When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick (Matthew 14:13-14, NIV).
If you are at all like me, when you are down or depressed because of your own struggles and problems one of the first things you do is ask God for help…or maybe it is not the first thing you do, but eventually, when you realize that you are not enough, that is what you do.
Last week I was feeling really blah and spiritually drained…so I asked God for help. And He responded almost immediately by giving me a funeral to officiate and a speaking engagement.
It seems totally counter-intuitive, I know. But I have been learning that God loves to answer my prayer for help, not by taking my problems lighter or by taking them away but by bringing me to people who need His help with their own problems. In this particular case it was to help a family work through the loss of their mother, and to help a friend at another church who needed a speaker at the last minute.
When we are feeling down, drained, and dumped on being around people is often the furthest thing from our minds. We want to stop, not work more. We want to go inside and get away to rest from people, not give more to people. Yet God seems to think differently. In fact, I have been learning that these are times when God does some of His best work in us and through us.
In Matthew 14:1-12, we have the account of the beheading of John the Baptist. Verse 13 is Jesus response to hearing that sad news. Jesus is fully God, but also fully human. The cruel and sudden death of His relative, friend, and forerunner grieved Him and the disciples deeply (remember, John 1:35 and following tells us that some of them used to be John’s disciples). So deeply disturbed were they that Jesus and the disciples deliberately withdrew to a solitary place to get some quiet and rest (Mark 6:31).
When they got there, the place was not so solitary. Crowds of people had gathered ahead of them. Not crowds of people who were there to support Him and the disciples in their need and loss, but needy people who wanted Jesus’ help.
It is very interesting that Jesus does not dismiss them or get back in the boat with His disciples and punt for quiet time on the sea. Instead He has compassion on them. He helps them. He heals their sick. He teaches them because He saw them as sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34).
The day ends with God doing something amazing—Jesus feeds the disciples and the crowd with a couple of fish and five loaves of bread! The point? God showed His grace to the crowds, His power to provide, and the divine identity of His Son to the world, all when they were weak, tired, spent, and unprepared.
If that was how the Father used Jesus and His disciples when they were low and overwhelmed, why would our Father treat you and me any differently? As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 (NIV),
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
The text does not say how the disciples felt after this. But I can relate my own experience. After the funeral on Friday and the message I gave at the men’s breakfast on Saturday. I was feeling better. In ministering to them, reminding them about God’s grace and compassion, how much Jesus loves them, and how He always keeps His promises, I am reminded of those things. Seeing them encouraged and strengthened in turn gave me strength and encouragement. You can’t give God’s love without also getting some yourself. It increases as you give it away.
People are God’s therapy. They are the conduits through which He gives His grace, wisdom, compassion, and love. So don’t be surprised when you next pray for God’s help when you are feeling spent, blah, down, alone, or anxious, don’t be surprised if the next thing that happens is a knock on your door by some person in need. It’s not because God is trying to make you more miserable, but because He knows best how to help you—by helping someone else.