In Mark 6:31, after the apostles had returned from their missionary journey, Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” This shows the importance of taking time to reflect, get away to isolation, and simply be with God one-on-one. We call this Sabbath. The “Sabbath” in Christianity is not a single day. It certainly can be (and should be!). More than that though, the Lord wants us, especially after arduous work, to take a break and settle our souls in him.
If we read the next few verses, we see that the much-needed Sabbath didn’t work out as planned. “And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them” (vv. 32-33). Sometimes we plan a Sabbath. Sometimes other people plan to interrupt it. Whose idea was this mini-vacation? It was Jesus’ idea. But when Jesus saw all the people “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things” (v. 34). Jesus certainly didn’t see this as an interruption.
The disciples, however, weren’t as compassionate as Jesus. They were probably angry, frustrated, and irritated. They wanted a vacation! The problem was that their hearts were set on rest itself and not being with Jesus. When our hearts are set on something other than Jesus, we lose perspective and lose our missional mindset. But when our hearts are set on Jesus, whether we are alone with God or surrounded by needy people, our attitudes and intentions will be that of service and not selfishness.
So, look at verses 35-36, and picture the scenario. Peter, the loud, boisterous disciple probably told the others, “I’ll go tell him, already!” Peter, hesitantly walks up to Jesus and says, “Hey, Jesus, there’s no grocery stores around and it’s really late. Tell them to go away and buy food.” The other disciples stand there with their arms crossed, nodding their heads ‘yes,’ like the backups in a neighborhood gang. Jesus says, “No. You give them food.” The disciples probably think, “What the…funny one, Jesus.” But he’s serious. “How much food do you have?” he asks. You know how the story ends. Jesus feeds 5,000 men. Those men probably had wives and children. How many people are we talking about – 10,000? 12,000? 15,000 people?
Here’s the point: You might plan a Sabbath to be isolated from people and hang out with God. But, God might interrupt your Sabbath to give you an opportunity to serve. Don’t see interruptions in times of rest as people getting in the way. See them as God getting in your face as if to say, “Here’s a chance for you to be with me and show others my glory.” The disciples initial response should have been to send Peter (or whomever it was) to Jesus to say, “Teacher, these people look hungry. We feel their need. What can we do to serve them? We want to help. Tell us what to do.” Instead, if you read Mark 6:52, it says of the disciples, “For they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” Even Christians have moments of hardening. Those times are evidenced by selfishness, arrogance, entitlement, and laziness.
Go ahead and plan your Sabbath rests. That’s good to do! But set your heart on Christ and not rest, and you will be flexible when a hungry mob (or a crying child, a hurting friend, a sad spouse, or a troubled neighbor) approaches your desolate place. O how I need help with this! Lord, teach me to rest in you, not to rest in rest. Teach me to be a servant and not to be consumed with myself! Father, teach us all to rest in your Son, that when our Sabbath is interrupted, we may serve and show others how wonderful it is to rest in him.