If all you’ve heard from Jesus is “Follow Me,” you might have missed the part where He promised to use you in His most critical work.
Wired to Bless
Occasionally, my wife and I try to catch a little of the news over dinner. I’ve learned some things about programing. For one, all the pharmaceutical ads show up at meal time. It drives me crazy. As I’m sitting there with a mouthful of Kung-pao beef, the commercial starts to warn about medicinal side effects: “Discontinue use if you notice black, bloody stool, infections of the mucus membrane,”etc.
Thank you for those images while I eat.
On a more profound note, I’ve also noticed a preponderance of cause-related ads—of animal shelters, kids with cancer, the underprivileged, the hungry, and natural disaster relief. I’m amazed how all of the organizations involved assume they’ll get a response—that complete strangers will pick up the phone and call, offering their credit card numbers along with a designated amount, or even regular support.
They believe viewers will respond, because human beings are wired for purpose and cause, especially when it blesses others. That’s why we end up giving, volunteering, walking, running, or biking for various things.
Purpose is almost existential to us. We don’t all feel it with the same intensity, but we all understand the concept of it. God created us this way. The next time you feel moved by a cause, don’t be surprised. After all, God is a God of purposeful goodness, and you were made in His image.
But this same wonderful altruistic tendency can also go awry. We can become emotionally overwhelmed, resulting in care-givers fatigue. That happens when everywhere we turn in our world, there’s a new need vying for our time and attention and energy and money. Life on planet earth seems to be one big wall-to-wall crisis.
Many of our emergencies are humanly created, such as the current Ohio drug epidemic. Small towns are on the map now, not as charming tourist destinations where you go to buy cheese, but as places to score heroin. Addicts are overdosing and leaving behind traumatized children.
We want to respond to the problem, and all the rest for that matter, but we end up feeling as though we’re bailing water out of a boat with a hole in the bottom, or worse, with no bottom at all.
The Promise We Overlook
When Jesus came, one of the first things He did was to call together a small group, a seedling church. He said, “Follow me,” and every one who did so found themselves joining other Jesus followers. But there was more. He said, “Follow Me,” and added a promise as well—“and I will make you fishers of men.” In Mark 1:17 it is even more emphatic—“Follow Me and I will make you become fishers of men” implying a transformation that wouldn’t be instantaneous, but would involve a process of becoming.
As twenty-first century Christians who are prone to the influence of consumerism, we would expect Jesus to say, “Follow Me…and I’ll bring you to a wonderful group, full of great programs, inspiring worship, sermons that never bore, warm community, backyard barbeques, and inside jokes.”
Jesus obviously wasn’t interested in selling anything or plying those men with benefits. Instead, He promised to make them into something that would bless others beyond their wildest dreams. He would turn this group into fishers of men with the result that they would catch people (c.f. Luke 5:10). There’s never been a more primary purpose than this one. For sheer effectiveness and strategic transcendence, it eclipses any other cause this world could ever invent.
Which begs the question of what “catching men” really means, and why it’s important. First, consider it from John’s point of view:
1 John 5:19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
This verse identifies two distinct groups of people—“we” who are from God, and then the rest of “the whole world.” Notice the plight here. The world virtually lies pickled in the power of the evil one. That is, the power that fuels addictions of every kind. Power that promotes evil works. Power that removes moral boundaries. Power that communicates with such deceit that no one can tell what is true anymore.
20 we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Unlike the world that lies in the power of the evil one, we are in Christ. We’re inhabiting an environment of truth that enables us to know the reality of God. As a consequence, we can think soberly about ourselves, others, the past, the present, and the future.
And since He is eternal life, being in Him means we have life that’s really life. Not life as an escapist pie-in-the-sky concept, but something we can enjoy as a current possession that gives color and meaning to everything else. It is eternal, a life that neither ends nor begins at the grave, but is above the tyranny of time.
We are in that place, and the rest of the world is in another.
Two Fishbowls as Symbolic of Two Realms
Think of it like a couple of goldfish bowls. Let one of the two symbolize the power of the devil—immense and full of dirty water. Inside are billions of goldfish, the people of the world, swimming around in satanic sediment, breathing it, metabolizing it. The toxins shape their values, attitudes, and beliefs, and they’re all in some way feeling the ill effects of it. They try many things to assuage their misery. They attempt to polish the bowl and make it seem like a better place. They sprinkle food flakes into it to meet felt needs. They pour decorative aquarium gravel into it, hoping to improve overall aesthetics. The world generates these purposes to make itself a better place. We all, out of compassion, join in to help as much as possible, but none of these activities accomplish anything in an ultimate sense. The goldfish continue to live a sickly existence in a dirty bowl, and everyday a vast batch of them goes belly up.
When Jesus sees the situation with all the languishing fish, He says to us, “Catch them out!”
“Okay,” we say, “But what happens to them after they’re caught?”
Remember, John spoke of an alternate place to be—Christ. Think of the second goldfish bowl as representing the Son of God. It is bigger than the universe, and the water in it is clean. Any fish caught from the polluted bowl lands in this second one, and becomes lively as it begins to metabolize the truth and life of God.
This kind of fishing expedition is what we’ve been called into. We’re not a club. We’re a team, accomplishing the greatest rescue operation ever. We’re catching people out of the world one by one, through the preaching of the gospel, and we deliver them into Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Never has an undertaking required greater togetherness. Does that mean you have to be in a church in order to tell someone about Jesus? No. But our western idea of fishing tends to be solitary and recreational, hardly the kind to which Jesus would have made reference.
Rather than lone fishing poles, serious commercial fishing in the first century used a net that took a lot of hands and a group to throw.
The team approach is especially important for those of us who are not natural-born evangelists. We need encouragement from others both to initiate and continue sharing the gospel. We need the accountability of others asking us about this or that friend, and how they’re doing. We need the support of others offering to pray for us when we mention we’re going to be broaching the gospel over coffee with that special friend. We occasionally even need the assistance of others to go with us when we’re nervous about venturing into unknown gospel situations.
That’s fishing with a net.
Dear friends, don’t tell yourself following Jesus has little to do with the church. Neither tell yourself the purpose of God is an isolated adventure.