Fishers of Men

Earlier this week, my husband and I went fishing. As we were enjoying our time on the lake, and catching a few fish, I was reminded of the old song I learned in Sunday School:
“I will make you “fishers of men”…if you follow me.” Jesus said these words to His early followers, who were fishermen by trade (see Matthew 4:19). But what does it mean to be a “fisher of men?”

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The primary meaning is that we have a commission– found in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations..” We are to go and “catch” men and women, taking them out of the sinful lifestyles we see around us, and bringing them into the Kingdom of God, much as fishermen take fish out of a lake or sea and bring them into the boat. But what practical implications can we take from the practice of fishing, that might help us as we carry out our spiritual commission?

  • First we much go where the “fish” are, and actively work to catch them. I can go to the lake, dip my toes in the water, even get into a boat and go sailing, and never catch a fish. The fish will not jump into my boat, or jump out of the water into a net. I must make an effort. I can follow Christ, and go to church every Sunday, participate in many spiritual activities, even pray every day, but if I never interact with lost and hurting people I am unlikely to become a “fisher of men.”
  • Next, we must recognize that we won’t “catch” all the fish! I know some Christians who become discouraged and depressed if they go out for one day of “evangelizing” and don’t make converts. They give up after one negative or unsuccessful encounter. “I’m not an evangelist.” “I can’t share the gospel– I just don’t have what it takes…” Imagine if fishermen responded that way– “I cast out three times, and never got a fish– I give up!” This is especially discouraging because our Great Commission is not to “convert” everyone; not just to go out and “catch” men and women with a hook or a net, but to make disciples. It is a process, but it comes with risks and no guaranteed “return” on our investment. Some “fish” are not ready to be caught. Some are meant for other fishermen. This should not lead us to be apathetic about lost neighbors or relatives, but it should remind us that we are God’s witnesses, not His SWAT team. Even Jesus didn’t “convert” everyone He met! But He did love them!
  • Third, and closely related, we must expect resistance. It is not natural for most people to respond immediately to the Good News of the Gospel. After all, it involves admitting our need for salvation, and submitting to the will of God. Fish that are taken from the water will die! And we must “die” to our selves and our selfish nature if we are to become Disciples of Christ.
  • Finally (and this is a bit of a stretch of the analogy, but bear with me…), we must have the right bait. This is not to say that the Gospel is inadequate or insufficient for the task. Rather, that we are not meant to hit people over the head with only our words– even when they come from Scripture! We do not create disciples by offering a bare hook. People are hungry– hungry for answers; hungry for hope; hungry for peace; and hungry for love. The Gospel lives in US– WE need to offer more than just the words of the Gospel–we need to LIVE the Gospel! To offer only condemnation or smug arrogance makes a mockery of the very Gospel we are supposed to share. Likewise, we do not create disciples by offering a shiny but “fake” gospel of easy answers and “cheap” grace without truth or repentance. It may hook a few desperate or gullible people for a moment, but once again, it is not our mission to merely “hook” people.
FISHERMAN#3/OK, 5/30/01, 3:52 PM, 8C, 8808×10935 (0+505), 150%, FISH, 1/10 s, R120.4, G94.7, B105.7

David and I enjoy fishing– we enjoy spending time in God’s beautiful nature; we enjoy the quiet and peace; and we enjoy the challenge of finding where the fish are “biting” on a particular morning. And I’m so glad that Jesus gave us such wonderful analogies and word-pictures to help us understand His love for us and His plan for spreading the Good News. Finally, I’m glad that I’ve been taken from the “lake” of sin and given new life by the great “Fisher of Men!” I pray that I can help others find and follow Christ, as well.

Cooking Up Prayer

I love to cook. And it occurred to me that praying can be a lot like cooking:

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  • Prayers are made up of different ingredients–worship and adoration, confession, requests and supplication, thanksgiving, even questions..
  • Sometimes what we pray for, and the “finished product” of what God chooses to do don’t look or taste the same. But if we don’t “follow the recipe,” sometimes we end up with a disaster. Sometimes our thoughts and prayers are like adding a cup of salt, where we were supposed to add a cup of sugar! God knows the difference, and He adjusts accordingly!
  • There are many different “cooking” methods for prayer. Some prayers need to simmer–they take time and dedication; others “sizzle”– they are more immediate and urgent. There are even “raw” prayers– tortured cries of the heart. Some prayers are “cock pot” prayers– we give the matter to God and let it stew for quite awhile, only to see results much later.
  • Some prayers involve “heat”–we are either in hot water, or we are in a pressure cooker; maybe we’re half-baked! God doesn’t always turn down the heat– He knows just the right temperature for each situation, and He also knows when to remove us from the heat!
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Prayer is much more than a recipe or a even a good meal. But I hope we all take some time to “cook up” a healthy, satisfying prayer time today.

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Show, Don’t Tell..

A fundamental piece of advice for writing fiction is “Show, don’t tell.” A good writer will use words to paint a picture or set a mood. Poets and songwriters are masters of this advice. Metaphors, analogies, figurative language, even alliteration– all create memorable images with very few words.

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Jesus (hardly surprising, as He is the Word of God) was a master storyteller, using parables that we still recognize and identify with today–mustard seeds and prodigal sons, good Samaritans and lilies of the field– Jesus didn’t “lecture” about forgiveness or holiness or love; He provided word pictures, even as He demonstrated each concept in His actions.

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When Jesus was getting ready to return to Heaven, He commanded His disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations.. (Matthew 28:19 NIV) He also said to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature..(Mark 16:15 NKJV). And as I review Jesus’ methods and actions, I see that I need to make some changes.

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I need to listen more and lecture less. I need to spend more time with those who are shunned by the “righteous,” but cherished by God. I need to spend less time defending myself and more time testifying about Jesus. And I need to spend less time “telling” and more time “showing” love, obedience, joy, mercy, peace, and hope.

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This doesn’t eliminate the need to talk and write and “tell” about God– but I want to learn more about doing it God’s way!

Prayer and Pizza

Have you ever looked at a pizza and thought– “Wow, this reminds me of prayer?!”  Me neither. But God works in mysterious, and sometimes mischievous, ways to teach us great lessons.  God is an awesome teacher, and he often uses parables, object lessons, and analogies to illuminate his truth and make it memorable and comprehensible.  God tends to use a lot of food-related analogies (bread and wine, fish, mustard seeds, vineyards and grapes, fatted calves, bitter herbs, yeast, and salt…), likely because he knows that the way to our hearts and minds is often through our taste buds!

So yesterday, as I was thinking about prayer (and listening to my stomach rumble a bit), I sat down to write, and I was suddenly thinking about how prayer is kind of like a pizza– a wonderful, freshly made pizza.  The same ingredients that make a great pizza should help us build a great prayer life.

Every good pizza starts with dough.  Every good prayer starts by recognizing our “knead” to rest on God’s grace, his promises, his timing, his strength, and his love.  Whether your dough yields a traditional yeast and flour crust, a matzoh wafer, a cauliflower thin crust, a deep dish corn meal extravaganza, a flaky biscuit-dough crust, or even a culinary experiment, it provides a base for all the other ingredients.  I could get side-tracked into an entire blog just about the crust analogies (three-ingredient, yeastless crust: Holy Trinity?  self-rising crust: resurrection? round crust: eternity?  pray without ceasing?  crusts that are tossed, pressed, rolled out, or put on the rack?), but I’ll let that sit there and go on to the toppings.

One of the wonderful things about pizza is the endless combination of toppings.  Prayer can be just as unique as the person and occasion involved.  Some prayers are simple two- or three-ingredient prayers.  Some are piled on with praise or loaded with concerns.  Some prayers include ingredients that are sweet, or bitter, or crushed, or salty.  Some prayers are meaty, some are fruity, some are cheesy, and some are saucy.

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But ah…the aroma!  And the final product!  Something miraculous happens when simple (or complex) ingredients combine on the crust and come through the heat.  God takes our worries, our praises, our confessions, our remembrances, our groaning, and our rejoicing, and turns them into something supernatural and mysterious.  He compares our prayers to an aroma (like incense, not precisely pizza, but..) rising to Heaven.  Tangy, pungent, comforting, or mouth-watering, our prayers become satisfying, nourishing, powerful, and enticing, beyond what our mere words could ever produce.

The next time you make a pizza (or order one)–thank God for his gift of the food you eat– but remember to thank him for the miracle of prayer as well.

Buon Appetito!

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