I have never gone fishing. Not only because I’ve never had the opportunity, but because I think I’d be horrible at it.
I’m told the key to being a good fisherman is to have patience (I got this mainly from one of Papa Pope’s well-executed rants, so correct me if you’re a skilled fisherman and I’m wrong lol), and as I’ve said before, I have the patience of a 4-year old. Can’t wait, don’t want to, won’t do it.
And then there’s the process of cleaning the fish after you’ve caught it. Growing up as the youngest daughter in a Ghanaian household, you know I had to learn how to clean fish – and boy did I hate it. Getting off all the scales and pulling out all the disgusting innards and blood and guck everywhere – ick. It was such a painstaking, time-consuming, and gut-wrenching process.
Needless to say, I like my fish pre-packaged and in the seafood section of my local grocery store, thank you very much.
The reason I have fish on my mind is because my pastor said something in passing last night that got me in my thoughts and feelings about the way I often approach the cause of Christ. He said:
God didn’t call us to clean the fish –
He just called us to catch them.
And what he was referring to was this habit we often have as Christians where we pick our ‘catch’ depending on how easy we think they will be to clean. We toss the net of our testimony and God’s Word overboard, catch some fish, the proceed to sort through our catch to determine what’s edible or what will taste the best or be the quickest to clean and cook. Everything that doesn’t make our cut, we throw back in the sea.
“Your sin is too big.” we rationalize. “I don’t have what it takes to help you.”
“Your unbelief is too strong. I don’t have the patience to convince you.”
“Your fears and apprehensions are way too glaring.”
“You’re just not going to work with the atmosphere we’re trying to create here.”
“Sorry, the front pews are reserved for active members – we’ll seat you over here with the rest of the single mothers.” (yes, I know a church that does this!)
And with the choice catch that does make the cut and we deem worthy of our Father’s table, we proceed to gut and clean and chop the best way WE know how, with no regard for God’s unique purpose, timing, and plan in their lives.
As I meditated on this idea, God showed me some of the ways I’d made this mistake in my own life – focusing on what seemed ‘easy prey’, not realizing I’m not even the one really doing the fishing in the first place, and it’s never been up to me to clean and prepare the fish either. I even remember categorically telling someone, ‘Oh, I don’t think I’m called for the hardcore unbelievers – I don’t have the patience to deal with the push-back.”, as if I was ever going to be the one to convince them of Christ and his love. As if their salvation and righteous-living was solely up to how well I could present my evidence. As if there was ever anything I could say in my own power that would make anyone whole and healed and repentant and open to knowing Jesus.
And I can’t count the number of other times I’ve either been dissuaded altogether by the daunting task of having to ‘clean the fish’, or been so consumed with getting what I have caught squeaky clean, that I haven’t bothered to go out and catch more.
Thinking about this took me to John 21, when Jesus had just risen and the disciples found themselves out fishing:
After this, Jesus appeared again to the disciples, this time at the Tiberias Sea (the Sea of Galilee). This is how he did it: Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed “Twin”), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the brothers Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter announced, “I’m going fishing.” The rest of them replied, “We’re going with you.” They went out and got in the boat. They caught nothing that night. When the sun came up, Jesus was standing on the beach, but they didn’t recognize him. Jesus spoke to them: “Good morning! Did you catch anything for breakfast?” They answered, “No.” He said, “Throw the net off the right side of the boat and see what happens.” They did what he said. All of a sudden there were so many fish in it, they weren’t strong enough to pull it in. Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Master!” When Simon Peter realized that it was the Master, he threw on some clothes, for he was stripped for work, and dove into the sea. The other disciples came in by boat for they weren’t far from land, a hundred yards or so, pulling along the net full of fish. When they got out of the boat, they saw a fire laid, with fish and bread cooking on it. Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught.” Simon Peter joined them and pulled the net to shore—153 big fish! And even with all those fish, the net didn’t rip. Jesus said, “Breakfast is ready.” Not one of the disciples dared ask, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Master.
Now remember, some of these men were skilled fishermen – definitely better fishermen than they were disciples at this point. If there was anything they knew, it was fish. Any good fisherman knows you get the best catch at night/in the wee hours of the morning, so by morning, having caught nothing, the disciples must have been grumpy and frustrated.
“Did you catch anything for breakfast?” A voice yells from shore. I imagine Thomas rolling his eyes as they yell back ‘No.’ The voice yells for them to cast the net on the other side of the boat. I don’t know why they listened. Maybe they were just at the end of their rope and open to suggestions. Maybe at this point they’d gotten so used to being asked to do random stuff that they were like, what the heck. But when they went ahead and cast the net on the right side of the boat, they made a catch.
And what a catch it was! 153 HUGE fish. They weren’t strong enough to pull it in. Call me lazy, but my first instinct if I’d been there would have been to throw out the big fish – they’re weighing down the net, and they’ll probably rip it, right? But then again, maybe I’d throw out the little fish – after all, they couldn’t feed as many people as the big fish would, and better a few big fish than a ton of tiny ones. Or maybe I would have sorted through the net while it was still in the water and picked only the fish I liked, throwing out the ones that weren’t my taste. Or maybe I’d just think the catch was way too big, and sorting through them was too much of a task – and man, who has the time to clean all those fish anyway – and just throw them all back out altogether.
But Jesus told them to bring in the entire catch. He didn’t ask them to pick and choose the ones they liked, or to clean them or prepare them. He didn’t say, throw half of them back in the sea because ‘ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat’ – he just asked them to bring the fish to him.
In like manner, God hasn’t asked us to get people to stop sinning, or to bring him the people who are most likely to stop sinning. If we had the power or influence to do that on our own, then Jesus died in vain. I promise you not even the best sermon preached on earth could make a dent in the hearts of man if not for the hand of God. But how many times have you and I found ourselves so consumed with trying to get people clean in our own ability and on our own time? How many times have we made salvation projects out of a chosen few, writing other people off as lost causes because they never get clean enough for our liking, or just fail to go out and catch more because we think we have/have done enough?
Jesus is saying to us, “Don’t get so consumed with the task of getting the fish clean that you fail to bring them. You couldn’t clean or prepare them on your own if you tried. You wouldn’t know where to start. You don’t know how to take the bones out of difficult places, or cut them in a way that doesn’t ruin them. You don’t know what purpose I have for them. You don’t know if I’m making fish filets, or sushi, or kabobs with them. You don’t know if I want to keep the fins on, or the eyes are of use to me. You might look at this fish and think it looks poisonous and will spoil the soup, but see, I make ALL things clean and edible. I am the Master Chef. I can take what seems like a puny, inedible catch and make it into a four course meal.”
“So stop being so consumed with getting what you’ve caught clean,” he says. “Go out, catch more. Cast your nets over there – the place you never would have thought to cast them before – and fill your nets to the point of breaking. Then bring them to me. Give them ME. I am the Word, the truth, and the light. So give them the Word that is the Truth and reflect my light with your lives. This is not about getting people to stop sinning. This is about changing hearts, and it’s not your responsibility to change hearts – only God can change hearts.”
As I was writing this, the Pokemon slogan popped in my head – ‘Gotta catch ’em all!’ That should really be our objective. Not to catch what we think we can handle, or what looks appealing, but to catch them ALL. Not everyone will respond to God’s call in the same way, or at the same time. We might be looking for immediate results, but God is looking for lasting ones – and sometimes lasting results take a lot of time and a lot of love, and always a WHOLE lot of Jesus.