Straining, Striving, Struggling…STOP.
This past week I was reading in Mark 6. Jesus had gone off for some time alone with the Father. He had sent his disciples across the lake with the promise of catching up with them later. Later, likely in the middle of the night, Jesus looked out across the lake and scripture tells us, “He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them” (Mark 6:48). Those words jumped off the page at me and I’ve been thinking about them ever since.
I can just imagine the scene in my mind’s eye. Can’t you? The disciples all rowing as hard as their human muscles would allow, but not really getting anywhere. Frustrated and defeated, I’m guessing tensions were pretty high in the boat. The wind was howling all around them and pushing back against their efforts. Ever felt like that? You’re trying as hard as human effort will allow, but circumstances are pushing back on you – leaving you feeling exhausted and weary.
Jesus calmly walks on the water towards them, but because they’re so exhausted and stressed out, they think He’s a ghost. Exhaustion and stress will distort our view. When we’re tired and stressed, we are just unable to see things clearly. The disciples – grown, brave, rational men – shrieked in fear! “Ba…It’s a ghost!” Don’t you wonder if Jesus laughed? I’m going to ask when I get to heaven. Calmly, Jesus speaks, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Mark 6:56).
I find in Jesus’ words reassurance for you and me, and a few lessons from our friends in the boat.
When you’re straining and not getting anywhere, it’s time to take a break and rest. Here’s what happens if you keep pushing and straining: you lose perspective. Earlier this week, I was pushing hard on a project. I pushed and pushed all day but felt like I was getting nowhere. And then, I began to lose my perspective. Thoughts of “I should quit,” “This is worthless,” “I can’t write,” filled my mind. Finally, I heard the whisper of the Spirit in my soul: “Becky, put it away. Rest in me.” I shut down my computer, read a novel, and went to bed, trusting that God would give the words come morning. And you know what? He did.
Friend, when you are straining and striving and getting nowhere, stop. Take a break. Enjoy the presence of Christ. Invite Him into the situation and rest. He will show you what to do next. He gives answers in His time.
When the wind is blowing against you, look for Jesus. When it feels like circumstances are pressing in all around you, it’s time to look for Jesus and find courage in Him. He is still the master of the wind and waves. He might be using the wind to curtail your effort because He has another assignment for you. Listen for the whisper of His voice. Stop. Be still. Listen. When I feel confused and stressed out, I stop and pray three words, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Why do I pray that? It’s not that I think He’s left me. It’s that I want His Spirit to fill my mind and bring my heart into alignment with His. Then I listen for the soft voice of His whisper. But here’s the thing: I can’t hear His whisper until I get quiet inside. When I’m all frantic or frazzled, His whisper is drowned out by my own inner turmoil. I must, in the words of the Psalmist David, “Be still,” to know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).
When you stop straining, you understand God’s purpose is a divine reset. I truly believe that God wants us to serve Him out of the overflow of the Holy Spirit’s fullness. Too often we muscle on through. When God allows the wind to blow against you and you feel like you’re failing, it’s often a divine reset. I believe there are seasons when God resets our course because He has new plans for us. His desire is not for us to keep pushing but for us to serve out of the overflow of a heart full of the Holy Spirit. It is a more restful and delightful service.