Ron Helle / May 13, 2022

Empty Nets

It’s when we get off course that God will bring about some empty nets into our lives.

“In Jesus’ name, I take dominion over the fish in the sea!” I’m embarrassed now, but as a new believer I used that prayer every time I went fishing. Apparently, I “lacked faith,” or so I was told, as I usually came up empty-handed. I can relate to Peter — Scripture doesn’t show him to be a very successful fisherman. In Luke’s Gospel, we see Jesus commandeering his boat so He could teach from the water’s edge. “And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’ And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking” (Luke 5:4-6, ESV). The amazing part of the story is that, after this phenomenal catch (so large that both boats were on the verge of sinking), Peter, James, and John left their fishing business and followed Jesus.

Another “fish story” involving Peter is found in John’s Gospel. After the Resurrection, Peter tells the other disciples that he was going fishing. Several of the disciples, including James and John, went with him. Another night of fishing and, once again, they came up empty-handed. Jesus comes on the scene: “Jesus said to them, ‘Children, do you have any fish?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So, they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish” (John 21:5-6).

At this point, you’d think Peter would capitalize on this success. He’d start the “Right Side Fishing Company” whereby they’d always throw their nets on the right side of the boat to catch fish. But that’s not what happened. Once again, we see them leaving all to follow Jesus. Why is that? There is a spiritual principle here that we need to grasp, and it has to do with empty nets.

Early in Matthew’s Gospel, we see Jesus’ call to Peter (and Andrew, his brother). “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.‘ Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20). You and I — indeed, all followers of Christ — have been called to be “fishers of men.” This is summed up in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Making disciples is not something that only pastors and “paid” church staff people do, or at least it shouldn’t be.

It’s when we get off course that God will bring about some empty nets into our lives. Peter had left all and followed Jesus, but the Crucifixion and Resurrection had upended his understanding of the Messianic Kingdom. He had been forgiven and restored, but he wasn’t sure what to do next, so he went back to what was familiar — he went fishing. Quite often we find ourselves doing the equivalent of going fishing. We may balk at what we feel God is calling us to, or we may be impatient at waiting for direction or deliverance in our current situation, so we go back to something that we think we can control. The reality is that, once we surrender our lives to God, He is in control, and He will allow us to experience empty nets to remind us that abundant life only comes from Him: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

What are your nets looking like today? Are you fishing for men (and women), bringing in a catch for the Kingdom? If you are, then your nets of joy, fruitfulness, and abundant life will be full. If you’re going back and fishing those old fishing grounds, you’ll find empty nets every time. I want to bring in full nets for the advancement of the Kingdom and the glory of God. What say ye, Man of Valor?

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