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As with most things now a days, we’ve redefined what it means to be useful, we’ve redefined what value is. Society has dictated what the best jobs are, and they normally involve what the job pays. Most people would likely agree that people want to be useful, to make a difference, to make an impact, to leave the world better than they found it. But is this another case where our actions betray what we say? In the church arena success is often measured by attendance, by the size of the budget. Is this where the power is? It is becoming more and more apparent to me that these are not the marks of success; this is not where the power is.
Grab your Bible and read Luke 5:1-11.
This is a story of obedience. Simon was no different than any of us. He had been out on the Sea of Galilee all night fishing. He returned from his fishing trip with nothing more than dirty nets. It is hard work being a fisherman, and Simon had returned empty handed. Simon and the other fisherman stretched out their nets on the beach to clean out the sea weed, shells, barnacles, and all the other stuff that was picked up during the night. Perhaps Simon was thinking of the next fishing trip that might be more profitable. Tomorrow was another day. The area that Simon and the other fishermen were cleaning their nets is a beautiful place. It has a white sandy beach sloping up from the gentle waters of the sea into a hill around the cove that formed something similar to an amphitheater. Josephus wrote that it was, “wonderful in its characteristics and in its beauty. Thanks to the rich soil there is not a plant that does not flourish there, and the inhabitants grow everything: the air is so temperate that it suits the most diverse species.”
As Simon and the other fishermen were putting their freshly cleaned nets back on their boats for the next trip, they heard what must have been a dull roar coming from the west. A crowd of people was coming toward him being led by a man that Simon recognized as Jesus. This was not their first meeting. In Luke 4:39, Jesus had healed Simon’s mother-in-law of a high fever. Verse 1 says, “ . . . the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the Word of God.” They got close to hear the Word preached. This wasn’t a concert, but the spoken Word of God. Even at the young age of 12, Jesus was able to captivate teachers of the Word. He brought the Scriptures to life. His message was articulate and timely. His message was relevant before relevant became a buzzword. People were inspired and moved by His message so much that the crowd pressed into Him so that he was near the water’s edge.
So what’s a Messiah to do? Jesus looks at the crowd and at the boats, and gets on Simon’s boat and asks him to “put out a little way from the land.” Why had Jesus come to this cove, at this time of the morning? Jesus wanted to see Simon. Jesus wanted Simon to hear this message and he has nowhere to go. Jesus wanted to spend time with one person. As Simon sat there, Jesus finishes His teaching and tells Simon, “Put out into the deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.” This was instruction to Simon alone. Notice that Jesus is not suggesting obedience; he is demanding it. Simon says, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” Notice what Simon didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Jesus, don’t tell me how to fish. I’m a professional.” He didn’t say, “Jesus, stick to preaching and let me do the fishing. I know the best fishing holes on this pond.” He didn’t say, “Everybody knows that nighttime is the best time for catching fish on the Sea of Galilee. And the best fishing is in the shallow water along the Sea’s edge, not in the deep water.” He didn’t say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Simon didn’t ask any questions, but I’m certain this instruction didn’t make any sense to Simon. Maybe he thought it a crazy idea, but he didn’t listen to his feelings. I’m sure he was worn out after fishing all night. Maybe he’s remembering that Jesus did heal the fever in his mother-in-law. Simon put this out of his mind and simply obeyed. Jesus was still teaching, but Simon didn’t know it. It was a lesson on obedience and on making a difference. This lesson was to test Simon’s usefulness, to see if he had what it took to make a difference. So what was the result of Simon’s obedience? They caught so many fish that Simon had to call his partners for help. The catch was so big that both boats began to sink. Simon throws himself Jesus’ feet and says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Notice Simon uses the word Lord. In verse 5 Simon uses Master, but now uses Lord. Master simply means superintendent, but Lord is from the word that means Messiah. Simon knew, understood, and believed.
Here is a key perspective. The Bible is certainly filled with stories about groups of people. The feeding of the 3000 and the 5000. 3000 added to the church at Pentecost. We see the multitudes that followed Jesus. But even in the crowds, the focus is not on them, but often on an individual. The stories often relate how one person was radically transformed. Amidst all the people in those large crowds that followed Jesus, we see: the woman with the alabaster vial of perfume. The centurion with the sick slave. The woman that had a blood disease for 12 years. Jairus. Lazarus. There’s always a lesson to be learned. Notice that Simon’s not the only one in the story. Verse 10 tells us James and John were there. Mark 1:16 tells us Andrew was there. This story is not about them; it’s about Simon. We think we know what makes us “successful” as Christians. We want to believe that we must reach everyone. We tend to focus on what everyone else is doing or not doing. We focus on everyone and everything else and ignore who Jesus really wants to affect. Before we want to make a difference in everyone else’s life, we have to let Jesus make a difference in our life. This is Simon’s story –one man. This how Jesus radically transformed one man to serve His purpose. This is a story of obedience. Obedience to Christ and His words is one of the most distinguishing marks of a Christian. As with Simon, Jesus is not suggesting obedience; he demands it. You cannot be a follower of Christ without being obedient.
Obedience demands action. Listening never substitutes for action. Simon heard the message of Jesus. He was a captive audience. But Jesus wanted Simon to do more than simply listen. Jesus wanted him to do something. James tells us to be, “doers of the Word and not merely hearers.” (Ja. 1:22) Simon sat in the boat with Jesus and listened to His words. Simon believed in Him and it was time to act. Obedience is faith in action. It is taking the promises and provisions of Christ’s words into service and obedient behavior. You never find Jesus simply saying, “Believe in me.” He always urged people to “Follow me.” In essence Jesus is saying, “Don’t just say you believe me, don’t just say you know me, don’t just say ‘I love you,’ He says, “Follow me.” Conference speaker and former pastor Peter Lord said, “What I believe I do and the rest is just religious talk.”
Obedience calls for moving out. Simon was comfortable fishing at night along the shore line. To launch out into the deep during the day is another story. Most people live in the shallow waters. They simply exist on a superficial level. There’s little depth to their lives because they’re content to just play around the edge, never going out into deeper water. Why? Because it’s safer in shallow water. Out in the deep water there might be waves, other ships, sea monsters. We think, “I might get in trouble so I’ll just stay back here where it’s safe and comfortable.” God’s call to obedience always involves risks, involves leaving our comfort zones, to sail into the deep. Only those people who are willing to follow the Lord into the deep where the waters are over their heads ever really make a difference. Obedience means doing things because Jesus says, even when it doesn’t make sense. There was nothing logical to Simon about going out in the open sea and fishing again. It didn’t make sense. Some would say it’s dumb. But Jesus told Simon to go and here is the key to the whole story; Simon said, “I will do as You say and let down the nets.” (Lu. 5:5) The most powerful test of obedience is to do those things that don’t make sense simply because Jesus says so.
Obedience in the little things leads to opportunities in the big things. The fact is that Simon obeyed Jesus. He obeyed when Jesus asked to use his boat for a pulpit. He obeyed when Jesus asked him to out into the deep water. Because Simon obeyed, he was in a position for greater usefulness. Many people want to do something really big for God, to find their “ministry calling” but aren’t obeying God where they are, right now. Based on what I see every day, I think this is where many people are. If we aren’t obedient in the little things, why would God use us in the big things of life? The reality is that if we’re not making a difference for God where we are, then we’ll not make a difference for God anywhere.
What’s keeping you from obeying? There is something present throughout this story. The boat. The boat was at the water’s edge. Jesus preached from the boat. The miraculous catch of fish happened on the boat. Simon recognized Jesus as Messiah on the boat. Yet in the end, Simon pulls that boat to the shore and leaves it behind to follow Jesus. The boat represents Simon’s livelihood, his business, his security, his peace of mind, his future. Simon made his boat available to Jesus, and Jesus used Simon’s business as a platform for ministry. We tend to separate the secular from the spiritual. We try to partition off our Christianity from our career. But, Simon’s boat was what was keeping him from a life of total and complete obedience. His boat and what it represented prevented him from living a fully devoted life of obedience.
What about you? What’s your boat? What’s keeping you from a life of usefulness? What is standing between you and a life of obedience? What’s preventing you from making a difference for eternity sake? The power comes from the One, and in most circles, it happens just one person at a time.