Deep-Sea Fishing – The Ambition of Service
A Water Haul
Jesus was very fond of the outdoors. The Gospels have a woodsy smell. He taught in the synagogues, but He seemed to prefer the open air. He would go out on a country road, or down by the beach of the Galilean lake, and the people would eagerly gather around Him, and He would talk to them. One morning He had gone down to the lake shore. The people crowded in about Him and He commenced as usual to talk to them.
But so eager were they not to miss a word that they pressed in about Him very close. He was standing with His back to the water likely, and the people seemed likely to crowd Him over into the water. So He looked around for something to do. He was ever practical to the point of being matter-of-fact. A practical idealist was Jesus, the practical Idealist. Peter was down there, just a short distance off, with his partners and crew in their fishing boats, cleaning up after the night’s haul. Lifting His voice a little, Jesus called out, “Peter, will you pull around here, please.”
And Peter did. And Jesus, stepping into the boat, sat down, and went on talking to the people. Interruptions never seemed to disturb Him. He seemed to regard them in the light of possible index fingers pointing out the next thing to be done. Every missionary, foreign and home, has to get practised in just that, while holding steady to his underlying purpose.
When He had finished talking, He turned to Peter and said quietly, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” And Peter smiled at the very idea, as he said, “Master, we’ve been out the whole night, and haven’t caught a thing, nothing but a water haul, but”—with a thoughtful earnestness taking the place of the critical smile—“if you say so, of course we will.” And the Master said so. And now they can’t handle the haul.
I want to bring to you anew this old word of command from Jesus’ lips: “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” These men in the story had failed. They had gone out the evening before intending and expecting to bring home a fine haul of fish for the Capernaum or the Bethsaida market. They came back with nothing for the night’s work but tired muscles and torn nets. This message is for men who have failed, or who have seemed to fail. There is no failure to an earnest man. A man cannot fail without his own consent. Every seeming failure is the seed of a coming success to earnest men.
If any of us have seemed to fail, our boots have lead in them, and our hearts are heavy too, for lack of success—this message is for us, “Launch out, and let down.” Failure is very apt to breed discouragement. Your clothing seems damp and heavy with the dew of a fruitless night. Oftentimes the best thing for that is action. Mix yourself with the action of boats and nets and men. That’s the Master’s word here.
Living up in the Spirit Realm
There are three facts that group about the message of Jesus in this story. And those same three facts need to group themselves in bold outline about our using of it, too. The first is this: there was contact with Jesus as a Master. That must come in, and come in strong, before there can be any right using of this word of command.
There needs to be the first contact when a man turns over the control of his life to Jesus as Master. There needs to be close contact that the Master’s plan of service may be clearly seen and faithfully started upon. There must be continual contact that so His mastery may control and guide at every step.
The second fact is this: obedience to the Master’s word. Obedience, mind you, whether the thing you are told to do seems a likely thing to do or not. Here with the fishermen there were some things that pulled the other way. They had been out all night and failed. The very sense of failure strong within them was against obedience. Discouraged men seldom succeed at anything. And there was a very unlikely chance ahead. The time for fishing with them was in the night. Failure behind, and a poor chance ahead! Yet they obeyed.
If Peter had acted the way some modern folks do he would have said something like this: “You’ll excuse me, Master, for saying it; but—this is no time to fish in these waters. Pardon me, sir, I have no doubt you know about carpentering. But I’m a fisherman. When it comes to yokes and plows I’ll gladly yield to you. But fishing—you see, I’ve been fishing ever since I was a boy. Maybe up around Nazareth, in the brooks and ponds up there, you can catch something in daylight, but not down here.”
I have heard many people talking that way. But Peter didn’t. Aren’t you glad he didn’t? He stumbled often. He talked foolishly to Jesus more than once, but not this time. He obeyed. It was against his habit, against his ideas of what was best, but the message was clear and he obeyed it. Happy is the man who listens to the inner Voice, learns keenly how to hear distinctly and accurately, and obeys. Faith is never contrary to reason, but it is frequently higher up. The spirit realm is the highest.
A man should reach up through his bodily life, through a keen, strong intellectual perception and grasp, up into the spirit realm and abide there. Many a man of splendid ability and earnestness never shakes off his intellectual scaffolding in the upward building. It remains to hamper and mar. Through a mastered body, and a disciplined mind, up to the spirit level is the full swing. Obedience to the clearly discerned voice of command from the Master is the one pathway of full power.
The third fact was sure to follow these two. It came last. There were unexpectedly large results. There always will be where the first two facts are faithfully gotten in.
Saved to Serve
There is a growth in this message of Jesus. There are four steps up and out. First comes the plain call to service: “Launch out.” This is the ringing service call. It is a familiar word to a follower of Jesus. He was always saying, “Go ye.” To every man He said first of all, “Come.” Then, as quickly as a man came, the word was changed to “go.”
I like greatly the motto of the Salvation Army. It must have been born for those workers in the warm heart of the mother of the Army, Catharine Booth. That mother explains much of the marvelous power of that organization. Their motto is, “Saved to Serve.” Some seem to put the period in after the first word. That’s bad punctuation and worse Christianity. We are saved to be savers. There is needed the divine Savior and the human saver. Only he who has been saved can help save somebody else. The tingle of experience in the blood attracts men.
The Master says, “Launch out.” Get down into the thick of the fight. One should not unwisely wear out his strength. But on the other hand, it’s better to wear out than to rust out. You’ll last longer, and any loss of strength is to be preferred to the loss through yellow, eating rust. A minister noted for his striking way of putting truth was preaching upon the words that were spoken of Paul and his companions: “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.” He said there were three points to his sermon: first, the world was wrong side up; second, it had to be gotten right side up; third, we’re the fellows to do it. That is the first note of this message, we are the fellows to do it.
Ambition in Service
The second step in this ringing call to service is this: ambition in service. “Launch out into the deep.” The shore waters are largely over-fished. Out in the deeps are fish that have never had smell or sight of bait or net. Here, near shore, the lines get badly tangled sometimes, and committees have to be appointed to try to untangle the lines and sweeten up the fishermen.
And the fish get very particular about the sort and shape of the bait. Some men have taken to fishing wholly with pickles, but with very unsatisfactory results. The fish nibble, but are seldom landed apparently. And just a little bit out are fish that never have gotten a suggestion of a good bite.
There are deeps all around. One might fairly give an inward personal turn to the word. There are personal deeps that have not yet been sounded. There are untouched deeps in prayer, in Bible study, and in the winning of others. There are deeps in acquaintance with Jesus, in purity of life, in sacrifice and in giving whose bottom no greasy lead has yet touched. “Out into the deep,” comes that quiet intense inner voice of Jesus spoken into one’s innermost heart.
There are the great deeps in service waiting our coming. Roundabout every church is a fringe of deep, sometimes a deep fringe and broad, of those practically untouched by the warm message of Jesus; and around every Christian Association of men and of women. In the heart and on the edges of every village and town and city unfathomed deeps lie; deeps in a man’s own state, deeps in our land, great untouched deeps in the world.
Wherever there is a man who has not felt the warm side of the story of Jesus’ dying there is a deep. Wherever a group of such can be found is a deep increased in depth by the number in the group. Wherever the great crowds are gathered together to whom no word at all has come, neither by personal touch nor printed page nor any other wise, there is the deepest deep. With a deep glow in His eyes as He speaks the word, and the tenderness and softness of deep emotion, and the earnestness of one who has Himself been in the deep Jesus says anew to us to-day, “out into the deep.”
We are to be ambitious in service. Jesus was ambitious. He reached out for all, those nearest, those farthest. He talked of all nations, of a world. His follower must have a long reach to keep up. That word ambition has been much abused. It has been used much in connection with selfish self-seeking, until that meaning has become almost its whole meaning in the thinking of many people. But with the purpose dominant in Jesus we can properly use it in its old literal meaning. Originally it simply meant going around, being used in the sense of going out among people soliciting their favor or their votes.
It has the fine vitality of that word “go” in it. That for which a man is ambitious decides the quality of the word. A pure, holy purpose makes the intense reaching for it pure and holy too. An intense reaching out to the farthest reach of the Master’s word, that finds expression in the dominant spirit of the life, in the service, in the giving, the sacrificing, the praying—this is the true ambition.
Paul uses three times a word that has the force of our word ambition. The American Revision uses ambition in the margin for it. In advising the group of followers in Thessalonica he says, “Study to be quiet.” The practical force of the phrase there is this: be ambitious to be unambitious in the world’s abused meaning of ambitious. In writing the second time to the friends at Corinth where his motives had been much criticised he said, “I make it my aim (or ambition) to be well-pleasing unto Him.”
And later, in writing to the Christians at Rome, whom he had never seen, he said that he had made it his aim or had been ambitious to preach the Gospel where nobody had yet gone. The literal meaning of the word he uses is something like this, striving from a love of honor. And we may find a fine meaning in that which was doubtless used otherwise.
It was a matter of honor with Paul to do as he was doing. And he would have the honor of having fully carried out his Master’s wish. He coveted earnestly the honor of being always pleasing to his Master both in life and in the sort and reach of his service. Here are Paul’s three ambitions: to be wholly free of the fires of worldly ambitions; to be well-pleasing to Jesus, his Lord; to reach out beyond, where nobody had yet gone with the story of Jesus’ dying and living again.
Paul was obeying Jesus. Jesus said to those fishermen on Galilee’s waters, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” Paul said, “I have steadily made it the one thing I drove hard at in service, to get out beyond all other lines and nets to where nobody has yet gone.”
Use What You Have
The third step in this service-call is this: practicality in service: “Let down your nets.” I can imagine Peter saying, “Master, if we had known your plans for this morning, I would have sent up to Tyre for the newest patented nets, or down to Cairo. These nets of ours have been patched and patched. They are so old.” The Master says, “Let down your nets.”
There is a very common delusion that holds us back from doing something because we are not skilled in doing it. “Let the pastor speak to that young man; I can’t do it very well.” “I can’t teach very well; let some one else take that class.” The Master says, “Use what you have.” Do your best. Your best may not be the best, but if it be your best, it will be God-blest, and always bring a harvest.
Use what you have. Do not despise the stuff God put into you. Train and discipline it the best you can, and use it. And in using it you will be training it. The best training is in use. Brains and pains and prayer are an irresistible trinity. When the gray matter and the finger tips and the knees get into a combination great results always come.
The old Hebrew farmer Shamgar had only a long ox-goad with which to prod his beasts in the field. The traditional enemy, the Philistine, comes up over the hill. Shamgar’s neighbors have taken to their heels. But Shamgar is made of different stuff. He asks a man hurrying by, “How many do you think there are?” And the man calls out, “About six hundred, I should say.”
Shamgar sets his jaws together hard, gets a fresh grip on his ox-goad, digs his heels into the ground for a good hold, and mutters to himself, “I guess they are about four hundred short.” And he smites, left and right, up and down, hip and thigh, with his strange weapon. And a great victory comes to the nation under its new leader.
David had only a leather sling, home-made likely, and a few smooth stones out of the running brook. He had skill in slinging stones, a keen trained eye, a steady nerve, a practiced arm, and well-knit muscles. But what were these against a giant almost twice his height and years, and armed to the teeth? Yet the ruddy-faced stripling had something better yet along with his sling and stones and skill. He had a simple trust in God. He had a hot protest in his heart against the slandering of God’s people by this heathen giant. He combined all he had, sling, stones, skill, and faith, and the laughing, sneering giant is soon under his feet, and feeling the edge of his own sword. “Let down your nets.” Use what you have.
There was a woman living down by the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea a good while ago. Her heart had been touched by God, and ever after beat warm for others. But what could she do? She couldn’t make speeches, nor write papers for the missionary society, nor preside over its meetings. She seemed to have one special gift. She could sew. She could do plain sewing and overcast, cross-stitch and hem-stitch. I suppose she knew the herring-bone-stitch and feather-stitch, and other sorts too.
And so she just busied herself finding out poor folks who needed clothing, some women too hard-worked to care for their children’s clothing. And she sewed for them. She was a seamstress for Jesus’ sake to all the needy folks she could find. I expect she stuck pretty closely to the plain stitching, though likely as not she would put in some of the fancy too to please the people she was winning to her Master.
And she sewed the story of Jesus, and the heart of Jesus, into coats and skirts and such. All through Joppa her message went into homes not otherwise open perhaps. And the women read the story of her heart in the stitches and they found Jesus through her needle. She used what she had. And the women of the church have rightly honored her name in their societies.
But mark keenly this: while using to the full, and faithfully, just what you have, there must needs be utter dependence upon God. Not what you have, nor what you can do, but Somebody in what you have, and through what you do. Notice, “Their nets were breaking.” They were to use their nets, but the power was somewhere else. As we are made up, there frequently needs to be a breaking before the glory of God is revealed. It need not be so, necessarily.
Yet as a matter of fact most people have to stub their toes and then go stumbling down with a clash, measuring their length on the earth, and getting some scars that stay before they can be mightily used. So many strong wills are strong enough to be stubborn, but not strong enough to yield. Gideon’s pitchers had to be broken before the lights flashed out and brought panic to the enemy.
It was when the alabaster box was broken that its fine fragrance filled the house, and spread out into all the world. Somebody prayed, “O Lord, take me, and break me, and make me.” That is the usual order as a matter of fact. Yet if the strength of stubbornness that must be broken down to change its direction, were but swung God’s way at once—But most folks that have been greatly used have some of this sort of scars. Utter dependence upon God’s strength in doing God’s service is the lesson of the breaking nets.
Expectancy in Service
The climax of this message of Jesus is in its end: “Let down your nets for a draught.” There is to be expectancy in service. Ideas of draughts changed that day. “Peter, what would you call a good draught?” “Well,” the old fisherman says, as he sits stitching up the holes in his nets, “after last night I think if we got a boat half full it wouldn’t be a bad haul.” “Andrew, what’s a draught?” And Andrew says, “I think after this water haul we’ve had, a haul of holes, Peter hits it pretty close.”
“Master, how much is a draught?” And His answer comes back over the water, “Twice as much as you are able to take care of, and then more.” They filled that boat, sent for another, filled that, and then didn’t land all they had caught.
How much do you reckon a draught in your life, in your church, in your mission, your field, how much are you saying ?—“Master, what is your reckoning of a draught here in this man’s life, out here in this field of service?” And from this Galilean story there comes back anew to our hearts the Master’s reply, “Twice as much as you have planned for, and then more.”
Expectancy is the eye of faith. Faith always has a watch-tower. When Elijah went to the tiptop of Carmel to pray, he was careful to send his servant to watch the sea. Prayer is faith looking up. Expectancy is faith looking out.
Jesus Went into the Deeps
And so to every one of us to-day comes afresh that ringing command, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a draught.”
“’Launch out into the deep;’
The awful depth of a world’s despair;
Sorrow and ruin and death are there.
And the sea is wide;
And its pitiless tide
Bears on its bosom away.
Beauty and youth,
In relentless ruth,
To its dark abyss for aye.
But the Master’s voice comes over the sea,
‘Let down your nets for a draught for Me.’
And He stands in our midst,
On our wreck-strewn strand.
And sweet and loving is His command.
His loving word is to each, to all.
And wherever that loving word is heard,
There hang the nets of the royal Word.
Trust to the nets, and not to your skill;
Trust to the royal Master’s will.
Let down the nets this day, this hour;
For the word of a king is a word of power,
And the King’s own word comes over the sea,
Let down your nets for a draught for Me.’“
There is a last word that comes up insisting to be said. It is this: Jesus went down into the deeps for us. Deeper deeps than we know or ever shall He sounded with the line of His own life on our behalf. He got badly scarred that night of darkness. It is this scarred Jesus who earnestly asks us to come along after Him so far as we can. His voice with a tenderness of love wrought into it on the cross says to us, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.”