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Seeds of the Kingdom

Straining at the Oars

by Christel Baxter

He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake.
Mark 6:48, NIV

Have you ever experienced the feeling of ‘straining at the oars’, as the disciples of Jesus did? I haven’t done much rowing, but I know the experience of working hard at making progress and feeling as if I’m getting nowhere.

Jesus had been trying to find an opportunity for Him and His disciples to get away and rest amidst a very busy schedule of ministering to the needs of the multitudes who kept coming to Jesus. The disciples had been sent out by Jesus to go to the surrounding towns on a ministry trip to go and do the things He had been teaching them to do. When they returned to give Jesus feedback on all the wonderful things they experienced, things got even busier so that Jesus and His disciples didn’t even have a chance to eat! Therefore, Jesus took them with Him in a boat to a solitary place to go and rest.

However, the crowds saw where they were heading and ran on foot ahead of them to meet them when they landed. Instead of getting all irritated with yet another crowd making demands on them, we read that Jesus had compassion on them, ‘because they were like sheep without a shepherd’. He began teaching them and multiplied a young boy’s lunch of five loaves of bread and two fish to feed the more than five thousand hungry people.

By now Jesus and His disciples must have been exhausted, and we read that Jesus made His disciples get into a boat to go ahead of Him to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd and went up on a mountainside to pray. But still there would be little reprieve for the weary disciples! Their journey across the lake was fraught with difficulty as a strong wind was against them. While Jesus was on the mountainside praying, He saw His disciples straining at the oars. Various translations explain ‘straining at the oars’as follows, ‘They were toiling in rowing, distressed in rowing, making headway painfully, being battered as they rowed, travailing in rowing, making little progress because they were rowing against a stiff wind’.

It struck me that the difficulties the disciples were facing were not the result of disobedience or wrong decisions they had made. The contrary is true. They had simply been doing what Jesus told them to do. They’d returned from a successful ministry trip Jesus sent them on, and then immediately faced the crowds with Jesus, ministering alongside Him.

Like the disciples of Jesus, we are not always protected from the things that come against us on our journey of serving Him. There will be times when it feels as if we are straining at the oars, in spite of the fact that we know we are walking in God’s will for our lives. Often these things come when we are already weary and feel like we cannot face one more thing. But take courage! Jesus sees us ‘straining at the oars’, and He will not let us be overwhelmed and left helpless. He is ready to bring His peace into any situation we find ourselves in. Jesus did not leave His disciples to struggle on indefinitely. ‘Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake … 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’ (Mark 6:48-51).

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’. The Lord will never give us more than He knows we can deal with. His ‘burdens’ are never too heavy to bear. We need to learn to bring Him our weariness and burdens, exchange it for what He gives us to carry and allow Him into our ‘boat’ to calm the wind.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You that You will never leave me helpless and overwhelmed. Please forgive me for the times I try to strive on my own to do the things You call me to do and take up burdens that You never meant for me to carry. I come to You today to lay these down. Please fill me with Your peace and strength for the things You have called me to do, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Christel Baxter joined the Associate prayer ministry team at Shere House, S.Africa in 2008 after attending the 20 day school. Besides serving together on the associate team at Shere House, Christel & her husband, Gary, pastor New Life Ministries, a congregation in Boksburg, Gauteng. Their children, Liezl and Wesley, are both married, and they adore their son-in-law and daughter-in-law and their little granddaughter, Hannah! Christel is passionate about seeing broken lives restored and especially loves ministering God`s love and healing to women of all ages.


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