Happily Ever After?—Reflections from Mark 6
We’ve all seen it a hundred times. You know the famous plot arc of movies and books. The good people are confronted by enormous opposition of some sort. They persevere. They fight through the problem, and they live “happily ever after.” The scene that sticks in my mind the most is the end of Disney’s old Robin Hood—the one with the cartoon fox. Robin and Maid Marianne are riding away in the carriage after getting married and the back of the carriage says “Just Married.” The implication of the ending for these stories is that once victory is achieved a blissful life awaits.
As believers, we know that our true eternal bliss and our true eternal rest will only come when we are with Christ, either when He returns or after we die. But how do we navigate our expectations and desires in this life? Even when we think about ministry for Christ and accomplishing great things for the Lord, “happily ever after” syndrome can seep in. We think that once we get through a certain period of time, or once we get past a certain challenge then our ministry will be successful or restful. Mark 6 has some helpful lessons for how we can view ministry.
Rather than considering the accounts as unrelated, let’s look at how several familiar passages fit together. In Mark 6:7-13, Jesus sends out the disciples two by two to preach repentance, cast out demons, and heal people. We don’t know how long this trip was, but imagine the stress, fatigue, and pressure from a ministry trip where you are no longer physically with Jesus.
It is as soon as the disciples finish their missions trip that Jesus takes them away on what is supposed to be a time of reporting and refreshing with just the disciples. Instead of a retreat to recharge, what they get instead is a massive multitude in the wilderness resulting in a time of teaching and the event we call the “Feeding of the 5,000.” (Mark 6:30-44)
Right after that effort and chaos (imagine being one of 12 waiters for a crowd of 5-15,000 very hungry people) Jesus tells the disciples to get back into the boat and cross the Sea of Galilee again. It was going to be another all-nighter. While trying to obey, the disciples are faced with a contrary wind making the trip all but impossible. It’s at this time that Jesus walks across the water to them. (Mark 6:45-52) I find it humorous to note that Mark is written from the perspective of Peter, and that either out of humility or embarrassment they fail to mention Peter’s walking on the water. Finally, with Jesus in the boat the disciples reach the other side only to once again have people flocking to Jesus for healing. (Mark 6:53-56)
So what lessons can we learn? Well first, we should remember that God decides when we are done serving Him. Many of us agree with that statement in a fatalistic sense. “I’ll serve God until He wants to take me home.” However, in the day to day aspects of life and ministry we can get really opinionated about when our ministry should be done. Think about how we all feel entitled to some well-deserved rest after a long week of Vacation Bible School or some other involved period of service. But how would we feel if God had another person in need of our help right away. I am not suggesting that we should not plan times of rest and refreshment; instead I am saying that we need to be open to God’s redirecting our steps. The disciples were not able to be done serving when they got back from their trip. They had to pass out food to more than 5,000 people.
The second lesson that we can learn is that sometimes the greatest ministry happens when God calls us to go beyond our normal plans. The feeding of the 5,000 happened after the missions trip. The great healing of many people in Gennesaret happened after they crossed the Sea of Galilee rowing all night and through the storm. There was no “happily ever after” stage in the ministry. The disciples would have never experienced the great heights of Jesus’ power if they had quit when one task was over. We do not want to miss God’s powerful work because we are not willing to go just a bit farther as God leads.
In conclusion, we must follow God’s leading. He knows what impact He has called us to make for His kingdom. Rest is good, appropriate, and needed, but it’s not permanent until heaven. We need to let God adjust our paths from what we think we need and feel that we want.