The Lord has an astounding ability to turn every day, ordinary circumstances into extraordinary moments. We expect God to work mightily in the unique, special, and critical moments of life – weddings, funerals, births, graduation ceremonies, illnesses, family crises (and sometimes combinations of these) just to name a few. However, it sometimes feels hard to believe that God is present in – or even cares about – what we think of as the mundane drudgeries of everyday life. After all, we wouldn’t typically think of washing dishes or taking out the garbage as a great spiritual experience. Yet the same Lord of the extraordinary moments of life is also Lord of the ordinary moments of life – stressful days at work, boring days at work, buying groceries at the supermarket, cleaning the house, washing laundry, mowing the lawn, paying bills, running errands, cooking dinner, and the list goes on. The Lord is present in all of these daily tasks in the same way that He is present in the great and critical moments of life. The same Jesus who turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11) is also the Jesus who radically changed the life of a woman in the midst of everyday household chores – drawing water at the well (John 4:1-26).
In the Gospel of Luke the Bible says:
“As the crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear God’s word, he was standing by Lake Gennesaret. He saw two boats at the edge of the lake; the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, which belonged to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from the land. Then he sat down and was teaching the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing. But if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.’ When they did this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets began to tear. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’s knees and said, ‘Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man, Lord!’ For he and all those with him were amazed at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s partners. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ Jesus told Simon. ‘From now on you will be catching people.’ Then they brought the boats to land, left everything, and followed him” (Luke 5:1-11 CSB).
In this passage, Jesus meets a group of men in the midst of their everyday work routine. They were fishermen gathering their catch at Lake Gennesaret – also called the Sea of Galilee. These men were experiencing a rather stressful day at work. They had been fishing all through their shift (the nighttime, or 2nd/3rd shift) and they hadn’t caught a single thing. They were tired, frustrated, and discouraged – like anyone at the end of a long, stressful, and fruitless workday.
Then entered Jesus ready to preach. However, there was a problem: He had no pulpit from which to preach His sermon. As a pastor, I recognize the importance, both physically and symbolically, of the pulpit. The sacred desk is the place from which hundreds of thousands of pastors have preached millions of sermons to billions of Christians for thousands of years. It is emblematic of the central component and calling of the pastor. Physically, the pulpit provides a place for the pastor to assemble his materials for the solemn task to which he is called- his Bible and his sermon notes. Symbolically, it represents the authority of the pastor and the teaching ministry of the preacher. To stand ready to preach a sermon but without a pulpit from which to preach it would throw many a pastor – including myself, to be honest – completely off of their norm.
However, Jesus was not deterred by the absence of a typical pulpit. He knew His message was too important to be hindered by an obstacle of that nature, so He improvised. Jesus saw the boat belonging to Simon (also called Peter) and commandeered this boat as His pulpit. From this unconventional floating pulpit acquired in the aftermath of a frustrating night at work He proceeded to preach a sermon that would change countless lives.
So, having requisitioned His pulpit, Jesus began to preach. He preached both to the weary fishermen and to the assembled crowd on the shoreline, proclaiming truth to all within ear shot. We don’t know how long He preached; it is immaterial to the main point of this Biblical account. However, we can guess that as He preached to the weary workhands before Him, they, like many of us, grew tired and drowsy – even as they sought to listen and absorb His preaching. As He concludes His message, He then turns His focus to the exhausted and disappointed fishermen before him and issues an abrupt but life-altering command: “let down your nets” (Luke 5:4 CSB).
Peter’s skeptical response is understandable on many levels. He begins by addressing Jesus as “Master” – a term of great respect – followed by his deferential, but doubting, protest. Simon tells Jesus what He already knew: that they had fished all night and caught absolutely nothing. However, Peter concludes his protest with a statement of critical importance. Peter tells the Lord, “but if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.” Simon’s statement exemplifies reluctant obedience. He didn’t have much in the way of confidence that he was going to experience anything different from what he and his co-laborers had already experienced during the long, fruitless night. Again, he was drained, frustrated, and disheartened. But Simon also recognized the authority of his Master and, out of respect and reverence for Him, acquiesces. His reluctant obedience was a decision that would change his life.
The Lord uses even reluctant obedience to teach His followers and strengthen their faith. While reluctant obedience is not the ultimate standard of faith and obedience to which the Lord calls us, it is a stepping stone on the journey to a greater, stronger faith in Him. Simon’s experience exemplifies this truth. As he reluctantly obeys his Lord, he and his companions reel in a catch so massive that it nearly sinks their boat. Many a skeptic would dismiss this miraculous event as a simple, if remarkable, coincidence while awaiting a more logical and scientific explanation for the tremendous catch. However, Simon doesn’t react this way. His previous skepticism vanquished, he threw himself humbly before the Lord. His words are striking and prophetic: “Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man, Lord!” (Luke 5:8 CSB)
Simon didn’t request that the Lord remove Himself because Simon didn’t love Him or desire to be in His presence. Neither did he ask the Lord to depart because he didn’t want to learn from Him. Rather, Simon makes this shocking request for two reasons. First, he recognized the unique and holy nature of the One who stood before him. Second, he recognized his own sinfulness and unworthiness to stand in the presence of a holy, perfect, sinless Savior.
The Lord’s wonderful response provided both comfort and direction to these men – and to each of us. Jesus began by instructing the men not to be afraid. Jesus didn’t deny their sinful state or His own holy character. Rather, He recognized what these men did not yet understand – that His own holy character and fore-ordained mission while on earth was the cure for their sinful and fallen state. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10) – to offer forgiveness, salvation, and new life to the lost and sinful of the world who would place their faith and trust in Him. As John 3:16 so simply and powerfully conveys, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (CSB). This is why He tells them not to fear. He came to save these men, to redeem them, and to use them in His kingdom’s work.
This eternity-altering realization then leads directly to the second part of Jesus’s concluding statement in this passage – the spiritual and practical direction He provided to these soon-to-be disciples. These men, tired and worn out as they were, were professional fishers of, well… fish – slimy, scaly, finned creatures with gills swimming around and residing in large bodies of water. This job was not a glamorous one or one of high esteem in society, but it was one of great importance given the prevailing diet of the day. However, Jesus had a new purpose for them: to make them fishers of men – of people! The Lord had redeemed these men and then called them according to His divinely-appointed purpose for them.
Like the fishermen of this passage, the Lord has saved and redeemed us for a purpose, as well. While the Lord calls each of us, as His followers, to particular roles and places of service in our own unique callings, we are all called to be fishers of people. This means Christians are called to take the Gospel – the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done – all over the world and to the lost of every tribe, tongue, and nation. We may answer this calling as a teacher, preacher, missionary, or chaplain. We may also do it as a janitor, contractor, community leader and activist, physician, artist, attorney, pharmacist, accountant, engineer, mechanic, professor, nurse, or lineman. In all of our various roles in life, we have the opportunity and the calling to take the Gospel to the lost and bring the light of Christ into the vast spiritual darkness of the world.
The final point in this passage is the most important and concerns the reaction of these men to what Jesus told them. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. After the Lord spoke truth to these fishermen, providing both encouragement and direction, they were then faced with a critical decision: follow Him or reject Him. This same decision confronts every person in their journey of life and faith. No matter how many miracles are performed, no matter how much evidence is presented, no matter how many witnesses testify, no matter how much study is made, no matter how much knowledge is acquired – the decision to be made ultimately remains the same. Will you follow Jesus or will you reject Him? These are the two choices set before every person alive who reaches the point of moral accountability before God. Admittedly, the invitation given by Jesus at Lake Gennesaret that day was not the typical one we’d imagine, but it was an invitation none the less. The decision of these men was evident in their actions. They brought in their boats, left everything, and followed the Lord (Luke 5:11).
The example of these men should not be narrowly construed as a universal call to monastic life. Neither should it be interpreted as an argument that Christians who want to serve the Lord must quit their secular “day jobs” to serve the Lord in full-time ministry roles. While full-time ministry roles are a wonderful way to serve the Lord if that is His will for one’s life, they are certainly not the only way to serve Him faithfully and should never be presented as such. Rather, the example of these men teaches us that the Lord’s direction and call should be the single, most important priority of our life. These men knew they needed to eat. They knew they needed to make a living. They knew they needed to pay their bills, take care of their families, and meet their obligations to their communities and wider society. They also knew that Jesus knew all of these things, too. The Lord met them in the midst of their everyday lives and, as a result, the ordinary moments of their everyday lives became an extraordinary experience of faith. In an act of simple, faithful obedience, they chose to follow His command and leave all the consequences to Him. May this same simple, obedient faith mark each of our lives, as well.