What do we do when Jesus leads us into hardship again?

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd (Mark 6:45).

You've been here before, haven't you?

Just when you thought you could take a breather and relax – as life seemed to settle down somewhat – suddenly you are right back in the middle of trouble and hardship, suffering and difficulty.

Perhaps it's that illness you thought had gone away. Now it's back. Perhaps it was a relationship problem – a difficult colleague at work or a family member with personal issues. And now old sores have re-opened. Maybe it's a financial issue, or a job loss.

Whatever it is, you've been here before. Jesus had seemed to sort it all out, and now it's back – with a vengeance. You don't like it, you don't want it, and you wonder where Jesus is and what he is doing.

The disciples in Mark's Gospel have been here before, as well: in a boat, on a trip deliberately initiated by Jesus, and it's getting stormy.

In Mark 4, Jesus tells his friends to make for the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and as they obey his instructions, "a great gale" arises, and the boat is nearly swamped.

Now, in Mark 6, Jesus tells his disciples to get into a boat once more, and go on ahead of him (verse 45). An earlier attempt by them to have a bit of a break had been interrupted by unexpected crowds (verses 31-33), and now here's Jesus, sending the disciples off, apparently to get that delayed rest and refreshment.

Except that it doesn't quite work out like that. The weather worsens, and the disciples find they are "straining at the oars against an adverse wind" (verse 48). And this time, unlike the previous occasion, they haven't even got Jesus with them in the boat. Jesus, where are you? What are you doing? Why have you sent us into a storm again, this time without you?

And Jesus does come – except that the disciples don't recognise him. "He came towards them early in the morning walking on the lake...When they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified" (verses 48-50). Well, you would be, wouldn't you? After all, people don't walk on water, do they? So what else could it possibly be?

And Jesus speaks: "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." He gets into the boat and the wind ceases, and the disciples are "utterly astounded". Our narrator, Mark, comments wryly: "They were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened."

Silly old disciples! They have just seen Jesus miraculously multiply loaves and fishes! They had been with him in a boat in a storm on that earlier occasion! How could they not realise who Jesus is and trust him?

But hang on a moment. Isn't this just like us, when a fresh storm blows up in our lives? We've been there before, and yet this time, as before, we are terrified once again. Jesus seems absent, and we wonder what's going on.
And likewise, Jesus comes to us. We might not, like the disciples, at first recognise him: perhaps he calls in the kindness of a church member or neighbour; perhaps he speaks in the promises of Scripture remembered afresh.

To us, in the storm, Jesus comes as well and says, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." But we may have to go through the storm to learn that. And sometimes, like the disciples, it would seem we may have to go through that storm more than once as well.

The Rough Guide to Discipleship is a fortnightly devotional series. David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex.