It had been a busy season of ministry as the disciples left for their first missionary journey to proclaim the message of repentance (Mark 6:7-13). Returning home to tell their Teacher all they had done and taught, Jesus invited them to come away to a desolate place and rest awhile. Desolate, in Greek, means secluded, abandoned, solitary, or wilderness. Jesus took his disciples where few people would typically be but, as we discover, He had far more than a few days off from ministry in mind for them (Mark 6:31-52).
Has Jesus led you to a desolate place where you would never have chosen to go to teach you what you would not have otherwise learned? Maybe your desolate place has been a season of illness or a job loss. Perhaps it was when you discovered that your child had a disability or disorder, leaving you disoriented in regard to the plans you had for your family. Desolate places might be a loveless marriage, unwanted singleness, an addiction, widowhood, infertility, or any circumstance that causes us to wonder why God ever brought us there.
As it turned out, a very large crowd followed Jesus and his disciples to this particular desolate place. But no matter because, in the end, God’s plan was less about rest and more about revealing His power and true nature to all who had faith to believe. Mark records that the hour was late and the crowd (which was well over 5000) had become hungry. While the disciples could see no other answer than to send them home to eat, Jesus had ordained this very moment to demonstrate that He is the answer for our every need. Taking five loaves of bread and two fish from a boy’s lunch, Jesus proceeded to multiply what was offered, satisfying every person’s hunger, and revealing that He is the Bread of Life.
But Jesus was far from done with His lessons for the day. From there He sent His disciples off in a boat where they encountered a life-threatening storm. When He came to them in the night walking on water, they became even more terrified because they didn’t recognize their Teacher. Clearly, God wanted to teach His disciples that the One they followed was Lord of the wind and waves but, as is often true of us, their seemingly hopeless circumstances blinded them from seeing that the Maker and Creator of all things was in their very midst.
During the course of our lives, we will likely find ourselves in desolate places at times. The question is; how will we respond when that day comes? Here are four possible responses:
1. We can become anxious and fretful over unwanted circumstances, wearing ourselves out resisting God’s assignment, or trying to escape in any way we can. The disciples could only see their problems that day, thousands of hungry people with no food in sight, and a storm that threatened to take their lives. They still didn’t understand that the Creator, Ruler, and Lord of life itself was in their midst.
Are you fretting over circumstances that seem out of your control and hopeless? Do you have a spirit of bitterness toward God for the desolate place you find yourself in? While God often allows difficulties in our lives; we can be sure that He’s always at work teaching us who He is while preparing us for the glory that awaits us when we see Him face to face.
2. We can depend on our own logic while trying to find a solution to our problems. The disciples knew they were far from any meaningful source of food for such a large crowd of people. They could only think of one solution, to send the people home. But had they done that, they (and the rest of the crowd) would have missed seeing Jesus miraculously provide for the needs of His creation in the midst of the wilderness. Our abundant God not only provided what was needed to satisfy peoples’ hunger that day, but each disciple collected an additional basket of bread, reminding them that that Jesus was no ordinary man.
Have you tried everything you can think of to resolve your problems, only to end up no closer to an answer than when you began? Are you striving in your own strength, leaning only on what you know and can understand?
The gospel reminds us that there is no human logic capable of understanding a God who would send His own Son to the cross to take our sins upon Himself. No reason except love, which drives every reason He has for sending us to desolate places.
3. We will hold tightly to what God has given us to share with others when our focus is on self. One little boy had brought a lunch but when Jesus came and asked Him to share it, he willingly opened his hands. Surely, at least one child learned that day that there is no limit to what Jesus is able to do when we put all that we have into His hands.
What has God given to you so that you can, in turn, bless others; time, financial means, possessions, encouragement, comfort?
First and foremost, having been saved by the gospel, God calls believers to share the Good News with others. What a tragedy when sinners, who have been granted divine mercy, fail to share Christ with those who are hungry and seeking satisfaction in all the wrong places. But God also blesses us with other gifts and resources so that we can be a blessing to others. How are you sharing what He has given to you?
4. Hardening our hearts; causing us to miss countless evidences of God’s grace and abundant provision. Scripture records that the disciples had not understood the significance of the loaves and their hearts were hardened. And because their hearts were hardened, they did not have faith to recognize Jesus in the midst of their fearful storm. We must be careful that, in the fear and confusion difficult circumstances bring, we don’t allow our own hearts to be hardened to God’s loving purposes for the storms and desolate places He leads us to.
Of course the disciples didn’t have the benefit of living on the other side of the cross as we do. They had not yet grasped that the man they followed ruled over life, death, and every power on earth.
What about us? What is our response when circumstances seem hopeless? Do we accuse God of being unkind or uncaring? Do our hearts become bitter and angry when He allows hard and hurtful things to happen to us? Do we think we deserve better than He has given us? In the midst of our pressing need, confusion, or despair; will we miss the treasures He wants to give us in the wilderness?
The gospel gives us hope in the very darkest places of life. When we look to the cross we are reminded that our Savior, who deserves all honor and worship, took the wrath we deserved for our sin. Jesus’ death was not the end. His Resurrection assures all who are in Christ that one day we will be with Him, and all darkness will flee in the light of His glory.
When God leads us to desolate places and storms that overwhelm us, by God’s grace, may we be women of faith who:
- Submit to His purposes, no matter how hard they are and lean into His grace through prayer and thanksgiving.
- Seek God’s wisdom rather than our own, patiently waiting upon Him as we wait for clear direction.
- Willingly open our hands and hearts, ready to serve and give to others as the Spirit directs us.
- Ask God to use our difficulties to reveal more of Himself and to teach us everything He wants us to learn in our desolate place.
While the disciples never would have planned to go where God led them that day, when they were safely back on land they knew they would never see Jesus in the same way. So it is with us. While we would never choose storms that threaten our lives, or spending lonely confusing days in desolate places; when we are on the other side of the circumstances that caused us so much distress, we realize that God has become larger and greater in our understanding than He ever was before. And, then we give thanks that He loved us too much to shield us from the storms that would make us more like Him.
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you,