Many of us who claim to be Jesus' disciples today treat our personal life like a roll top desk. Far more than dividing things into secular and sacred, each of us subdivides much of our life to help us cope with all our responsibilities, interests, and personas. We keep our different areas of interest and involvement separate from each other in separate cubbyholes. If we are honest, we even keep a few of our areas of interest very separate from our "God stuff." We simply don't want our spiritual interests interfering with these other areas of self-interest!
So we have a cubbyhole for recreation. We have another for vacation. We keep a special drawer full of stuff for work responsibilities, relationships, and politics. We also have a cubby for parenting, hobbies, and investing. We even have a "God stuff" cubby for our Christian "Facebooking" as well as our church friends and church life. If we're completely honest, some of us also have an "opposite of God stuff" internet cubby. This place is where we keep all sorts of things we really don't want God to interfere or influence what we do.
When things get really messy, we pull down the roll top desk and everything looks "fine" on the outside to others. We punch our "I'm fine!" button and head to church, pray for help, read Ann Voskamp, check out Max Lucado books, or seek a counselor. The problem is everything on our inside is a scrambled and mixed up mess. Under the roll top, there is no ordering Lord to bring coherence and purpose to our multi-personalised jumbled up mess. Which brings us to this week's "Saved at Sea" segment with Jesus.
Jesus' entourage followed him to the seashore on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee. This part of the sea of Galilee was called Lake Gennesaret. Peter and his homie-fishing buddies were washing their nets after a long night of work. Suddenly they were overrun by the God-squad of people wanting to hear Jesus and see one of his miracles.
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 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 (Luke 5:1-3).
Why did Jesus come to the seashore? He knew the crowd would follow him there. Sure, the acoustics were good in this place. Yes, a boat makes a great pulpit, and this location on the lake makes a great amphitheater. Is there possibly something more to this moment than just a good place for a sermon for the masses? Let's ask another question and see if we can't find out what's going on in this important moment.
Why did Jesus really interrupt Peter and his buddies? Did he need Peter's boat or was he trying to win the heart of the boat owner? A quick reading of the story (Luke 5:1-11) sure seems to suggest that Jesus was on a "fishing expedition" of his own!
Jesus commandeered a boat. He used this boat, the water, and the shape of the shoreline as his amphitheater. But, notice who owned the boat! Simon Peter, the guy who would one day be the leader of Jesus' apostles. So as we pay close attention to what's happening, we realize the audience that came to hear Jesus wasn't Jesus' target audience for this moment. Jesus was after bigger fish than a herd of fickle people who made up the crowds that often followed him! He was looking for dedicated disciples who would become world-changing disciple-makers. Jesus was looking for people who would do anything and give up everything to follow him... obey him... and carry on his mission.
So instead of offering an invitation song or an altar call with 10 verses of "Just as I AM" to get the crowd to respond, Jesus surprisingly told Simon Peter, "Hey buddy, let's go fishing!"
When he [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch" (Luke 5:4).
However, there was a huge problem with what Jesus said. Everybody who knew anything about fishing in Jesus' day knew you didn't go fishing with Peter's kind of nets in daylight. Fish could see and avoid them. Also, everybody who knew anything about fishing in the Sea of Galilee knew you didn't catch fish with these kinds of nets in deep water. They were most effective for fish near the surface. On top of that, everybody who knew anything about fishing in those days knew you needed to be fishing at night or in the dusk of dawn and sunset. You weren't going to catch anything at the time of day Jesus was speaking to the crowds!
What makes Jesus' command all the more interesting, Simon Peter knew fishing better than "everybody who knew anything about fishing in Jesus' day." Fishing was Peter's life. Fishing was Peter's livelihood. He fished every day. He knew how to catch fish. He earned his living catching fish. He took care of his wife and family catching fish. He had partners with whom he fished regularly. So Peter knew what Jesus was asking was crazy, yet...
Simon [Peter] answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets" (Luke 5:5).
In cornbread English, Peter is saying, "The fish aren't biting, or I would have caught them last night. But if I am going to call you Lord over spiritual stuff, then I'd better let you be Lord of all my stuff... even the stuff I know best, my boat and my fishing!"
Peter's actions rattle my roll top desk approach to life. They make me ask myself, "Is there a place in my life — one of those little cubbyholes — where I need to say, "But because you say so, Jesus, I will let you have control of my life even here. I want you to be Lord over all of my stuff, all of my places, and all of my cubbyholes!"
When Peter obeyed, look what happened!
They caught fish! They caught a lot of fish. They caught a boat-sinking amount of fish. Bottom line, it was the wrong time, wrong place, and wrong nets to catch fish. But... Peter obeyed because even though everything else was wrong, he had the right Lord! Peter obeyed, and nets started breaking. Buddies begin helping. Boats begin sinking. Every fisherman's dream catch is happening!
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 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 (Luke 5:6-7).
And Jesus' best catch of the day was not a catch of fish, but a catch of fishermen! We could rightly alter the old saying to read this way:
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to teach others to fish, and you change the world forever because you've transformed his friends and him from fishermen into a disciple-makers.
Notice what happens next!
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will fish for people."
So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:8-11).
Peter recognized he was in the presence of the great I AM, the living LORD, God Almighty, God who is holy, holy, holy (Isiah 6:1-9). Jesus was no longer just a preacher or a prophet. Jesus out fished the fisherman. He was Lord of the seas and all that is in them! Jesus gets Peter to the place where he needs to be — humble and repentant.
Jesus had this special group's attention; he told them, "Guys, we've got something a lot more important to fish for than fish. I need you to join me and let's fish for people!" He called them to a higher calling and a higher form of fishing. So they pulled their boats up on the shore and left everything — the boats, the crowds, the lifestyle, and their prized biggest catch of fish ever and followed Jesus into a world-changing future!
On that special day on the seashore, Peter and his buddies had a collision of their roll top desk way of doing life and Jesus who wanted to be Lord of everything, even their boat and their fishing.
In much the same way, Jesus is confronting you and me. He is challenging us to identify our "boat." What's the area of our lives that we haven't yielded control to his lordship? Where's the area of my life that I keep cubbyholed away from my "God stuff" because I think I know how to do life better in that area than the Lord? What have I reserved to my "boat" because I don't want to have it changed by Jesus?
Ouch! These are hard questions. These are questions we don't want to ask. We don't even won't want to acknowledge these questions are legitimate. But the Holy Spirit keeps nudging us with these questions. Then suddenly this episode in the life of Peter is a lot more than a simple fishing story from long ago and far, far away. Suddenly Jesus wants this to be my story, my boat, my catch, and my following him.
Notice that at first, Jesus used Peter's boat for a place to speak to the hearts of people. But before he could use Peter's boat in this way, Peter had to yield control over his boat to Jesus! I wonder what Jesus is calling me to use my "boat" to do?
Peter was a fisherman. His boat was his life. His boat was the place he could cuss like a sailor, be a real man doing a real man's job, and feel free to do whatever he wanted because it was his boat. Suddenly, Jesus being Lord infiltrated and permeated every cubbyhole and drawer in Peter's roll top desk. Suddenly, the boat was no longer his boat, but the Lord's boat! The next things you know, Jesus is calling Peter to a whole new way of fishing!
Which leaves some pinch points for you and me. That's because what Jesus did with Peter's boat, the Lord is longing to do with your "boat" and my "boat"!
The truth is, most of us today spend a lot more time in our "boat" than in our pews or even our beds. Work and recreation take up a much larger chunk of our time than sleep and church and "God-stuff." So the nature of our discipleship is not determined so much by our "God-stuff" time as it is our work and recreation time — our "boat" time. Peter's great fishing trip reminds us that Jesus is Lord when we are in our "boat", or he is not Lord at all!
Some of us are called to leave our boat and be used by the Lord in special ways. Many more of us are called to stay in our "boat" and let Jesus use our "boat" to bring grace to those around us. Either way, we've got to be brave enough to let Jesus be Lord of our "boat"! We've got to open up every cubbyhole in our roll top desk and let Jesus mess with our mess until it's redeemed. We've got to admit that if Jesus can out fish Peter as a fisherman, he can out redeem me in my messes and use my "boat" to bring that blessing to others.
So here's the big question for you and me to ask ourselves today: "What is my boat?"
And here's the second one: When am I going to fall on my knees before Jesus and ask him to be Lord — not just of my "God-stuff," but also of my "boat"?