Maybe my glasses are dirty. But I see Mark as a somewhat spoiled, direction-less young man. Of course, it’s risky to use the bare-bones description of someone in Scripture to flesh out a full person. I’ll take the risk, though, because I’m intrigued by Mark.
WHAT WE KNOW OF MARK. Mark lived in Jerusalem with his mother Mary. The house was large enough to hold prayer meetings, as it did the night Peter was miraculously freed from prison (Acts 12:12). That Acts calls it Mary’s house may imply that Mark’s father had died. The house- size and the presence of a servant girl (Acts 12:13) may suggest the family enjoyed some measure of wealth.
Mark had a cousin named Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), who with Saul (later known as Paul) were teachers in the Antioch, Syria church (Acts 13:1). On one occasion they delivered famine relief to the brothers in Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30), about 300 miles south. When they returned, they brought with them “John, whose other name was Mark” (Acts 12:25).
Later, as the Antioch leaders were praying, the Holy Spirit spoke: “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). The “work” was to take the Gospel to Gentiles in Asia Minor. They took Mark with them, probably at cousin Barnabas’ suggestion.
Then Mark did something which makes me see him as spoiled and direction-less. When they reached the southern shore of Asia Minor ” . . . John (Mark) left them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13). The Greek verb translated “left” can mean “abandoned, deserted without concern for what was left.” Apparently Mark’s leaving upset Paul. Months later when he and Barnabas were setting out to visit the churches they had planted on this first trip (Acts 15:36), “Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphyilia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 37-40).
Again, this is why I see Mark as spoiled and direction-less despite cousin Barnabas’ attempt to make a man out of Mark on the mission trip.
WHEN WE’RE DIRECTION-LESS. Blessed today are the young people with direction. Many have none. As Diana West notes in her definitively-titled book, The Death of the Grown-Up. “Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, childhood was a phase, adolescence did not exist, and adulthood was the fulfillment of youth’s promise. No more. A profound civilizational shift has taken place . . . ” (Preface, (p. xv). In other words, youth’s direction once was toward adulthood. Now we’ve created “perpetual adolescence.” I argue that the individual young person isn’t entirely to blame. “Societal norms” encourage the adolescent to remain adolescent (to say nothing of adults!). Just deciding which vocation to choose out of myriads is a mind-numbing challenge.
Young people aren’t the only direction-less ones. So are retirees. I should know; I’m one. Freedom from the demanding schedule of a job easily becomes a tragedy. John Piper, in his book Don’t Waste Your Life, tells about a February 1998 “Reader’s Digest” story about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” Piper laments, “Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.'” This “American Dream” is, as Piper diagnoses it, a tragedy. No purpose. No direction. No reason for living bigger than entertaining yourself.
So what can we do? Here a few suggestions.
- Realize God has a purpose for your life. This is true whether we’re young people with the future stretching ahead or retirees with only a short while left. You are God’s creation. If you’ve trusted your life to Christ, you are God’s child. He made us and redeemed us to use us to make much of him in a world that makes almost nothing of him.
- Regularly read God’s Word. Note especially how God called and used all sorts of people. See how ill-equipped they were for the magnitude of the task he called them to. Learn from your reading that God uses ordinary people to further his extraordinary saving work in the world, whether your part in it is preaching the Gospel or printing cookbooks or repairing airplane engines.
- Perseveringly pray for God to show you his way for you. Since God has a purpose for your life at this point in your life, it makes sense to ask him what it is. It’s somewhat maddening that God doesn’t directly or quickly answer. Partially this is because the search for our direction is really a seeking after him. But providentially, sometimes through ways least expected, he’ll nudge you into the course he wants. And in that course you will be fulfilled.
We leave deserter-Mark finding a ship to take him from south Asian shores. As it plowed wind-driven into the waters of the Mediterranean, Mark left without direction, without purpose. We don’t have to be.