A few years back my wife Karen and I went to Hawaii for a little rest and relaxation. Fortunately we have friends there, Steve and Chris Boyl, who welcomed us to their beautiful home near Kona. Steve is a building contractor but his real passion is fishing. He owns a little fishing boat and is always ready to use it. Though I don't eat the fish we catch, I do enjoy the sun and the water. I must also say that after numerous fishing excursions with Steve and his friends, I understand better than ever why Jesus said that if we followed Him, He would make us "fishers of men."
No matter how busy Steve is with numerous building projects and deadlines, he always has enough time to go fishing. It's as though his construction work only serves to support his fishing addiction. Every Christian should be a fish-a-holic! Whatever our career, it should serve the purpose of our soul-winning endeavors. Paul made tents so he could have funds to save more souls.
A real fisherman does not give up easily. When on Steve's boat, if we were unsuccessful in one place, we went to another. Some days the catch was bigger than others, but Steve always refused to return empty. He would continue until he caught something. If only we were so dedicated in catching "men."
A fishing boat is a tool, not an ornament
Steve's boat has caught tons of fish but will never win a beauty contest. It looks more like a floating toolbox. Twenty-five feet of fiber glass built around a large icebox for fish, that's about it (along with a motor, one chair for the captain, and a live bait chamber under it). Not even a primitive bathroom could be found on board! Every aspect of the vessel was designed with one purpose in mind to catch fish. But even though Steve's boat isn't a beauty, he is not too proud to make the most of modern technology as he outfits it. He uses fish radar, hydraulic reels, and sophisticated lures.
I believe this should be the pattern for our churches. All our programs and plans should revolve around the goal of reaching people. We should be willing to use everything from satellite to video if it reaches people. Too many churches are not much more than luxury liners built for the comfort, convenience and entertainment of a shipload of passengers rather than a productive crew of fishermen. As Paul Harvey once said; "We have been called to be fishers of men, not keepers of the aquarium."
"The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise" (Prov. 11:30).
You must go where the fish are
Sometimes when we were out with Steve, we had to slowly plow through the ocean for long hours to reach a spot where the fish were. It would have been much safer and cleaner to have left the boat and its trailer on dry land so we could simply fish from the shore, but the big fish were far out in the deep water. We cannot allow our churches to become exclusive clubs that shut out the needy world, in an effort to be insulated from the contamination and uncomfortable, demanding needs of real people. We must be willing to go after the fish where they are, and to bring them in. The world is hungering for truth; we must go to where these hungry people are.
While out in the deep water, it was fairly common for sharks, barracuda, or other predators to show up when we started catching fish. Sometimes they would eat our prize just before we pulled it into the boat. A skillful devil, seeking whom he may devour, always knows when to come around just as people are making their decision to come to Christ. Because we knew there were some formidable sea monsters under the boat, we never got in the water ourselves. We do not reach sinners by joining them in their situations.
Sometimes to locate fish, you must look up
I was always impressed by Steve's uncanny ability to find the fish in a trackless ocean. One simple way he did this was to watch the birds. A flock of gulls or other sea birds working the water often meant schools of small fish below, and where small fish were, usually bigger fish were not far away. In the same way, when fishing for men, we will often need to look up searching fear-the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Some of the places the Spirit leads may at first look very unpromising, but where He leads there are often fish of all sizes.
"For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7).
Fish are attracted to the light
For some reason we always caught the most fish at night. I know how Peter must have felt when he said, "we fished all night. . . ." But unlike Peter's fruitless night fishing, we always caught plenty during our nights out. After sundown we would drop a waterproof light into the sea off the back of the boat. Soon we could see thousands of creatures, big and small, swarming around our light. One night we accidentally unplugged the light. When we discovered the problem and plugged the cord back in, all our fish were gone. They had moved to a neighboring boat where the light was still burning.
If the light of Jesus is shining through us, people will be attracted to where we are. People struggling in darkness come to light as surely as do the fish of the sea or the moths that are beckoned by a porch light on a dark night. I know what Jesus meant when He said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). Keeping that light burning brightly will attract people to Christ.
Different methods catch different fish
Another basic lesson I learned from Steve's fishing was that each species of fish is caught with different bait and varying techniques. For marlin we used a pole. When it came to large tuna it was a hand line along with particular bait fish. The marlin were near the surface while the big tuna were down deep. Fishing with a pole or a line is like having one-on-one studies with a searching soul. On the other hand, a net is more like public evangelism.
One rule applied to all fish: you can not force them into the boat. You must wait until they stop fighting to reel them in or you will break the line. On my last fishing trip, in the middle of the night I caught a 25-pound Alua with a 15-pound test line, but it took 20 minutes. In the same way, when catching "men" one needs a tender touch and special patience or the line will break and the fish will get away.
One of the best ways to catch a fish is with a fresh fish. Many times Steve would take a small fish he had just caught, put a hook in it, and throw it back out in an effort to catch a bigger one. New converts with their first love are often the most enthusiastic to tell their friends and family about Jesus. To reach different kinds of individuals, God uses all kinds of people with a variety of gifts to reach a diverse spectrum of souls. Everybody can be used by God in some capacity to reach someone.
If fishermen work together, they catch more fish
On one trip out we hooked a 300-pound marlin. There were four of us and we landed that trophy only by working together. Steve steered the boat, Jerry pulled the line and kept it out of the motor, Joe shot at the incoming sharks, took pictures and helped me work the reel. It took all four of us to lift the monster into the boat and we all rejoiced on our way back to shore!
The Bible tells us that when Peter followed Jesus' instruction and dropped his net one more time after the fruitless night of fishing, not only was his boat filled but he called for John and James to assist. As a result, both boats were filled to over flowing.
"So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink" (Luke 5:7). If God's people would lay aside competitive pride and work together in saving souls we could accomplish so much more. Paul said, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase" (1 Cor. 3:6).
Fishermen are notorious for telling colorful, often exaggerated stories of their adventures and exploits. Someone once said; "If Jesus could make a crew of fishermen honest, there is hope for everyone." The truth is that "humble" fishermen everywhere quiver with excitement every time they have an opportunity to tell the story of their adventures, and especially as they relay the accounts of how they have made their largest catches.
How much better it will be for the fishers of men when, through the ages of eternity, we will be able to tell our stories with beaming faces.
"And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to right eousness as the stars for ever and ever" (Dan. 12:3).
There are still plenty of fish in the sea. We must have more fishermen.