How is your faith for evangelism? Too frequently mine is too small. I hate that sin of unbelief and having just spent a few days with some joyful, bold, fruitful evangelists, I am freshly encouraged to fight it.
A reluctance to fish for men, whether from fear, selfishness, weariness, or skepticism that it will actually work exposes that I trust my own perceptions and not Jesus. And the story of Peter and Jesus and empty nets filled is strengthening my faith to “fish.” It may strengthen yours too.
The Most Important Lesson on Fishing
Peter knew Jesus was extraordinary before Jesus filled Peter’s fishing nets to the breaking point in Luke 5:1–11. He had already been introduced to Jesus through his brother Andrew and received his new name (John 1:40–42). Jesus had already been in Peter’s home and healed his mother-in-law (Luke 4:38–39).
So in Luke 5, Peter was already grappling with Jesus’s call on his life. Jesus had become the most famous preacher in Israel. He was performing incredible signs and wonders. Crowds followed him wherever he went. Peter must have felt profoundly unqualified to be Jesus’s disciple, having no formal theological training.
The one thing Peter knew how to do was fish. Or so he thought. Actually, Jesus was about to teach Peter the most important fishing lesson of Peter’s life.
That morning after Jesus had man-fished from Peter’s boat, he instructed Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). Peter’s faith may not have even been mustard-seedish. He had fished all night and the sea might as well have been a desert.
However, Peter didn’t refuse. He replied, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5). His expectations may have been very low, but he was at least willing to obey. He and his partners dropped the nets.
Then unexpectedly the nets became heavy! Really heavy. It took everything Peter and Andrew had not to drop the bursting nets in the sea as they waited for John and James to come help. Somehow they managed to heave up the nets and fish filled both boats.
Peter, overwhelmed with conviction, said to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). His sin of unbelief was exposed. He knew that it was not his expertise, experience, work-hard ethic, or his puny faith that had brought in the fish. All he did was net them. Jesus brought the fish in — something only God could do. And now he had a new fear and a new faith.
And that was precisely the result Jesus was after. A Peter who now thought much less of himself and much more of Jesus was ready for real fishing. And so Jesus said to him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10).
Three Encouragements for Reluctant Fishers of Men
If our faith for “fishing” is small, this story has at least three encouragements:
1. Jesus calls us in our weakness.
Jesus determined that the best time to call Peter as an evangelist was when he was at his weakest. Having done his human best at the thing he was best at, Peter’s nets were empty. Plus, he was exhausted, having worked all night. Why was this the best time? Peter needed his pride, unbelief, and weakness exposed. He needed to see himself as someone who, apart from Jesus, could do nothing (John 15:5). He needed to know who rules the fish and who fills the nets. Then he would be able to fish in faith.
We need to see ourselves as people who, apart from Jesus, can do nothing.
2. It really doesn’t take great faith to drop the nets.
Even though Peter was skeptical that anything was going to come from the Master’s fishing trip, he still responded, “at your word I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5). Peter was willing to it for Jesus’s sake. He trusted Jesus’s word more than his perceptions. It wasn’t a bold faith, it wasn’t a lot of faith, it even appears a reluctant faith, but nonetheless it was faith willing enough to obey. Peter did what Jesus said and Jesus honored it.
3. Jesus provides the fish.
When Peter and his partners dropped the nets, Jesus filled them. It was a powerful, ministry-shaping moment. Jesus rules fish and will fill nets with many or few according to his choosing. Our job as evangelists is to listen to Jesus and prayerfully, faithfully drop the nets — whatever nets the Lord has provided us — and let him fill them.
When Jesus tells us to “fish,” we must not place our faith in our expertise (or lack thereof), experience, or the current level of our faith. At his word let’s just faithfully go out and let down our nets. Let’s trust him to fill them (or not). The fish are his. We may just find that he will give us more than we can handle.
Lord, fill our nets!