Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Empty Nets ?

  Years ago, I lived in Newfoundland and made my home in the house of a local fisherman and his wife. I was teaching school. During the warm season, I watched them go out in their small fishing boat to catch cod, and later lobster. Sometimes they got a good catch and sometimes the catch was poor. Regardless, each time they returned home, they checked their nets. Some were damaged by debris in the ocean. Others were torn from lobsters or crabs or sometimes they were gummed up with seaweed. They needed repairs. The Jenkins men, would sit on the wharf, checking and mending their nets. They were a lot like the fishermen of Jesus day.

Luke 5:1-11 1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

  This was a real stretch for bone weary fishermen! They had worked all night long. Now they had given up and were cleaning and mending their nets. They were done in. Now along comes this teacher—this land lubber—telling them to go out into deeper water and let down their newly cleaned nets. Fishermen were a tough lot. They worked hard for their living. Fishing information was shared between fellow fishermen. But here was something different.  It demanded respect and attention. So Peter says… “because you say so, I will let down the nets.” That took a step of faith. It demanded effort and action. The result was an immense catch of fish, so many that both boats had all they could do the haul in  the catch. 6When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. Simon Peter immediately recognized something supernatural had just happened. This was no ordinary end of the day fishing catch. He knew God was here….for in the presence of God, we suddenly see ourselves...sinners, needing a Savior. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” But Jesus had other plans. As hard as these men worked for fish, He wanted them working for the souls of men. He did not want quitters. He wanted those who would keep on working, even when the going got tough. He wanted men who would listen to his commands. He wanted men who were simple enough to recognize the divine. Sometimes it is a good thing to catch someone when they are at the end of their rope, when it is time to throw down the nets in frustration, and look for a glimmer of hope somewhere else. The old ways of doing things were not working. Night fishing was a popular way to catch fish...but it was not working. The fishermen would hold a basket of fire suspended out over the water and the light would attract the fish...but now, no fish were to be found—until Jesus came by.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.  He immediate challenges their fears, and gives them a new purpose in life...fishing for people. They left behind the only work they knew. They were launched on a new venture—following the One who promised a new kind of catch—men! They left the massive catch of fish, the nets, the boats, the family and the old way of living. To find out what He meant, they had to follow Him. Today, Jesus still is inviting us to follow Him. It will mean change, sacrifice, learning new things, and lots of questions. Simon Peter was launched on a new mission...mankind.

  The story does not end there. After the resurrection of Jesus, the angel told the disciples to go to Galilee...back to the old stomping grounds. What did they do when they got there? They went fishing again. But then, someone on shore asked them about their catch...and again they had caught nothing. Their nets were empty and their arms ached. And again some unsolicited advice…6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” (John 21:6) and again a divine moment comes to these weary men. When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” It was a “deja-vous” moment for Peter. Three years before, Jesus and Peter had had such a moment. Then he had commissioned him to follow Him and catch men. Now, Jesus has a new mission...feed sheep—feed lambs—take care of the sheep.  No more empty nets!

  Where are you on your spiritual journey—at the beginning, or years into the walk with Jesus. Are your nets empty? You struggle in your walk, you do what you know how to do, but you continue to come up empty.  Get on God’s agenda. Do what Peter and John did...listen to the Master and obey His commands. Man’s way results in empty nets. God’s way fills them to overflowing. Don’t be so busy counting the catch that you forget to continue the mission. Too often we tend to glory in the moment, wondering if we had anything to do with it. Let me assure you, we did not. When we look around us, do we see new converts? If there are a rare few converts, is anyone discipling them? Most new attendees come from other churches...and they have come looking for more than they had at their previous church. The more they need is not more entertainment, more friends, or more programs to busy their lives. They need more of God in their lives. They are looking for the presence of God in our services. They long for real revival, the kind that changes pastors, parishioners and whole communities. Too often they come but find once again ‘empty nets’...people going through the motions of fishing, but finding none.

  What was Jesus answer to the problem of empty nets? He commanded them to do the unexpected...to go beyond the comfortable, to not give up, but to listen to the One who knew how to fill empty nets. One key thing I noticed is that Jesus spent some time feeding them spiritually….”he sat down and taught the people from the boat.” The Holy Spirit is our teacher...as He flows through human vessels yielded to Spirit and as He speaks to us from the Word of God. Are you listening? I like the way The Message Bible (TMB) puts in in Rev. 3:6 in speaking to the churches… “Are your ears awake? Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.”  It is always the desire of the Holy Spirit to blow through our churches, but too often we are too busy creating new programs to take time to really pray. Those who discover the power of prayer want to cease doing everything else and just pray.  The disciples moved from Galilee and empty nets back to Jerusalem and the Upper Room. There they waited in prayer until the Heavens were opened and the Spirit was outpoured.

  Take some time as you vacation and fish this summer to remember your higher calling, casting nets, discipling others and feeding the flock. If your net comes up empty—get back to the altar of prayer.

J.  Johnson

No comments: