Last Sunday (February 10), Pastor Paul spoke on the following passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 5:
5 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:5-10 NIV)
As I reflected on this passage, I was again struck by the portions I have marked in bold print. Notice that Jesus uses the experience of catching fish to illustrate the task to which He was (and is) calling His followers—the task of finding people who will respond to God’s call and be caught up into God’s Kingdom: i.e. “catching people”. Two things stand out.
First, Jesus makes it clear that, though they caught nothing on their own, when they fished under His direction and grace they caught an overabundance. At another time, Jesus says this explicitly (John 15:5 NIV) “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Second, there is the dramatic picture of catching so many fish that their nets begin to break and then the boats became so full that the boats began to sink! What is the meaning of this part of the analogy? I believe it gives us a picture of moves of God that bring in so many people that the existing church structures are strained to the breaking point and would break if it were not for God’s provision. One of my parishioners in Montreal was from Kazakhstan, a former republic of the aggressively atheistic Soviet Union. After the fall of communism, she described a great move of God in her country in which she and many of her countrymen came to believe in and follow Jesus. She described a time when many new congregations sprang up led by relatively young believers. Similarly, we see in the Book of Acts how the early church grew exponentially. The Bible also makes it clear that there will be an unprecedented harvest of souls at the end of this current age. (See, for example, Revelation 7:9-10.)
We don’t know precisely when such a move of God will come to the western world but you can be sure our time will come as God does not play favourites (Acts 10:34) and He is never early or late but always on time.
In this kind of scenario, we will have exactly the opposite problem from the one we have now: from a dearth of people in church to an overabundance that is so great as to threaten our capacity to handle it. Instead of worrying unduly about any current issues, let’s individually and corporately decide to prepare ourselves as best we can and by God’s grace and leading to be useful to God and His Church and to play the unique part for which each one of us is being called and equipped by the Holy Spirit for the harvest to come.
Lent is a good time to think and pray about how God would want to prepare you for service to bring in a great catch. The word Lent comes from the Old English lencten or lengten meaning lengthen (as in the lengthening days of spring): it is a time to stretch oneself and get out of ruts and comfort zones and unhelpful distractions by being more open to being filled, led and gifted by the Holy Spirit.
The following passage from Isaiah 54:1-8 gives us great encouragement:
54 “Sing, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband,”
says the Lord.
2 “Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.
4 “Do not be afraid [as Pastor Paul reminded us lastSunday]; you will not be put to shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
5 For your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
6 The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God.
7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
8 In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.
This was one of the verses I alluded to in my recent sermon on the Church as the Bride of Christ. I think it all ties together in the above passage. We may feel God has left us and our country of Canada on the back burner spiritually. But get ready: this is a temporary state (like the winter before the spring) during which God has been preparing us for the stretching and glorious times to come!