It had been a long day for the disciples. Starting with the expectation of spending time alone with the Lord Jesus, it had become a day of intense activity as the Lord taught and then fed 5,000 men and an unknown number of women and children (Mt 14.21). Towards the end of the day the Lord had "constrained his disciples to get into the ship and to go to the other side (Mk 6.45), following which He had gone up into a mountain to pray.
But the voyage had not been easy! The wind was against them, and no matter how they toiled at the oars they were unable to make progress. For hours they continued in the darkness of the night. Right through the second and the third watch they struggled, but to no avail. Is there any indication of the cause? It was not that they were lazy for they were toiling, and had been doing so for hours. It was not that they were deliberately disobeying the Lord, for it was He who had "sent them away" (v.46). It was not that sin had got the victory over them.
Perhaps the reader feels just as the disciples must have felt on that occasion. Progress in spiritual life has come to a halt. Contrary winds may have many causes. Besetting problems of business, assembly, or family life may be impeding progress. Health problems may have cast their shadow over the days. Yet many who are passing through such times find that in their trials they learn lessons in the sanctuary. The problem here, however, seems to have been of a different nature. This was not the great storm where their preservation was the point at issue. Here no headway was being made and these twelve tired men, after hours at the oars, must have wondered why.
What was it then that had brought them into this situation? The key is found in the words of v.52: "For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened". They had failed in that they had not taken to heart what He was teaching them. The disciples had been sent on a preaching mission and, at the command of the Lord, had travelled with little of the baggage that others would have considered necessary. They had taken no bread and He had supplied their need. They had returned to tell Him what they had done, not what He had done through them (Mk 6.30). Following this He had taught 5,000, and when food had to be found for them they asked that the Lord send them away to buy provisions. They did not consider that He who had provided bread for the twelve could, in a very different way, provide it for thousands.
The problem, therefore, is that they were not learning the lesson He was teaching them, that He was the One who met all their need. They had to understand that they were completely reliant on Him. If progress was to be made it was necessary to appeal to Him and acknowledge that without Him they would toil to no avail. But even as they toiled at the oars they did not cry for Him. As we submit to His word and take to heart the lessons that He teaches us, so will we make spiritual progress. The disciples had hard hearts, into which the lessons of the Teachers words and actions were not entering.
So, if we look back over this year and realise that we have been toiling in rowing, that we are where we were, or even further back than we were one year ago, it is time to take stock and remedy the situation. We have tried to serve Him and worked hard at it, but our hearts are hardened. His word does not touch us as it did in the past. Things will not right themselves alone. It needs us to act! Go into the presence of the Lord and seek to see our life as He sees it and learn that we must be dependent on Him. Learn the lessons of His dealings with us! When we do that, He will be there to guide us further in His service, and into a greater knowledge of Him.