To those who feel like they have been abandoned in the middle of a great adventure: you’re in good company. If everything was going well and then it all seemed to go kind of quiet—as though the Almighty was suddenly busy off doing God-stuff elsewhere—you are not alone.
Jesus’ disciples found themselves in the same boat—literally.
They were probably getting used to crossing the Sea of Galilee this way and that so Jesus could heal and teach; He used their boats to get around like an early Uber. Then, one day, Mark 6 tells us, Jesus “sent them on ahead” to Bethsaida so He could go off and pray.
Perhaps that should have caused them to wonder: why wasn’t He coming along too? Maybe they didn’t think too much of it because He had given them a destination to head to; they had a goal. Maybe they figured that, because they knew where they were supposed to be going, they could rely on their serious experience as fishermen to get themselves there. No biggie.
But some hours later they were still only in the middle of the lake, “straining at the oars” (Mark 6:48), because the conditions were against them.
It’s highly likely that, as they rowed and rowed, the disciples remembered a previous rough night on the water (Mark 4:35-41). They’d feared they were goners that time. I suspect that, as the waves rose again in their latest crossing, one of them may have muttered something like, “I wish Jesus was here like last time.”
Thing is, when He did show up, walking on the water, they didn’t recognize Him. They actually shrieked, thinking He was a ghost (Mark 6:49). Sometimes God comes in ways we don’t expect, ways that may even scare us.
Why did Jesus send his disciples ahead to Bethsaida alone? It might have had something to do with the fact that they had just been part of a major miracle, the feeding of the five thousand. Perhaps they were beginning to think that they were a bit all that.
Sometimes we need the reminder that, without His presence, we can’t actually get where He wants us to go. Recall that Moses, charged with leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, begged God: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” (Exodus 33:15).
Some might point out that the situation for the disciples in the boat was different than for us because Jesus was then limited by His earthly form. They were on their own because He was up a mountain, praying. Since the resurrection, of course, He is always with us, in and through the Holy Spirit. And He even promised that He would be with us always (Matthew 28:20).
True, but the disciples’ previous stormy night on the water reminds us that, sometimes, Jesus may be in sleep mode even when He us around.
Frightening and frustrating as these times are, when Jesus seems to be away or asleep as your boat pitches and rolls, be assured that you will not drown. He will calm the waves. Hang onto the promise of Isaiah 43:2 like a life jacket: “When you pass through the waters… they will not sweep over you.”