The Discouraged Fishermen

A look at John 21.

Andrew Fearing is an associate editor of the Ministry.

The disciples of old gave up a good fishing business in the belief that the Man in the seamless gar­ment would broaden their lives, give them opportunity to serve mankind, and assure them a place in the kingdom of God. They were to fish for men. However, in spite of three and one-half years of the closest companionship, with the ablest speaker and most in­spired counselor available, they grew discouraged. It is all re­corded in John, the twenty-first chapter.

Now the Master was gone, and they somehow failed to realize the presence of the Holy Spirit, who was sent in His name—sent to take His place in their lives. True, they had deserted the Master when their companionship was most needed; and nothing weighs a man down with discour­agement and defeat like failure. It was all like a dream—the blind given sight, the lepers healed, the lame walking, the sea calmed, the multitudes fed, the withered hand restored, the dead raised to life.

They were surely all conscious of the divine commission so recently given, but here they were, strolling along the sea­shore, frustrated and perplexed. I can see one skipping smooth stones across the lake; another digging a hole in the sand with his sandal; another with a little stick is draw­ing a picture in the sand. I see Peter sitting on the shore, tossing little pebbles. Sud­denly he jumps to his feet and exclaims: "I'm going fishing! My wife needs a new dress, and my children need sandals."

"That's a good idea," said the others. "We'll go with you." Now, was that what they were ordained and commissioned to do?

After gathering the old equipment they ventured into the old life again. All night long they used their old skills, but all in vain. "This is a fine predicament. Now we don't even know how to fish. He promised us success, and look at us now—an empty boat. Let's quit and go home!"

As they neared the shore they saw what appeared to be a stranger standing on the sand with a little fire at his feet. Imagine it! They had been with
Christ for three and one-half years, but they were so disheart­ened and low of spirit within a few hours without Jesus that they did not recognize Him by sight or by voice. I have talked with one-time earnest preachers who somehow have been lured away from their high calling, and they seem to have lost all knowledge of the dedication and vision of what God wanted to do for them, and with them. The miracles performed, the victories gained, the power received—all seem to be erased from their memory. They could not recall the experience they once knew; their past fondest hopes were now mere will-o'-the-wisps.

The stranger called: "Children, have ye any meat?"

"No," they answered.

"Then cast your net on the right side," He suggested.

"What do you mean, 'right side'? Don't you think we know how to fish? We are old hands at this business. We dropped the nets on all sides all night long and caught nothing."

Nevertheless they did what the stranger advised, and, lo, an abundance of fish. Without any question it was a miracle. The stranger must be Jesus. John exclaimed, "It is the Lord!" Suddenly Peter lost his interest in fishing. He girt his coat about him and jumped into the sea, for he could not wait for the boat to carry him in. His wave of discouragement was gone. Jesus was with him again; and all was well.

The Master did not scold, find fault, or criticize them. He invited them to dine with Him. He already had His own fish upon the fire, and yet He asked the fisher­men to bring their catch to add to His. He is willing to use what we possess in talents, skills, and training, to share with what He will give to produce a feast of blessings in our ministry.

Let us always keep in mind, though, that He knew more about fishing than all those disciples put together. He knows too, what He wants to do with us in His program of "fishing" for men. He knows the longing de­sire that we have to be able fishermen. He knows our dreams, our hopes to achieve great soul-winning success for His kingdom, and above all, He knows how to make that possible.

What made the difference in that fishing experience with the disciples? First, they toiled in their own strength. The second time, they toiled with Jesus.

Many years ago when times were hard a large church in downtown Philadelphia endeavored to help the poor by operating a woodyard at the back of the church. It was planned that the men should cut and sell wood and thus make sufficient profit for the church to feed them. The men worked hard and long with their hand­saws, but try as they would they could not even make expenses. A businessman, ob­serving their plight, suggested his willing­ness to help by combining motors with the handsaws. Immediately they began to show a profit. What was the difference? Same saw, same old teeth. Last week they lost money; this week they showed a profit. The answer: Last week they were run by manpower; this week they were run by motor power. Everything depends upon the power behind you, be it your own power or God's power.

We need a power outside of ourselves. The preaching of this great message of reconciliation, of a soon-coming Saviour, and preparing men and women to stand before the judgment, is far beyond any of us to accomplish of ourselves. At the same time, the enemy of our souls is constantly seeking to defeat us, to engulf us in dis­couragement, to rob us of our high calling, and to lead us away from the path of service and keep us from fishing for men. Yet there is no reason for us ever to be afraid or to have the slightest doubt. During a terrible storm at sea Christ ques­tioned His disciples something like this: "Why are you fearful? Why do you have no faith? Have you not learned to have confidence in Me? 1AThere I am there is safety. With Me there is power even over a turbulent sea. Why do you doubt My abil­ity and willingness to protect you, oh, you of little faith?"

Faith is power for us. Let us put our­selves unreservedly in God's hand and fully trust Him for the work and accom­plishments for each day. He invites us to walk, to live, to love, to minister, to follow and obey Him, even though we do not see the road ahead. He entreats us to give our­selves completely away, even though we do not understand what He is trying to do with our life.

"Children, have ye any meat?" In other words, should we yield to the temptation to turn away from "fishing for men"? What would be gained? Would it bring us suc­cess, happiness, satisfaction, peace of heart, tranquillity of mind? Would entering into the commercial world, turning away from our high calling, really be worthwhile? Let us keep our net on the "right side," and place our faith, our confidence, our reliance, and our trust in the Master. The disciples learned as we, too, may learn, that our God has not called us to disappointment and failure but has called us to success and victory in His service.

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Andrew Fearing is an associate editor of the Ministry.

November 1964

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