Lessons from the Lake

Recently, I was reading the story of Jesus walking on the water in Mark 6:45-52. This was not a new story to me. I remember my days in Sunday school and how Mrs. Stineff made the story come to life with a flannel graph! As an adult, I’ve read it many times as well. But this time, I felt like I got lovingly whacked alongside the head and kicked in the seat of my pants. Take a look at Mark 6:45-52 (NIV):
Immediately 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 mountainside to pray. 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 the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
Missing the boat
This incident immediately follows the feeding of the 5,000. These disciples had just been key players in one of the most amazing miracles Jesus had performed to date. With a few fish and loaves, Jesus fed 5,000 men plus many women and children. The disciples distributed the food. They had seen up close the smiles on the faces of hungry, tired people. And for their services, they got the leftovers! Probably supplied with some of these leftovers in the boat for a snack along the way, Jesus sent the disciples ahead. He wanted to pray, and his men were exhausted by the day and needed to get away from the people. So he allowed them to get going while he dismissed the crowd — a snapshot of a compassionate leader taking care of his guys.
The disciples, some of whom had spent a life on the lake, were making little progress. The wind was against them and they were straining at the oars. Jesus goes out walking on the lake — it’s quicker to go across the lake than around it — and his guys mistake him for a ghost and are absolutely terrified. So in addition to straining in the headwind, they are also traumatized by the appearance of a person walking on the water — something absolutely incomprehensible.
Then Jesus does two things: He comforts them with his words, and he gets into the boat. In so doing, the wind dies down and they are able to make the crossing. However, there are three things said about the disciples that characterize some of us — especially me.
  • They were completely amazed. (That’s understandable — it had been quite a day!)
  • They seemed to miss what really happened in the miracle of the loaves — the Feeding of the Five Thousand. (That seems beyond understanding.)
  • Their hearts were hardened. (That seems incredibly sad.)
Tuning into Him
As I thought more about this story, I was struck with many points of application, but I will focus on four.
First, we are allowed by Christ to see so many of his miracles. They may not be as visibly spectacular as more than 5,000 people getting a free meal from limited resources or a person walking on water. But they are spectacular nevertheless. In Young Life, it’s the daily miracles of kids’ lives being changed. It’s the monthly miracle of seeing donors give freely and graciously so that area budgets are met. It’s the yearly miracle of God calling new staff and volunteers and donors to join the team to reach every kid, everywhere, for eternity.
Secondly, like the disciples in this story, we seem to miss what’s going on. Yet if we did experience the impact of what was happening around us, we’d be more amazed than seeing a ghost walking on the water.
Thirdly, a key reason for us missing out is our heart condition. Over time, we get hardened and calloused. This hardening of our spiritual arteries is more problematic than our battles with blood pressure and cholesterol but many times we seem sadly unconcerned.
Lastly, so much of our life is spent straining at the oars, facing a headwind and being alone in the boat. When we invite Jesus to come aboard, the whole situation changes. Sometimes he calms the storm. But other times, he enables us to face the wind.
With this account of Jesus fresh in our minds, I’d like to encourage all of us to pray a simple prayer, “Lord, open my eyes so I can see you at work. Soften my heart. Let me see and remember your miracles. Keep me amazed. And please get in my boat. I can’t make it by myself. Thank you. In the strong name of Jesus, Amen.”