The gospel is simply profound. Seeing the kingdom as a pearl with great value or imagining the soul in danger as a sheep that’s wandered from the flock or viewing immersion in water as the cleansing of the conscience is uncomplicated, yet ironically complex in consequence. The precepts of the gospel are elementary, yet infinitely weighty.
So it is with the simple words Jesus said to the Galilean fishermen, as they walked away from their nets to answer the invitation that would forever change their worlds. He said to them “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).
Every Christian who has ever cast a hook into the lake at sunrise has surely pondered this “fisherman” analogy while sitting quietly, patiently under a tree watching the “bobber” rhythmically move with the placid waves. I got to spend an early morning last week on the bank of Lake Guntersville. I’d been thinking about how you don’t catch a fish every time you cast. In fact, it usually takes a lot of casting, waiting, winding, re-baiting and re-casting before you ever get a fish on the line. I considered how many contacts we have to make before we get an interested, seeking soul. I thought about how those nearby boatmen were making so much noise that, surely, the fish in this part of the lake would be driven to deeper, quieter waters. So it is with the gospel. Distractions and disturbances cause many to go the other way.
I saw about ten big turtles for every fish I saw. (Really, that lake must be a Chelonian reptile sanctuary.) Sometimes, in evangelism, the reptiles (particularly the old snake of the garden) are so busy that the fish can’t even find the bait that is the gospel. There are just many very simple, but profound, comparisons one thinks about on the fishing bank.
But then there was this big one (analogy and fish) that was the highlight of that morning at the lake. My husband, who wasn’t fishing, and I were quietly talking about a marriage problem in a faraway place that was on both our minds as we texted counsel from that fishing bank. I’d been praying about it for several days and, well, I had just became absorbed in the conversation, when a very strong pull on my rod (which was in my lap) bolted me from that bench as I threw my phone at my husband, shouting “Take this!”
“What’s wrong?” he shouted.
“I’m fishing! I have a fish…a big one!”
I got to the business of giving that rod a big yank and reeling in that line for dear life. I could already see myself telling the grandchildren, my fishing buddies, about this…well… at least four pound…bass. I t was a long and energetic “reeling in” to the cheers of my supportive photographer.
But alas, just as that fish surfaced—just above the water, giving a massive jerk, he broke my line. That line must have had a worn or weak place just above the bobber because, that’s where it broke. I wished, if that big fish was going to break my line, he could have broken it near the hook, swam away, and I could have forgotten about him. But, as it was, my bobber, floated and bobbed (with flair) all around that little peninsula on which I was sitting, for the next hour. The most disheartening thing was not even that he broke my line and got away. It was watching that bobber’s lively movements, taunting me, looking forevermore like I should be jerking and reeling, when, in reality I had no connection at all, anymore to that bobber or that big fish. I looked for a boat. Someone could put a net under that fish, still. I considered the nearby pool net. It had a long pole attached to it; but, sadly, not long enough. So I just watched my bobber, my fish, as he taunted, teased and jeered at me, still looking, for all the world, like I should be jerking and reeling and having him for supper.
So today… Six lessons (about evangelism) from the one that got away:
- Even if your fish may “get away” in the end, reel with all your might. The practice will be good for you.
- Enlist the help of those people around you. Even if others aren’t “fishing” there’s something they can do. (Holding the phone and taking pictures was not as useful as getting a net would have been.) Help other people become fishers of men, too. (Of course, my husband is a great fisher of men. He just wasn’t a great help that morning on the bank.)
- Be prepared. Don’t go fishing with a line that’s inadequate for the job ahead. (Study the book, pray as if souls depended on it. They do.)
- Try to ignore the lively jig of the bobber after the fish has been lost. (Even the Lord said there are those who will not be “caught”; so we have to cut the losses and rebait (Mark 6:11). Don’t get discouraged by a loss. Make improvements in your “line” and try again.
- Don’t get enamored, involved, engrossed in the lake. My biggest temptation was to jump in there the moment the line broke and try and grab that fish. The result, of course, would have been that I’d have gotten that lake all over me (moss, mud and all) and that fish would still be lost in the deep. That’s the way it is with the world. We can’t jump into the filth of the world in an attempt to get the “big one”. He will still get away and if we’ve jumped into sin, in the process of trying to “influence”, we will still lose the catch. But we will be dirty and full of regret.
- There will always be the taunters. Tie on another hook and “cast your (line) on the other side” (John 21:6).