Jesus made a number of glowing promises to His followers. He also made some coffee-colored ones, less shiny and far less compelling—at least where the nominal religious mind is concerned.
For instance, He said He would make His disciples “Fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). That’s hardly something the fair weathered Christian will find scintillating. Who wants to get involved with catching human beings for Christ? Some of the least flattering images of fishing can be felt while bringing people to Jesus—slimy situations, smells, fatigue, sun burn, storms, and the frustration of torn or tangled nets.
It’s easy to sign up for second helpings of living bread. But it’s another story to venture out in search of souls.
You feel the acute difficulty of it when the focus of heaven and earth no longer rests upon you, but on someone else. The emphasis shifts from your personal issues of hardship or pain to bringing that other person “into the boat.” Your self-interest seems to get lost.
Long stretches pass during which time our efforts and even prayers feel inconsequential, clueless, impotent. The souls we’re fishing for aren’t biting. And yet real disciples savor the promise of being fishers of men because at certain times they’re cognizant of heaven being fixated on the process of these evangelistic days and months. Flickers of realization make them vaguely aware of being caught up in the greatest show on earth, when at long last “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7).
That’s part of why we get interested when Jesus says, “I will make you fishers of men.”
For years as a less experienced Christian, a jolt of dread shot through me whenever I received the Spirit’s urging to go fishing for souls.
Talking to people about Christ was for those who had graduated to some mystical level of maturity. It was for folks who stood on soap boxes and shouted at crowds while tomatoes whisked past their heads. It was for people who were willing to travel great distances and risk being shot.
Preach the gospel? No thank you.
Unfortunately, that’s where many Christians end up–as fishermen who are afraid to fish.
The gospel flows in a certain direction. If we don’t pay attention to that simple reality, we’ll end up missing some great opportunities.
Jesus said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” According to the Lord’s instructions, the gospel for the early church was to begin in Jerusalem, which was ground zero for the disciples at that moment. Then it was to progressively flow out to the ends of the earth. This suggests a principle for the rest of us who have a habit of obeying the verse backwards.
We like to start fishing at the far end of the lake with people we don’t know. It’s as though if you want to get serious about souls, the process begins in faraway lands, eating things you only see on the Travel channel.
Jesus didn’t start there.
Jerusalem signifies that which we know, the people we relate to on a daily basis. Everyone has a Jerusalem. It doesn’t rate any glamorous testimonies, but it still requires guts to witness there.
Our Jerusalem is populated with the folks we would rather avoid when it comes to the subject of Christ.
It’s the relative with the barbed sense of humor who knows how to belittle your faith. Or it’s the best friend who is keen to the newest game release, but indifferent to the state of his soul. It could be the neighbor who has been so programmed by anti-Christian rhetoric that she becomes belligerent every time anything remotely religious comes up.
The gospel is never without some degree of awkwardness. Never. Still, the Jerusalem principle means you won’t need to relocate or learn another language or eat anything more exotic than cheeseburgers in order to share Jesus with people. They are, after all, your people.
The church has always celebrated faithful folks who uprooted themselves and their families and relocated for the sake of the gospel in foreign regions. I think this honor is justified. However, I believe the unsung heroes of evangelism are the countless plain Joe and plain Jane Christians who start fishing where they are and talk to a coworker or roommate or relative.
Once upon a time I was unsaved and part of someone else’s “Jerusalem.”
In seventh grade the teacher separated me from Danny, my buddy and the coolest person on earth. We had become a comedy act. She moved me all the way across the room next to the least cool person I knew—Charles. This kid had an old school Southern Baptist/Marine Corps haircut. He also wore jeans high enough off his shoes to see his socks.
One day Charles brought a bunch of booklets to school—Chick Tracts, we call them—the gospel in comic book form. “Would you like to read one?” he asked. I picked one out. Read it. Gave it back. He never knew I was moved down to the marrow by what I read.
Charles had done a little fishing in the most normal way possible for him—by sharing something with the smart-alec boy who sat right next to him.
Who knows. He might have later mentioned to his youth group that he gave me a tract.
“I handed one to the bad kid,” he may have said.
“And what happened?”
“Nothing. He just gave it back.”
Perhaps to Charles, the gospel hadn’t worked. I hadn’t asked for a ride to church or to get a free pocket Bible. And I didn’t want to know where I could get one of those nifty Christian haircuts.
Charles had no idea I would write this blog post about him thirty-nine years later, crediting him with being part of my gospel story.
Too many of these little vignettes dot my life, courtesy of parents and friends.
In high school, after I publicly claimed a conversion to atheism, a girl named Debbie confronted me and expressed concern for my soul. It had never occurred to me I ought to be worried. For me, having a soul was like having a hamster.
At another time, Mr. Barton, my drafting teacher, told me he’d pray for me. I couldn’t imagine why. I didn’t have cancer.
Much later in the Army, a chaplain in my unit unfolded the gospel of salvation to me. It was clear and complete with a call to action. My response: Oh. So that’s what all of this is about. But I still said no. For a while.
I continued dismissing an ongoing stream of small, unnamed fishermen.
The sum of their words, however, finally triggered my capitulation to faith in Christ. None of these folks had worn pith helmets or knee-high socks. Yet they were all missionaries to me.
I can’t finish this tale on a mere note of thankfulness for other fishermen, though. Actually none of us can. The only fitting cymbal crash is when someone eventually thanks God for us and for our faithfulness in the New Testament fishing ministry.
We all need to take a turn out on the water.