How to be Useful

Peter's BoatYou can listen to the podcast here.

Most people want to find purpose for their lives. Few people intentionally squander their life on foolish and trivial pursuits. Most Christians would say that they want to make investments that will make an eternal difference. Most would say they want to be involved, make a difference, but what steps are we taking to bring that dream into reality? If you want to make a difference, you need to allow change to come about in your life before you can move on.

Take a look at Luke 5:1-11.

This is a story of obedience. Simon was no different than us. He was trying to make a living. Trying to do what he thought he should. He had been out on the Sea of Galilee all night fishing. He returned from his fishing trip with nothing more than a dirty net. It is hard work being a fisherman, and Simon returned empty handed. He 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. Simon was probably thinking about the next trip hoping that it would be more profitable.

This area of the Sea of Galilee is a beautiful place. The white sandy beach slopes up from the cool blue water into a hill around the cove that forms a natural amphitheater. Plants and wildlife flourish there. People in the area can grow anything because of the temperate climate. As Simon and the other fishermen were putting their freshly cleaned nets onto their boats, 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 was at Simon’s house healing his mother-in-law’s 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. It wasn’t a concert, but the Word of God. It wasn’t the latest, new, and improved fancy, shmancy program. Remember that at age 12, Christ was able to teach the teachers. He was able to captivate people with His words. He brought the Scriptures to life. His message was articulate and relevant. The people were inspired and moved by His message so much that He was pushed to the water’s edge.

Where was Simon? He and his buddies were in their boats watching. 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. 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.” Simon didn’t ask any questions. He didn’t listen to his feelings. I’m sure he was dog-tired after fishing all night. Simon simply obeyed. Jesus was still teaching, but I don’t know if Simon caught on. It was a lesson on obedience; a lesson of purpose. This lesson was to test Simon’s usefulness; to see if he had what it took to make a difference. What was the result of Simon’s obedience? The catch was so large that Simon had to call his partners for help because the amount of fish in the nests was causing the boat to sink. Simon throws himself Jesus’ feet and says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Notice Simon uses the word Lord. In v. 5 Simon used Master, but now uses Lord. Master simply means superintendent, but Lord is from the word that means Messiah. Simon knew.

So how do we move past uselessness to get to usefulness? There are truths and insights in this account that will help us to move to a place of usefulness; to make a difference in our world; to find purpose. The ticket to freedom is obedience. We think we know all there is to know about freedom. We want to believe that we are a liberated people. We think freedom means making our own decisions, avoiding the rules, changing the rules, even breaking the rules. People tell us, “Think for yourself, do what is right for you.” For the Christian, freedom comes through yielding our will to God and obeying His rules. Jesus summed this up by saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jo. 14:15) Obedience to Christ and His words is one of the most distinguishing marks of a Christian. For 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. He wanted him to act. James says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (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 obedient behavior that manifests itself in service. Jesus didn’t say, “Believe in Me,” and leave it at that. He said over and over again, “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,’ follow me.” Peter Lord former pastor of the Park Avenue Baptist church in Titusville, FL said, “What I believe I do and the rest is just religious talk.”

Obedience calls for doing things that may not make sense. Simon was comfortable fishing at night along the shore line.  To launch out into the deep during the day is another story – that took a step of faith. 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, ships, sea monsters. They might get in trouble so they’ll just stay back where it’s safe and comfortable. God’s call to obedience involves risks, involves potential failure in the eyes of others; involves faith. Only those people who are willing to follow the Lord’s lead ever really make a difference.

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 the key to the whole story is when Simon says, “ . . . but 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. Simon obeyed when Jesus asked to use his boat for a pulpit. Simon obeyed when Jesus asked him to launch out into the deep. Because Simon obeyed, he was in a position to be used by God. Many people want to do something really big for God, to find their “ministry calling” but aren’t obeying God where they are. I think this is where most people are. We’re doing what people consider the menial and behind-the-scene tasks. If we won’t be obedient in the little things, why would God use us in the big things of life. The reality is that if we’re not finding purpose in where we are, what we’re doing now, then we’re not going to make a difference for God anywhere.

What’s keeping you from obeying? There is one object that is present throughout this story. It was 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 the 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 represents was preventing 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?


3 thoughts on “How to be Useful

  1. Walking in obedience to God may result in humiliation and disgrace before men. When we obey God, even in the face of adversity and public shame, he leads and guides us.

  2. in these passages we can only guess what Simon was thinking . If I told you there was buried treasure under your driveway would you trust and believe me enough to go and rent a jackhammer and spend some time and effort to dig it up? the real question is not whether your obedient the real question is “do you believe I am telling you the truth”.
    When I read this I don’t really see this in terms of obedience, what I do see is a process of belief and trust that Simon goes thru. we don’t know that Simon trusted him that much when Jesus told him to cast his nets but we know Simon believed him more when he saw the fish!

    1. The question is are you going to be obedient to what Jesus tells you whether or not you believe it? Peter went out at the wrong time of the day and fished in the wrong part of the sea. I doubt he thought he would catch anything, but he was obedient even in unbelief. He told Jesus they had fished all night and didn’t catch anything. It reminds me of Mark 9:24, “Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

      Remember Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Thomas?” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:29) I agree that Jesus wanted Peter to believe, but I wonder how the story would have been written if Peter believed before the great catch of fish.

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