During the past decade our family has vacationed several times on a small island in northern Lake Michigan. Have you ever been to Beaver Island? Along with its natural beauty, Beaver Island greets you with an unusual cultural heritage. Native Americans, Irish immigrants and Mormon settlers flavor its past. Today, perhaps, 100 families reside there year-round. Most live in the small harbor village of St. James, which features McDonough’s Grocery and the Shamrock Inn, a few other businesses, several cottages and the Beaver Island Christian Church, which I’ve had the privilege of serving as a guest pastor on several occasions.
The last time we were up on the island one of the men in the church shared a memorable story. He told about his friend who owned a popular fishing lodge. Guests come year after year and spend their days fishing. Then at night they gather around the fireplace and tell tall tales about ‘the one that got away’. This man told about one guest who came to that lodge. He was outfitted with the finest gear. He looked like a real fisherman. But he never fished! Day after day he spent reading or maybe walking along the lakeshore. But he never dropped a line in the water.
Finally someone asked him why he stayed at a fishing lodge but never fished. The man simply said, “Well, I used to fish, but not so much anymore. You can’t find finer folk than fishermen. So I just come to be around them and to listen to their stories.” (This story is adapted from Lloyd Oglivie, The Other Jesus, Word, 1986, p. 199).
It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? With bluegill and bass just waiting to nibble and strike, this man preferred to sit in the fishing lodge or stroll along the shore! It’s always easier to talk about something than to go out and actually do it. But does staying in a fishing lodge make you a fisherman? I think not. The lake, not the lodge, is where the fish are biting. The only fish that end up in a fishing lodge have already been caught.
Let’s think about this from a spiritual standpoint. Fishing, of course, is a metaphor in the Bible for missions and faith sharing. Along with worship, discipleship, service and fellowship – our outreach to nearby ponds and to distant oceans fulfills one of the five purposes Jesus intends for us to carry out as his church.
So when it comes to faith sharing and missions, we’re not talking about a “resort vacation”. Instead, as Jesus’ disciples, we’re talking about our real vocation. We’re talking about decisions and deeds today that can make a real difference in persons’ lives for all eternity.
Before the Risen Lord returned to his Father in heaven he gave this command: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . ” To whom was Jesus speaking? To his followers. Are you his follower? If so, he is talking to you, as well.
With your Bible open and your notes on hand, you may want to complete that first line which points out the first key to effective spiritual fishing: Go personally.
The Great Commission is for all of us. But it doesn’t mean much until it gets personal. Read the next Bible passage in your notes. Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” What is Jesus saying? He is telling us that we will be given power from his Spirit, and that we will be his witnesses. Now is God telling us to board 747’s for Israel? No.
Where is your Jerusalem? It’s where you live. It’s your home, family, workplace, school and neighborhood. It’s caring and sharing, working and witnessing for Christ right here at home in Howell or Brighton or Hartland or Fowlerville, or wherever you live.
Where is your Judea? It may be another part of Livingston County or Oakland County. It maybe a nearby state like Ohio or Indiana or just beyond. The youth and young adults who recently returned from their July mission trip could probably tell the rest of us how missions come alive when you get personally involved.
Where is your Samaria? Samaria, of course, was an area ethnically and culturally different from Israel. Your Samaria may be as near as our community homeless shelter where you tutor children. It may be at one of our local nursing homes where you lead a Bible study. It may be in an urban ministry in Detroit. That’s Samaria.
Then, of course, everything “beyond” these areas is part of our broader mission in reaching the world for Christ. Those of you who have served on an international mission team or in other short-term mission service could tell the rest of us about the joy of sharing God’s love abroad.
It’s my prayer and commitment that each of us grow in spiritual maturity and ministry. It’s my prayer that each of us also grow to be on-mission for Christ. We are all called to go personally to our own Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and yes, to take part, if at all possible, on a global mission team.
When it comes to spiritual fishing, we must get out of the fishing lodge. And we must go personally. Then there’s a second fishing strategy that we need to note. We must obey willingly.
Obedience isn’t easy for us because we’re often resistant to change. But in order to get out of the lodge and do spiritual fishing, we need to change the way we think, which in turn, will help change how we feel and what we do.
For example, we need to change our focus from ourselves to others, and from the immediate to the eternal. Let’s be honest. What do you and I naturally think about most? We think about own needs. If you’re bored, right now you’re thinking about what you’re going to do tonight or tomorrow. If you’re hungry, you’re thinking about this afternoon’s picnic or tonight’s dinner. Who is at the center of what you’re thinking about? You are!
But God says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s all about Jesus and His concern for those who have yet to be saved.
When it comes to changing the way we think, we need to take note of the three “R’s”: Repent. Remember. Renew. When we do these three things, we’ll be thinking more clearly and be more ready to willingly obey Jesus’ call to fish.
First, to repent simply means to change your mind. Think of repentance as a mental make-over, leading to a new you from the inside out. If you are a believer, you’ve already made a decision to follow Jesus Christ. You repented or changed from self-centered thinking, to Christ-centered thinking; from living in sin to living for the Savior. To repent is to see yourself for who you really are – a sinner in need of the Savior. To repent is to ask God to forgive you and to accept God’s solution for your sin, His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus died for you and he rose that you might have a fresh start with God and live forever with Him. And so, to repent is to get out of the director’s chair let Jesus Christ be the Savior, Director and CEO of your life. That’s repentance.
Then a second key that will help us to willingly obey Jesus’ call to fish involves remembering. Paul writes, “Remember that formerly, in times past, you were separate from Christ . . . remember you were excluded . . . you were without hope and without God in the world.”
Memory is a great motivator. Memory stirs our emotions. Stephen Curtis Chapman once wrote a song with the lyrics, “Remember your chains . . . remember your pain . . . before the love of God broke through.” When we remember who we were before we came to Christ, very often God will rekindle our passion for people we know who have yet to come to Him. By remembering our own past, God will often give us real motivation to care, share, reach and love others.
Maybe one of the reasons we fail to go fishing is because of our poor memories! We tend to forget about our call to fish, not only because we prefer the company of our friends in the fishing lodge, but because we forget what’s ultimately at stake! I know I’m more motivated when I remember my own past.
I became a Christian at age 13. Before I asked Jesus to save me, I was focused on three people named me, myself and I. I had no interest in anything religious. Definitely not church. In fact, God would never have reached me in a church because I wouldn’t go. Even when my folks forced me to go at Easter and Christmas, I’d just tune-out, turn-off and tolerate it, making fun of it all the way. If you’re a young person, let me suggest you go easy on your put-downs about church. God has a real sense of humor. And He always gets the last laugh!
Since I absolutely wouldn’t go to church, God used a fisherman in the one place I couldn’t avoid. The fisherman’s name was Chuck Taylor and the place was our town’s one junior high school. Mr. Taylor was a decent science teacher. He was also a good football and basketball coach. But as fishermen go, he was one of the best.
He was out in deep waters everyday with some pretty wild eighth and ninth grade boys. As the junior high football coach, Mr. Taylor gave us plays to memorize. Then he gave us something else to memorize – Bible verses from the Book of Romans. Most of us would do anything for him because he was man who really cared about kids. As he shared the Good News of Jesus with us, we just naturally fell into his gospel net.
I’m sure that if Coach Taylor were still teaching today, he would probably use different approaches than he did back then, but by the end of that football season in late October 1968, some 5 or 6 boys-myself among them-had made life-changing commitments to follow Jesus Christ. I need to remember what life was like before I came to the Lord. So do you.
A third key that will help us to be more willing to obey Jesus’ call to fish comes when we renew our minds. Paul writes, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . . ”
God wants to renew and refresh our thinking about evangelism and missions. That happens when we seek the mind of Christ and when we seek a God-centered vision. The Lord wants us to look beyond the here and now, and have the long-view, to look upon a lost world and to have compassion for people whom He loves, for whom He sent His Son, and for whom He calls us to fish. Go personally. Obey willingly. A third key for spiritual fishing is that we must follow faithfully. We must follow Jesus closely, for he is our fishing Guide.
He will teach us and lead us. At the outset of his ministry Jesus called his disciples, at least seven of whom were fishermen. He said, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people. Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
Fast forward three years later. It’s shortly after that first Easter. By all indicators, it seems that the disciples have not walked or talked with the Risen Lord for a few weeks. Now, instead of waiting for their Guide, they have grown impatient. Instead of remaining close to Christ, they seem to have become more distant. Instead of seeking the Master’s direction, they venture off on their own.
They were called to fish for people, but they resumed fishing for fish. And because they lost sight of their Guide, they were on their own – adrift and laboring in their own strength. They fished from dusk until dawn. What did they catch? Their net gain was zero, zilch, nada. Not a fish to be fried!
I wonder, how is it with us? When we’ve failed to follow Christ, have our outcomes been any different? Not at all. You might not be Thomas and I might not be Peter – but we’re cut from the same cloth. Doubters, deniers, broken, burdened. Sinners-R-Us. The disciples may not have been closely following their Guide, but he was following them, watching over them, caring for them.
We, too, are sinners saved by a loving Savior who never takes his eyes off of us. But Jesus loves us too much to leave where we are. It’s his business to redeem and refit renegades and rebels like us, so that we can be effective in our spiritual fishing for him. Go personally. Obey willingly. Follow faithfully.
Then there is a fourth strategy we need to note. This is among the most important of all. We must inquire prayerfully. John 21:4 tells us that as Jesus watched his disciples from the shore, at first they didn’t recognize him. They were heading to shore, about to pull in their nets. How do you suppose they felt? I’d venture that they felt discouraged, frustrated and exhausted. We don’t know if the disciples spent any time in prayer that long night. John doesn’t say. But can you imagine how their feeling of futility would be compounded by a lack of prayer?
Just a month before that night, Jesus was eating the Passover meal with them in an upper room in Jerusalem. That night the Master taught them and us, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
What do these verses tell us? For one thing, Jesus wants us to inquire prayerfully of him. He wants us to deepen our trust and dependence on him. Only with much prayer and guidance from the Lord can we expect success in our spiritual fishing. Notice the promise here. If we remain in Lord, meaning if we stay close to the Lord, if we grow in his Word and seek his will, then we are given the privilege to ask in faith for anything that will bring the Father glory.
When it comes to fishing for people, prayer must be our highest priority. Each of us must pray daily and specifically for particular missionaries, their families and for the people they minister to and with. We must pray daily for persons in our own Jerusalem who have yet to accept Jesus as Savior. Ask the Lord to let you help bring them to him! You can catch them, and he will clean them! Keep your fishing list – your prayer list – on hand and use it daily. In The Purpose Driven Life Rick Warren writes, “Prayer is the most important tool for your mission in the world. People may refuse our love or reject our message, but they are defenseless against our prayers. Like an intercontinental missile, you can aim a prayer at a person’s heart whether you are ten feet or 10,000 miles away” (Zondervan, 2002, p. 300). We need to inquire prayerfully of the Lord because prayer unleashes God’s power for fishing. We are called to go personally, obey willingly, follow faithfully, and inquire prayerfully. A fifth fishing strategy we can briefly note is to share gladly.
Hungry and weary, perhaps cold and wet, the disciples struggled to pull in their empty nets. It was then that Jesus called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” Of course, Jesus knew the answer to his question. But his inquiry forced the disciples to admit their futile, failed effort. Jesus had taught in them in the upper room, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” If they needed proof, now they had it!
But instead of skewering them with “I told you so”, or grilling them with, “Why don’t you ever listen and learn?”, Jesus beckons them to follow his counsel. “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” What did the disciples do? They obeyed. And the Lord abundantly blessed their obedience. Warren Weirsbe has said, “We are never far from success when we permit Jesus to give the orders.” Now the disciples were again following their Guide. They were looking to Jesus and he was leading them to catch fish. And it’s the same way with us. The Lord will bless our obedience. The Lord will bless our fishing when it’s done in his way for his glory.
Notice that Jesus gladly shared his counsel. Then he shared hospitality. Rather than skewering or grilling, Jesus was frying some of best fish and baking some of the best tasting bread around. Sort of makes you hungry, doesn’t it? When we share our friendship, our counsel, our homes and hospitality we can touch the lives of people in need just like our Lord. At the same time, we need to share our faith and hope in Jesus. We need to tell others how they can come to the Savior. Peter writes, ” . . . In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect . . . ” We must share gladly.
Then, there is a sixth and final fishing strategy. When it comes to the fish we catch, we need to handle them carefully. When Jesus called his disciples to leave their nets and to follow him, he promised to help them catch people alive. His warm, relational style really contrasts with the cold confrontations of the religious leaders. They tried to spear people with guilt, and then pressure pack them in their icy legalism. By contrast, Jesus always shows gentleness and respect. He never forces, but only invites. He meets people where they’re at, carefully handling their concerns, touching their needs, healing their hurts.
A few chapters earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims, “I am the good Shepherd . . . I lay down my life for the sheep. My sheep listen to my voice . . . I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand.” That’s handling with care! That’s the way our Lord is, how we’re to be!
This morning, my friends, Jesus invites you to come and follow him. For some of you, that will mean opening your heart and life to Jesus Christ as your Savior and leader. Is God speaking to you to do this? It’s the most important decision you’ll ever make. Let me encourage you to ask Jesus to be your Savior. For others of you this morning, your decision is whether you’re going to get out of the lodge and more effectively share your faith with others. Maybe you’ve been a Christian for a time, but you’ve not done much fishing of late. You’ve gotten comfortable in the lodge. Is God prompting you to move beyond your comfort zone and share your faith? Let me encourage you to rededicate your life to the Lord and His call to share your faith with others.
The question God is asking you today is this: Will you trust Jesus as your Savior? And, if you trust Jesus, will you commit yourself to fish for persons? If your answer is “Yes”, I encourage you to come forward on our concluding song. Or, if you prefer, you can indicate your “Yes” decision on your response card. “Yes” simply means: “I love Jesus-I trust him as my Savior and I want to follow him.” “I love Jesus – I want to help others come to trust and follow him.” There is no decision in life that’s more important than deciding to trust Jesus as your Savior. There’s no activity in life more important than deciding to share Jesus with others.
We have a great adventure ahead! A lifelong fishing trip with our Guide, Jesus Christ, who beckons us to faith, to get out of the fishing lodge, and go fish. Come trust Jesus as your Savior. Come answer his call to fish. Go personally, obey willingly, follow faithfully, inquire prayerfully, share gladly, handle carefully! Let’s go fish!