IF YOU’RE GOING TO FOLLOW JESUS, you have to leave the fish

OK, to be honest, I wanted to use John Ortberg’s title: IF YOU WANT TO WALK ON WATER, YOU’VE GOT TO GET OUT OF THE BOAT. It’s brilliant, capturing the life of faith in one pithy line. But that’s Ortberg’s title and besides, I’m talking about a different passage of scripture.

The lesson, however, is surely the same: Once you know who Jesus really is, amazement and awe aren’t enough of a response; he calls you to take action. In fact, he calls you to take a risk.

Luke 5:1-11 records the calling of the first disciples, Simon Peter, James and John; partners in a little fishing LLC on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. The beginning of a new adventure came at the end of a depressing shift for the three friends. They’d “worked hard all night,” with nothing to show for it and were cleaning their nets when Jesus asked to borrow a boat to put some distance between himself and the crowd he was teaching. Not being one to lend his boat to a land-lubber, Simon pulled him out a ways and listened as Jesus spoke. No doubt the effect on the rough-hewn fisherman was like that in other places the young rabbi taught: amazement and awe.

That’s when things got interesting.

On finishing his talk, Jesus, who in my imagination must have had a funny grin on his face, looked at Simon and, like a man challenging a friend to a foot race said, “Row out into the deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Put yourself in Simon’s sandals for a minute. You don’t know this guy from Adam. Well, OK, maybe his reputation has preceded him, but today is the first day you’ve ever seen him in person, seen him in action. And yeah, OK, he’s a pretty good teacher. But fish? He doesn’t know a carp from a catfish and he obviously doesn’t know anything about their feeding habits. “Ya see Rabbi,” he says politely, “we fish at night, up to sunrise, because that’s the best time for a catch. In fact we fished all night and got nada.” Hint, hint! I’m tired, my buddies are tired. We have more work to do before we can call it a day, and now you’re asking us for uncompensated overtime. But something in Jesus’ eye, something in his body-language must have moved Simon. “Ok, just because you say so, I’ll let down the nets,” but I know nothing’s gonna happen!

Well, you know the rest of the story. The catch was so big Simon had to call for help to pull it in. More importantly, Simon understood he was in the presence of immeasurable spiritual power. Understandably, he asked to be excused. “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

But Jesus had other plans, plans that would not only change Simon Peter’s life, but the whole world. The catch was that Simon and his partners would have to leave the fish, so to speak. If they were to follow Jesus, they had to leave their boats, leave their home town, leave the only life they knew, leave everything familiar; even leave their livelihood. That’s a tough call for any man.

Here’s the deal. It’s one thing to hear the Word of God and say, “Wow! That was really good. It spoke to me.” It’s another thing entirely to act on what you’ve heard; to so trust the One who is calling you that you will take a risk for him in the land of the familiar, in your boat with your nets on “your” lake. If we do take that step, the likelihood is that we will see something amazing and be compelled to worship. It is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. We may even be compelled to say, “Please go away, I’m not good enough to hang around you.”

That’s when things will get really interesting. “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” There is no end to what God can do with a repentant man who will put everything on the line to follow him.

So what is Jesus asking you to do this week? Where is he asking you to take a risk? Do it! And watch for what comes next.

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