When You Aren't Sure What to Do Next
Following the Reliable, Unpredictable Jesus
“I am going fishing.”
Peter wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. The past couple of weeks had been indescribably intense. Jesus had been betrayed by Judas and tried at midnight for blasphemy. The swift verdict was crucifixion. By noon Jesus was hanging by nails and Judas by a noose. The memory of his own denial of Jesus felt like an open wound. That Friday and Saturday had been worse than a nightmare. And Sunday had simply been surreal. It began with Jesus’ missing body and ended with his sudden appearance among the disciples in their locked room. Eight days later Jesus did the same thing.
Now Peter was sitting with Thomas, Nathanial, James, John, and two others. They were just waiting. Jesus hadn’t told them what to do next. Peter used to know just what to do: prepare the nets and boat, go fishing, take what he caught and sell it in the market. Fishing was hard and sometimes dangerous work. But Peter knew what to do. The memory of the familiar was comforting.
So as long as he didn’t know what to do, he figured he might as well do something productive. “I’m going fishing,” he announced. The others replied, “We will go with you.” Peter wasn’t the only restless one.
All night they fished. Cast and pull. Nothing. Cast and pull. Nothing. Try the other side of the boat. Nothing. Move the boat. Nothing. Try again. Nothing. Where are the fish? Nothing. Move again; a little deeper, a little shallower. Nothing. Whose idea was this? I imagine there was a sharp word or two.
Just as day was breaking, Peter heard a voice from the shore. “Children, do you have any fish?” James’ exasperated response was, “No!” “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”
Ordinarily this would have been irritating. But these instructions were familiar. This had happened before. Peter and John glanced at one another and then tossed the net. The sudden weight almost pulled them overboard. It couldn’t be! It was! Fish! And they were huge! They couldn’t even get the net into the boat.
John’s eyes were as big as the fish when he looked at Peter and said, “It is the Lord!” Peter handed the net to Nathaniel, threw on his outer garment and dove into the sea, leaving the others to row in dragging the bulging net.
When they all got to shore, they found Jesus preparing breakfast for them. Very graciously, and maybe with a twinkle in eye, he said, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” Then Jesus served them breakfast. And then he gave them the next instructions.
This account from John 21 is vintage Jesus, always graciously leading and serving his bewildered disciples. And we 21st century disciples are just as easily bewildered. So it’s good for us to remember some helpful principles from this chapter.
First, waiting on Jesus is a common experience for disciples. Sometimes we wait for direction or an open door, sometimes we wait to understand his purposes, sometimes we wait for a promise to be fulfilled. Jesus wants his disciples to learn to trust his promises in the face of what appears to be uncertain circumstances. And we learn that while Jesus is completely reliable, he can be unpredictable. His timing and purposes are not always clear to us, though they are always best for us.
Second, when we’re not sure what to do next, as Elizabeth Elliott says, “Do the next thing.” I’m sure the disciples had prayed for guidance during those days but no clear instructions had come. Fishing just seemed like a good idea. As it turned out, it was exactly what the Lord wanted them to do. Jesus wasleading them, just differently. As they did the next thing Jesus met them and directed them.
Third, Jesus is in complete control. Peter and company were experienced fishermen. They did their best, yet caught nothing. But that morning they discovered (again) that Jesus was sovereign over their decisions, the boat, the sea, the fish, and time. He was completely in charge. And on top of it all, he served them breakfast.
To be Jesus’ disciple is to be served in every conceivable way, from the payment of our sins, to the fish we catch, to our eternal home. And he is serving us all the time, even when we can’t see it. So if you need an encouraging reminder that he is working for you, listen to John Piper’s message on Isaiah 64:4 called, “God Works for Those Who Wait for Him.” As always, this message and hundreds of others are available to you free of charge. If the Lord leads you to give a gift in support of this work, know that it will help us reach others with the gospel of the God who serves.
In following Jesus there are seasons of bewildering intensity and seasons of bewildering waiting. He does not want us to panic during either. Jesus is in control of both. When you don’t understand him, trust in his promises. And when you’re not sure what to do next, do the next thing.
Following the reliable, unpredictable Jesus with you,
PS. Just a reminder that registration is open for our National Conference being held September 28-30 here in Minneapolis.John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges, Randy Alcorn and Helen Roseveare will be joining John Piper to address the theme ofStand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints. We’d love to have you with us.
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