The Holy Spirit and Setting Boundaries

September 18, 2018

Mark 6:1-37

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”


This one’s a little longer so refill your coffee. It will be a good boundary for you on this undoubtedly very busy day.

82. Today’s text opens with a remark about the insane schedule of Jesus and his disciples. There was so much going on they “did not even have a chance to eat.” Their lives were likely getting thin and moving toward the ragged edge. How do I know this? Because of the way Jesus responded to them. He said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

83. That sounds good doesn’t it; getting away with a small group of friends to a quiet place to hang out with Jesus? When is the last time that happened for you? I’m trying to remember. The press of life never stops and it never will stop. Even when you enter into so-called “retirement” it never stops—which can be a good thing, right? ;0)

84. What happened in today’s text is a real marker of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit is abiding among a people in a palpable way, you can’t keep people away. The gravity of the Spirit pulls them in like a tractor beam. The Holy Spirit never tires of this, but human beings do. Even Jesus got tired. If he didn’t we would know he was not fully human.

85. Note how when the disciples got in the boats to head for the hills, the people ran after them along the shore. This demonstrates the profound human hunger to be encountered by the Holy Spirit. Most interesting to me about today’s text is the way Jesus responds to the people. Here’s their chance to take a much deserved break with Jesus and they arrive at their retreat only to find hordes of people, THOUSANDS EVEN, waiting for them. The technical term for such an occurrence is “bummer.”

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

86. Compassion is an expression of the Holy Spirit. Charity often comes from feeling sorry for people. Compassion only comes from feeling sorry with people. Another interesting observation is the way the Holy Spirit expresses compassion in this situation—through the ministry of teaching them “many things.” And note the way teaching is connected to shepherding. All of this should be a deep encouragement to teachers of every sort– especially school teachers. Doesn’t this capture the calling of a teacher– to compassionately shepherd people by teaching them many things,” and as we will see tomorrow, by giving them snacks. ;0)

87. Now to the point. The time came for supper and instead of enjoying a nice meal around the campfire with Jesus, the disciples are having to concern themselves with feeding five thousand people. This is nuts! Jesus adds the last straw when he tells his disciples to “give them something to eat.” Absurder! He pushes them so far past their human limits their heads were spinning. He’s stretching their capacity beyond their own good intentions so they will learn to minister in the compassion of the Holy Spirit. He’s about to set up an extraordinary teaching moment for his disciples.

88. Unless our capacity gets stretched, we can stay stuck in our own abilities for a long time. This is where boundaries come into play. Jesus was taking these guys for a much needed break and now he has them scrambling around to figure out how to feed five thousand people?! In present day terms, Jesus made an intentional move to set a healthy boundary for himself and his followers and the people ran right over it. They always do. There is no end to human need and there is no end to the capacity of the Holy Spirit but there is a definite end to our human ability. The trouble is we don’t usually know that end until its too late; we’ve burned out. The problem when burned out, over tired people try to set boundaries they instead wind up crafting desperate strategies to protect themselves from other people. We call them “walls” and they keep other people out by isolating ourselves in.

There’s a better way. Boundaries are not about protecting ourselves from people. Healthy boundaries prepare us “for” people. Jesus had little boundaries all over the place. Early in the morning he would go to that solitary place to pray and its distinctive effect caused his disciples to ask him to teach them to pray. He put a ban on fasting while he was with his disciples so they would know fasting was about fellowship with him when they were physically apart. He re-installed the factory settings on Sabbath keeping as a boundary for the sake of people rather than a legalistic religious observance for God. He taught them to eat and drink in remembrance of him and in these smallest portions would come the greatest nourishment. And yes, he did his best to take them on staff retreats to debrief and unwind even though people still needed help.

Healthy boundaries set us free from the trap of thinking we are responsible “for” people and free us up to be responsible “to” people. Healthy boundaries are not about saying no to people so you can say yes to yourself. They are more about saying yes to yourself in the name of Jesus so you can say yes to people in the power of the Holy Spirit. I think for Jesus, setting boundaries are ways of being obedient to the limitless Holy Spirit so the Holy Spirit can work amazing grace through our limitations and even because of our limitations instead of despite them.

Boundaries are not about keeping people at a distance. They are about holding Jesus closer.

More to come on this tomorrow.


Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Lord Jesus, you are the master of dailylife in all its majesty and mundaneness. Show us how to align our personal world and public life, that we learn how to live from the fullness of the Holy Spirit for the sake of other people. Reveal those places in us that resist and grace us to let them go. Melt me. Mold me. Fill me. Use me. For the glory of your name, Jesus, Amen.


What does our failure to set good boundaries say about our view of ourselves? What does it say about our actual faith in Jesus?

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