When [Jesus] saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. (Mark 6:48)
I spent last week intensely studying the first half of the gospel of Mark with Hopkins students at Chapter Camp. At one point, the disciples find themselves out on the Sea of Galilee without Jesus in the boat. Jesus, sitting up on a hill beside the sea, looks down on them and sees them “straining at the oars against an adverse wind.” This is a lived out parable for life without Jesus, for ministry without Jesus in the boat. They had just assisted Jesus in miraculously feeding 5000 people after they had gone out in Jesus’ name, casting out demons and healing people. Tired and hungry, they wanted some rest from ministry, so they tried to escape across the sea to solitude, leaving Jesus behind on the shore. Instead they found exertion and futility, working all night and getting nowhere – as Jesus looked down at them from the hill where he was restfully praying.
If I’m honest, my personal ministry strategy is to power through on my own strength. I strain at the oars and force my way to the other side. At the beginning of this year, I returned from China and immediately jumped into New Student Outreach (NSO). I pushed hard for about 3 weeks until I hit a wall and my boat sank. I needed to escape immediately, so I dropped everything and ran away to Ocean City for a weekend. After major ministry events, I crash completely, drained to the dregs. I run away tired and angry. Then I go back and run until I crash again. But this, obviously, is a terrible strategy not just for ministry but for life in general. This is not a sustainable approach to life. And why would I want to do ministry without Jesus in the boat anyway?
Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. (Mark 6:51)
True rest and progress comes when you follow Jesus and go where He goes. Had the disciples done so, they may have found themselves walking across a calm sea! Where have you found yourself straining at the oars?