When Reeling In Empty Nets Means You’re Doing Everything Right
Writing is like fishing. You cast out a net, and drag it back to see if you’ve caught anything worth keeping. Sometimes I feel like a greenhorn on the deck of the Northwestern on the Deadliest Catch. Occasionally I’ll pull in a net full of great ideas that I eagerly unload, and then there are the nets that come up full of deep sea trash. After pulling in one too many empty nets this week, I have a whole new appreciation for Peter and his fruitless night of fishing on the lake of Gennesaret.
Teach a Man to Fish
Peter and his brother Andrew were business partners and seasoned fishermen. Taking advantage of the cooler temps, they would fish through the night, and take their catch to the market each morning. From tender ages, they’d grown up on the water as their father taught them when to fish close to shore, and when to launch out into the deep. They knew where the fish liked to congregate, and how to watch the surface of the water to track the movement underneath. The rhythmic motion of casting, waiting, watching, drawing in, and emptying the nets, was as ingrained in their memories, as it was in their muscles. And yet, despite their years of experience and skill, each toss of the net was a new act of faith. Would they pull in enough for the day?
Does your life feel like that? You’re consistently casting out your nets, and dragging them back empty. Maybe it’s a business you’ve nurtured from the ground up, or a person you keep loving and praying for, or the thankless and repetitive work of being a mom or dad. If there was an easier way, you’d do it, but there are no shortcuts for the work that must be done. You get up everyday and wash, rinse, repeat, and pray that the Lord will move enough fish around so you can bring in the haul. Your nets might seem empty, but it’s not for lack of effort.
Fishing in Troubled Waters
In Luke 5, Peter had just come in from a fruitless night of fishing. He did what he always did, and on this particular night, it resulted in a big fat zero. Surely it was not unheard of to catch nothing, but for all the toil, sweat, and burdens he carried, it was discouraging, nonetheless. With nothing to show for his hours of work, he might’ve questioned his line of work. Was this really what he wanted to do with the rest of his life? And then as if on cue to interrupt his spiraling concerns, Jesus showed up followed by a large and noisy crowd.
As the crowd pressed in, Jesus needed to get into Peter’s boat to distance himself from the crowd. Peter sat next to Jesus as he continued to teach from the boat. The distraction was welcomed, and once he had finished teaching and the crowd dispersed, he said to Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4, ESV).
The preaching carpenter from Nazareth entered the fisherman from Galilee’s world, and told him what to do. Peter knew the best fishing was at night, when the fish came to the shallow waters. Now it was the heat of the day. He was tired, and the fish had probably migrated into the deep waters below the reach of the nets. Despite his doubts, Peter obeyed. You can hear the tone of doubt in his response. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5, ESV).
Casting Out in Faith
Peter wasn’t yet a disciple, but he had seen Jesus do enough to call him “Master.” Peter had seen Jesus heal his mother-in-law of a life-threatening fever, and cast out and hushed the demons from a tormented man. Peter knew enough about Jesus to obey. The nets splashed down into the water, and moments later they pulled tight, and the boat started to tip. It was the lottery jackpot of all lottery jackpots! The biggest catch he’d ever dreamed of. It was simple for the Creator of all things. He merely rearranged all the fish in the lake and directed them into Peter’s nets. It wasn’t too hard for Jesus, but it was more than enough to make a believer and a disciple out of Simon Peter.
Maybe as little boys Peter and Andrew would dream about what it would be like to catch all the fish in the whole lake. What would they do with the money? How would that change their lives? But in this moment of miraculous provision, the financial windfall was irrelevant to Peter. At once he realized who he was because of who was with him in his boat. He fell down at Jesus’ knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8, ESV). In a moment, and without hesitation, he left the overflowing boats, and his old life as a fisherman, to become a fisher of men.
What are Your ‘Net Results’?
Are you pulling in empty nets? So often we think that the fullness of our nets is a direct correlation to the effectiveness of our labors. Sometimes we compare our nets to someone else’s and they seem empty by comparison. But life (and fishing), is rarely about hitting the jackpot. We may dare to dream, but reward is usually the result of faithful, repetitive, non-glamorous toil. Doing what we know over and over again, and reaping a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).
Has the carpenter from Nazareth entered your boat and asked you to launch out into the deep? Launching out may mean you need to do something differently, or it could mean faithfully doing what you’re already doing. Why is it that sometimes the same action you’ve repeated over and over, suddenly works? Or sometimes doing something differently, like casting out into the deep in the heat of the day, finally produces the outcome you needed all along? The only logical answer is that the Lord is in the heavens and he does as he pleases (Psalm 115:3). It’s not our ingenuity, or tenacity, or our ability to build a better fish trap, that produces the results we crave, but a humble and submissive heart to obey the Master.
May we cast our nets out in faith, and pray he’d do the work that only he can do, and rearrange the fish and fill our nets, for his glory, and our good.
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