Best of Daily Reflections: Growth Comes Bit by Bit

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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His disciples replied, “How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness?”

Mark 8:4

Mark 8 begins with another large crowd gathered around Jesus to hear his teaching. Jesus had compassion for the people because they were hungry and lacked food. When he told his disciples of his concern, they answered: “How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness?” (8:4)

Given the fact that Jesus had already fed over 5,000 people through a miraculous multiplication of food (Mark 6:32-44), the disciples’ question appears foolish, even faithless. Shouldn’t they have known how this story would turn out? Shouldn’t they have had more confidence in Jesus and the power of God at work through him? Yes, this is surely true. But to be honest, I am encouraged by the reaction of the disciples.

Why encouraged? First, because many passages in the Gospels bear witness to their basic trustworthiness. Given the leading role of the disciples in the earliest church, it must have been tempting for the first Christians to clean up the story a bit, to make their leaders look better. But, in fact, those who passed on and wrote down the stories of Jesus and his disciples were committed to tell the truth, even when that truth was embarrassing. Thus the folly of the disciples in Mark 8:4 underscores the reliability of his writing.

Second, I am encouraged by the reaction of the disciples to Jesus because I can relate to their lack of vision and faith. I don’t know how many times in my life I have experienced God’s goodness to me, only to doubt him when a new challenge arises. There are more times than I would like to admit, I’ll tell you that. Most of us who follow Jesus are rather like the disciples. Thus, when we fail in our faith, we can have confidence that Jesus does not reject us. His grace and patience are solid, even though he surely wants us to grow in faith.

Third, I am encouraged by Mark 8:4 because it provides evidence of some growth in the disciples. Yes, their faith falls short, but at least they share in Jesus’ concern for the people. In the previous situation like this, the disciples counseled Jesus to “Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat” (6:36). In Mark 8:4, the disciples seem to share in Jesus’ compassion for the people and feel responsible for their well-being. This is evidence of spiritual maturation. It reminds us that, for the most part, our growth as disciples of Jesus comes, not in giant leaps forward, but rather bit by bit.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Can you remember times when you doubted the Lord, even when he had recently proven his goodness to you? Can you see evidence of spiritual growth in your life, even if it is of the “bit by bit” kind?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I must admit that my first response to this story is to look down my nose at the disciples ... as if I am so much better than they were! Forgive me, Lord, for my undue pride. I expect that you can see so many ways in which I am just like your first followers. Though you have showered blessings upon me in my life, I so readily ask, “How are we supposed to find enough food?”

I do note, however, how the disciples grew ever so slowly. At least they began to have compassion for the people, much as you did. This is surely a step forward. Help me, Lord, to have your heart for those in need. Even when my faith is weak, may my compassion be strong.

But I pray that my faith will grow as I learn to trust you more and more. Help me, Lord, to have confidence in you. May I live my life with boldness and vision because I know you and your amazing, powerful grace. Amen.

P.S. from Mark

If you’re interested in my first point, about how the portrayal of the disciples supports the historical reliability of the Gospels, you may be interested in my book, Can We Trust the Gospels? This might also be a helpful gift for a high school or college student who will be confronted with challenges to biblical faith.

Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.