by Bud Steadman
This article first appeared in the Baptist World Mission Messenger. Used by permission.
In Luke 5:1-11 our Lord used fishing to teach a vital spiritual truth to His disciples. This occasion on the Sea of Galilee was a second call from Christ to some of those who would become apostles, for although He had issued a previous claim upon them (Matthew 4:19), apparently their response had been temporary, and they had returned to their fishing business. In this setting He teaches them an essential key to true success or failure in ministry – God expects us to obey Him, simply because He has spoken. It is at His Word and on the basis of His directive that we spiritually launch out in ministry and lower the nets. While He alone can fill our nets with fish, the foundation of that harvest is obedience to His clear commands.
Like the disciples, so often in our service for Him, we are tempted to compromise this simple principle of obedience in one of several ways:
- Being guided by our friends, instead of what God says. Undoubtedly, there were skilled fishermen on the shore that day watching Peter to see if he was going to obey this man, Jesus. The pressure of their peer opinion would no doubt have influenced with the disciples.
- Being guided by our experiences, instead of what God says. The Lord asked Peter to do something contrary to his expertise in fishing – launch out into the deep in the middle of the day. The Lord was asking a great deal of that knowledgeable and experienced fisherman – He was asking him to trust His Word.
- Being guided by our circumstances, instead of what God says. The Lord asked the disciples to do what the circumstances of the preceding night of fruitless fishing would indicate would be useless. But they needed to learn that obedience to Christ does not hinge upon favorable circumstances.
- Being guided by our fears, instead of what God says. Perhaps Peter’s words in verse 5 were an attempt to protect Jesus from embarrassment in front of the crowd – or to protect himself from the embarrassment of a repeated failure.
The results of obedience to the Word of God are recorded in verses 6-7. As soon as Peter obeyed, two things happened. First of all, obedience to Christ brought a greater than expected success – so great was the catch of fish that their nets began to tear. Secondly, obeying His Word brought an expansion of their ministry – Peter was obliged to call on others to help with the catch. When the Lord’s work is done according to His Word, the prospering that He chooses for our ministry will follow.
From three decades of personal observation I have noted that a number of the servants of Christ in the work of God, both in the U.S. and overseas, have too often based their philosophy and practice of ministry on a faulty footing. To fail to obey Christ in foundational evangelism, discipleship and church-planting is often excused by such statements as “that doesn’t work here” or “we have tried that” or “other pastors say”. Too often I have heard otherwise godly missionaries doubt the ability of God to build His church in a given region of the world because of the failure of previous missionaries to do a lasting work there. The key force that should drive ones ministry is not human observation or wisdom, but the clear command of Jesus Christ coupled with simple faith and obedience. At His command, we must let down the nets and trust Him for the results.
Hudson Taylor, according to his son, Dr. Howard Taylor, often said that the older he became, the harder it was to discern the will of God. When asked what he meant, Hudson Taylor would answer that as people get older, they tend to put their trust in life experiences rather than simply trusting the Word of God. I am afraid too many modern servants of Christ make the same mistake. While we should never fail to learn the lessons of life, all human experience must be brought into complete submission and obedience to the authority of the Word of God. To fail to do so is to bring ruin to the spiritual fruit God desires to produce through our lives and ministries.
Will you make a renewed commitment of obedience to Him in letting down your nets of ministry by faith? He has commanded it!
Dr. Bud Steadman is the Executive Director of Baptist World Mission.