I read something recently where the author was reflecting on the popular phrase; “God will never give you more than you can handle” (a mistaken paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 10:13, perhaps). The author’s basic premise in the article was this; “God WILL give us more than we can handle!” If he didn’t, we wouldn’t need his help! Our faith wouldn’t grow! We would do everything on our own and give ourselves the glory!
I see our text as being an example of this. It begins; “Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him…” (emphasis mine) I wonder if that means they didn’t want to go? Did they know bad weather was coming? Had the sky been red that morning? (Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning…) What Jesus did was intentionally give them more than they could handle! Then he went to pray.
What do you suppose he prayed about? Did he ask his Father to protect the disciples during this test – this trial – this faith-building experience that was about to unfold?
I am fascinated by the timing of events in this narrative. Verse 35 tells us that it was already late in the day before Jesus fed the Five Thousand. In fact, the disciples pointed out the obvious; that it was very late.
Now, between the time of that conversation and when Jesus made the disciples get into the boat, they held a picnic for thousands! We’ve all attended church picnics for hundreds, perhaps. That takes time! So, when verse 47 says, When evening came… it had to be REALLY late; sundown perhaps, if not later!
Bibleclocks.org says, The starting time for the first watch is at nominal sunset, 6:00 PM, then the second watch at 9:00 PM, the third watch at 12:00 Midnight, and the 4th watch at 3:00 AM. Let’s suppose evening referred to the second watch, at 9:00 p.m. If that were the case, then the disciples had been straining at the oars for approximately 6 hours, if not longer, before our Lord went out to them!
Keep in mind these guys had to have been exhausted! A quick read of verses 1 – 44 describes a full and emotionally draining day! I know how desperately, after a full morning at church on Sundays, I need to find a quiet place and get some rest (vs 31b). I can’t imagine following up a full day of ministry with a picnic (at which I would have to help serve) for 5000 + people! Then top that off with 6 hours of straining against the oars of a fishing boat being tossed in the wind and waves! And we want to say, “Jesus doesn’t give us more than we can handle?” I disagree! This scenario will preach! Not only do we feel this way as pastors, at times, but so do our parishioners. Many of them are listening to us, on Sunday morning, exhausted and truly believe God HAS, indeed, given them MORE than they can handle!
Now in the midst of the disciples’ fatigue and strain, Jesus came walking on the water as if he were going to pass by without acknowledging their dilemma. We and our listeners can feel that way as well, at times. Have you ever felt like Jesus was totally oblivious of what was going on in your church or your personal life?
So the disciples cried out in terror – thinking Jesus was a ghost! Keep in mind it’s three in the morning! It’s dark! They are exhausted! When do we wrestle with many of our fears? Is it not in those dark, early morning hours when Satan tries to fill our minds and hearts with fear and doubt to the degree that we can’t see Jesus for who he is in the “storm?”
And just then, as we welcome Jesus into our “boat,” He graciously speaks words of assurance and comfort into our situation and the storm subsides (at least the “storm” in our heart and mind). And we, like the disciples, are amazed.
I find it interesting, in the verses that follow (if we are to hear this as an unbroken narrative of sequential events), that those poor disciples likely received no sleep that night. The rest, which Jesus promised them in verse 31 and was first interrupted by a crowd of 5000 hungry men, was delayed once again. For we read, in verses 53-56, that they barely get their boats to shore and people came running from all directions to be healed by Jesus.
Yes, Jesus gives us more than we can handle at times, so that he can bring about the spiritual growth and maturity that he sees we are lacking. If he only gives us and our parishioners what we can handle, then we won’t give him any glory. But when his kingdom work (and life itself) is hard and exhausting, and we don’t know how we can go on, Jesus says; “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
To God be all the glory!