Recently, I was reflecting on Luke 5 where Jesus calls Simon to follow Him after he and his friends had fished all night and caught nothing. As I read the text I thought of all who are now struggling with the implications of the global financial downturn and its effect on so many. People are doing their best to make things work, but their nets are coming back empty.
In this text Jesus took Peter back out into the deep waters where he had failed to catch anything the previous night. What followed was a supernatural harvest that caused those watching to be both awestruck and amazed at what they were seeing. As I reflected on this event I heard the Lord say to me, “Tell them to try it again – I am in the boat.” I knew the Lord was asking me to encourage people who are living under the weight of financial despair without the hope of a new future.
As I prayed I was hit with a deep sense of despair – I was literally carrying the pain of others. I asked the Lord what this was all about. His love was letting me feel what was taking place in the lives of people so I could speak words of hope fueled by His compassion.
2,000 years ago a small group of fisherman, soon to become the first disciples of Jesus, were in a similar situation that some find themselves today. Simon and his friends had fished all night and caught nothing. What worked before was not working. These men were about to be called to follow Jesus into a new season of life, but first the Lord needed to reveal Himself and His abundance to them in the midst of their current lack so they could trust Him with their future.
1 “One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. 2 He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.”
Simon and the other fishermen were doing what all fishermen do after fishing – they were cleaning and maintaining their nets. Just off in the distance were their empty boats. The empty nets and boats were silent testimonials that something wasn’t working. As they scrubbed and patched their nets they were reminded of the depressing possibility of continued failure when they entered the water once again that evening.
4 “When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”
Jesus was saying to Simon, “Simon, I want you to try one more time – this time I will be in the boat with you.” The invitation to Simon was to go out into the deeper water and try again. Up to this point it was just Jesus and Simon a few feet off the water’s edge providing a floating podium from which Jesus could address the crowd. There was no faith in this gesture. It was just Simon being kind to the rabbi.
When Jesus asked Simon to go farther out into the deeper water He was asking Simon to go back out to his place of failure and try again. When any of us fail the last place we want to return is the place of our failure. The fear of returning to places of failure is real and palpable. We don’t want to relive a divorce, a recession or the time a ministry came to an end. The world system says to avoid such places. God asks us to engage them one more time so He can heal us and move us forward into His preferred future for our lives.
The deeper water was important because in the natural realm this was where the fish were supposed to be. In the Spirit the deeper water is where the destiny of Simon was waiting. Jesus was asking Simon to trust Him as he led Simon back to a place that Simon felt was still empty of fish. Our destinies are never formed in places where we feel comfortable and in control. Destinies are formed in places where, unless God shows up, nothing will happen. This is the essence of a deep-water calling.
Can you imagine the conversations that were taking place on the shore? Simon’s fishing friends might have said something like, “Where is Simon going? We just came in from an entire night on the water; the best time to fish and we caught nothing. What is he thinking?” Whenever any of us follow Jesus back into those places of past failure the people on the shore of our lives may never fully understand what they are seeing.
Simon’s test of faith was not getting into the boat the first time with Jesus and sitting in the shallow water close to shore. That is like someone going to a church service – there is not a lot of faith involved in something that has no risk attached and where someone could easily attend without a response.
The test of Simon’s faith would be seen in two parts. First, he needed to respond to the Lord’s request for him to return to the deep water that had proved unproductive. Second, he had to actually go through and repeat the very act he had failed in just hours before - he needed to let down his nets in front of all the people. Faith is exercised in a specific place and requires a specific act. To be asked to take a step of faith will reveal where we have placed our trust and it will confront our greatest fears.
In the current financial situation some have decided to remain on shore in a maintenance mode and not re-engage their life and calling for fear that only lack awaits them. We can hunker down and freeze up in times like these, but God has miracles of provision waiting for His people if they will trust Him enough to go back out into the deep water with Him and let down their nets one more time.
Today, the Lord is always in our boats. He never leaves us or forsakes us. We never have to invite Him into our boat. He is always here with us. The text of Luke 5 took place before the Resurrection. Before the Resurrection Jesus approached people and interacted with them, but did not live within them. After the Resurrection God’s presence lives within His people and that interaction is at a deeper and more intimate level because of the Spirit’s abiding presence. Believing and understanding that God is always with us is a tremendous truth. A low-grade depression can set in as the servants of God look up and see only empty boats and an empty future and forget that God lives inside them.
5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” 6 And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! 7 A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.”
At some point the other fishermen got into another boat and began following Jesus and Simon out into the deeper water. Peter’s act of faith drew them away from the shore. This is the nature of faith – it draws others into its experience so they can see the mighty works of God.
The harvest of fish that Jesus directed Simon towards was a supernatural harvest. We only experience this kind of harvest if we are willing to deal with our fear of a repeated future failure and move past that fear and try once again because we realize Jesus is in our boat.
Every life can settle into a maintenance mode. Someone experiences the pain of divorce and vows to never risk love again. They remain alone on the shore of life and mend nets that will never again be cast towards love. Another fails in ministry and feels like damaged goods living on the perimeter of God’s Kingdom. They try to prove they are whole by living within the confines of shore life forgetting that the calling of God is never revoked if God has access to heal what caused the failure in the first place.
These maintained places are like the fishing nets the fishermen had to clean each day. These nets were only designed to contain a naturally measured harvest. Human nets will tear under the weight of supernatural expansion. These same valued nets – the life source of a fisherman – would soon be left on the seashore as they walked away with Jesus.
8 “When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” 9 For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.”
When God does something new, in love He will begin these new seasons by revealing to us those inhibiting places where our brokenness and fear have been allowed to rule our thoughts and actions. Some of this brokenness and fear is what we have used to make life work without faith. These things stand in the way of our seeing how much God loves us and how much He plans to do through our acts of obedience and trust.
Jesus wanted Simon to not be afraid of the unknown and the things he didn’t understand. He was asking Simon to press through his need to understand everything that was taking place and simply trust that He was with Simon. God’s greatest work takes place beyond our human reasoning and understanding. This is where the power of God’s presence is most clearly seen. Jesus was asking Simon to not be afraid. A new season and a new life-assignment were about to take place if Simon would trust the Lord.
Awestruck and amazed were two words used to describe the events that took place that day out on the deep water. People have used these same words for 2,000 years to describe life when Jesus shows up.
These men left their boats, their fishing nets and their known lifestyles to follow Jesus. It would no longer be about boats, open water and fishing nets filled by human measurement. These disciples could now leave the known for the unknown because they were being led by His presence into future places of supernatural harvest.