing but bitter water to drink (Ex 15), or no food to eat (Ex 16), or any water at all (Ex 17), or Amalekites viscously attacking them. And in each crisis God expected them to call on Him in faith, and He would perform a miracle to rescue them.
Whether we watch Israel during the Exodus or the disciples following Jesus, a pattern emerges: Those who pursue God and obey His guidance will be carried into circumstances beyond their human resources. God will lead them into situations that require His supernatural help. Crises will arise, not because we failed to listen, but because we did listen, not because we failed to obey, but because we did obey.
Crises will arrive, and when they do God will look for a certain attitude in us: He wants us to trust Him. He wants us to be confident that He will personally come to rescue us.
If the lesson of the loaves is that where God guides, He provides, the lesson of Jesus coming to His disciples in the storm is that God will always provide for those who follow Him. Hes not fickle. He doesnt rescue us out of one situation only to abandon us in the next. Hes consistent. Hes reliable. You can always count on Him. Hes trustworthy.
Jesus disappointment in His disciples went far beyond frustration over the fact that they didnt have enough faith for miracles. It was personal for Him. Did they really think He would send them into a storm and then let them drown? They should have known He would come, that He would walk across a lake if He had to. But when He arrived they thought He was a ghost. Did Peter really think He would let him try something that was impossible or would stand there and watch him drown? Jesus wanted more than a conceptual faith. He wanted them to trust Him. He wanted them to have faith in His character, not just His power.
The leaven of doubt (Mt 16:5-12; Mk 8:14-21; Lk 12:1)
On another occasion when the disciples doubted that Jesus would provide, He warned them that they doubted Him because they were listening to the voices that were attacking Him. The Pharisees said He had a demon. The Sadducees said He was insane, and Herod thought He was the reincarnation of John the Baptist. If they listened to people like that, doubt would fill their minds like leaven spreads through a lump of dough. What more did He need to do to prove that He would be faithful to them, that they could always trust Him? How long would it take for them to start expecting Him to help them rather than being shocked when He did?
Theres an interesting observation we can make here about Jesus struggle with His disciples. The problem wasnt their obedience. In each case they did what He told them to do. Jesus frustration is targeted at the fear that arose in them because they questioned whether or not He would help them. They didnt doubt miracles; they doubted Him. At root, they distrusted His character. They assumed He was like them: unreliable, fickle, that He might send them into something difficult and forget to help or grow frustrated with them and abandon them.
Choosing to trust
There are different ways of getting into trouble. We can get ourselves into a mess because we dont ask for guidance or disobey the guidance we have. But as we watch Israel in the Exodus or Jesus with His disciples we discover that we can also get into trouble by obeying God. Its one thing to know were in a mess because we put ourselves there. The solution to that problem begins with repentance. But what matters when God gets us into a mess is our attitude, and thats a choice. Do I choose to trust or yield to distrust, because distrust comes naturally and easily. To trust Him when resources run out or waves crash around me requires me to discipline my emotions and remember how He helped me in the past. It requires me to wait patiently, confident that He will surely arrive. With this in mind, listen again to a familiar scripture:
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary (Isa 40:28-31).
A Christian heroine
As I read biographies of great men and women of faith, this quality of trust is at the heart of their greatness. Over and over again I read about someone stepping out in obedience and ending up in desperate, even life-threatening situations, but the predictable response that marks the great ones is that they always drop to their knees and bring their need before the Lord and thank Him for providing one way or another before theyve seen an answer. And then when I read how God meets their needs its often so miraculous I find myself laughing out loud. Then I ask myself, What would I have done at critical points in my life if I had faith like theirs? What if I hadnt let fear stop me and had just stepped out and tried to do what I believe He told me to do. What if I hadnt complained when things got rough but dropped to my knees and told the Lord I was sure He would help me? Heres an example of one of these heroes: A young woman named Lillian Trasher saved up enough money to get a one-way ticket on a steamer to Egypt, and in 1910 started an orphanage that cared for thousands of desperate children (Christian Heroes: Then and Now, Lillian Trasher, Janet and Geoff Benge, YWAM publishing, Seattle, 2004, pp133-135).
Do you lack the resources needed to do what He has asked you to do? Do you feel that youre alone in a storm? Is God leading you to do something that seems impossible? If so, we need to stop listening to the voices that discredit Jesus and listen instead to Him. Heres what He says:
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore
and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Mt 28:18, 20).
For He Himself has said, I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you, so that we may confidently say, The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me? (Heb 13:5-6).
He wants us to trust Him. Do you hear His voice? If I take you to a place where theres no food, Ill feed you. If I send you into danger, Ill rescue you (or bring you home). If I tell you to walk on water, you can! Expect help, expect rescue, expect the impossible. Youre not limited by your lack of resources; Ill multiply what you have. Youre not alone in the storm; Ill come to you. Youre not dependent on the laws of nature; the impossible is possible. Trust Me!
1) Do you have any Christian heroes or heroines? If so, what step of faith did he or she take? What did that person do when problems arose?
2) Jesus said Peter stood in two places when he tried to walk on water. What does that mean? Picture in your mind what Peter must have done. Have you ever stood in two places?