In John 21:3 we discover that the disciples embarked on a fishing trip. Simon Peter told his partners, “I’m going fishing.” The disciples chimed in and said “we’re going too!” So the disciples posted their “gone fishing” sign on the upper room door and headed out to the lake. Maybe the pecan trees were not budding, the worms were not falling from the willow trees, or the water was too high because John 21:3 tell us this fishing trip was a dud – “that night they caught nothing.
It wasn’t that the disciples had not tried to catch fish. They toiled all night. It wasn’t that the disciples did not have the right equipment. They had the best tackle. It wasn’t even the time of day that was the problem. It takes more than toiling, more than tackle, and more than time. If you are fishing in the wrong place none of that matters.
Fishing or “Wetting a Line”
Without the presence of fish the disciples were simply “wetting a line.” There are really two kinds of fisherman. Some fish to catch fish. They are not satisfied unless the ice chest is full at the end of the day. Anything less is almost considered a failure. Then there are those who are recreational fishermen. They are more interested in the experience than they are catching fish. They are satisfied with just getting out for the day and “wetting a line.” If they catch a few fish that’s fine but if they don’t, they still enjoy the trip.
What may be enjoyable as a recreational pastime is deadly from a spiritual perspective. The church (followers of Jesus) is called to be “fishers of men,” yet often we may just be “wetting a line.” We may have little concern if we have the right approach. We may have little concern if we are fishing in the right place. Worst of all, we may have little concern if we catch any fish!
What’s in Your Ice Chest?
Could it be that maybe one reason some folks aren’t to quick to see too many people coming into the church is the same reason some of us don’t care if we catch too many fish at the lake? Fish are messy! If I catch a mess I have a mess to clean when I get home. It’s much easier to just “wet my line” and sit a spell under the cypress tree, eat my sandwich and twinkie, and sip on my Bargs Root Beer. It doesn’t take much effort to fish and not catch anything. But it does take some effort to fish like you really want to fill your ice chest.
The question for us is what kind of “fishers of men” are we? Are we content to practice casting our weighted line in the backyard? Or are we truly after some fish and will do whatever it takes to catch some? Of course it’s easier to just “wet a line” and say we’re fishing, and so the church today has mastered the art of fishing without ever really catching much. Instead of fishing for men and women we often busy ourselves by attending fishing seminars, telling fish stories, or fixing up the fishing camp (the church house), contented with the thought that because our tree appears green we must be fruitful, even though the evidence suggests otherwise. It has been a well publicized statistic in my denomination that 70% of our churches are plateaued or declining. This begs the question, “Are we truly fishing or just wetting a line?” In many instances, our fishing today consists mainly of fishing for children of church members in the safe church pond or transferring fish from one church ice chest to another one down the street. Few churches are impacting the pagan pool and reaching their God – given potential!
Fishing in the Wrong Pond
And then sometimes we do fish earnestly, as the disciples, but we are simply fishing in the wrong place. We are toiling and catching nothing. Our nets are being thrown out but they are coming up empty. Why? We may be fishing in the wrong place. The disciples didn’t see the school of fish all around them until Jesus guided them. The truth is that we can toil but if we are not fishing in the right place our nets will continue to come up empty.
The problem is not declining fish stocks. The problem is that we do not see the fish and go after them with the right bait. It takes three things to be successful fisherman and likewise fishers of men. It takes knowledge of where the fish are. It takes the right bait. It takes time – translated patience. Healthy and growing churches that are penetrating a lost world are churches that are sensitive to the needs of people around them and they are leaving their comfort zone and traditions to reach people. You’ve probably heard of John Ortberg’s book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. I suggest that the church may need to get out of the boat that has been stuck on a spiritual sandbar for too long in order to wade out into the waters where the fish are schooling. Then we will cast our nets and bring in a great catch that will be nothing short of miraculous!
In John 20:4 we are told that Jesus called out to the disciples and asked them essentially this question, “have you caught any fish?” At least the disciples were honest fisherman. This was one fish story that was true. They had not caught anything! The Lord is asking us the same question. Church, “how’s your fishing?” This is the measure of the faithfulness of the church. Not our inspiring buildings, or our impressive budgets, or our impassioned boastings. But our fishing! How many souls have we caught? How many disciples of Christ are we making? And we need to be painfully honest about the success or failure of our fishing trips.
The Fish Are Biting
Jesus guided the disciples to where the fish were located. With His eyes they could see the fish schooling. He will do the same for us. If we will look with Jesus’ eyes we will see the people who are in need all around us. Jesus says to us, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). Fishing is a bit like farming. You see results in proportion to the work that you put into the endeavor. This principle of sowing and reaping is variously stated and illustrated in Scripture. Paul expressed this principle clearly in 2 Corinthians 9:6, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
I have a friend who is an avid fisherman. I am always impressed and sometimes envious of his great catches. “Why do I not have similar results?” I think. Then, I remind myself that if I fished as often and as passionately as my friend, I would obviously catch more fish. It’s hard to be a successful fisherman when you’re boat serves more time as a leaf bin and when you’re fishing consists of one or two outings a year!
When the disciples followed Jesus’ instructions (John 20:6) they caught so many fish that the net could not be brought in. This great catch of fish gave the disciples a foretaste of what God was going to do through them as “fishers of men.” Just imagine the possibilities of what God could do for us if we will faithfully follow Him!
As Christians we are to cast repeatedly our nets into the world and expect a catch. Our nets will be varied because it takes different baits to catch different fish. We can’t always use the same methods of catching fish that have always worked. If worms are not doing the trick you try crickets. God did not call us to just “wet a line.” He called us to catch men. We must do whatever it takes to reach people because the devil and the world sure is! Consider this. We fish for men to save men. In a sense we really are catch and release fisherman. The devil fishes for men to fry them, to condemn them for eternity. We catch them so that God can release them from sin and bondage. Are you ready to go do some fishing? Grab your pole. Get your tackle ready. Set some priority time aside. Follow Jesus to the river bank and expect a great catch! “Come, follow me, . . . and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).
Joe Alain is Pastor of First Baptist Church of Port Allen, LA.