My husband Afa Maile is an outdoorsman, a camper and a fisherman. I am none of the above, so the recent weekend we spent camping was bound to be a learning experience for me. I have always had a cursory understanding of Mark 1 where Jesus tells his disciples, “I will make you fishers of men.” I know that my purpose in life is to make disciples, but having never actually fished, I lacked a deeper understanding of the passage. Keeping in mind that I now have been fishing a total of one time, I want to share some of the lessons I learned with you.
1. Fishing Takes A Lot of Preparation
Before going fishing, I believed that fishing meant putting a worm on a hook and dropping it in the water. In reality, there is significant preparation if you want to be a successful fisherman. You have to choose the right place, the right time of day, the right bait. There is a specific way to tie the fishing line into death traps in order to catch the fish. You have to weave the bait onto the hook so that it doesn’t come off easily in the water.
When comparing this to our purpose in life as disciples, it is easy to see how there is the same amount of preparation when we fish for men (and women!). Titus 2 teaches us that we should “make the gospel of God our Savior attractive.” In this passage, Paul gives specific directions to older men, older women, younger men and slaves. If we are not living according to God’s law before we go fishing, people will not be attracted to the Gospel…we have not used the right “bait.” Hypocrisy always scares off the fish.
1 Peter 3:15 tells us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” In order to be able to give an answer for the hope that we have, we have to be reading our Bible every day. We have to study and learn the First Principles so that we can teach others. This is the process of baiting our hooks and tying our lines correctly. These things have to be done before we get into Bible studies. Can you imagine a fisherman trying to bait his hook after he cast out the line? If we have not prepared ourselves in the Word of God, we might have many fish coming around, but they are all going to slip through the nets.
2. Fishing is A Bloody Business
Like many of the lessons I learned, this one is more than obvious to fisherman. To those of us who are not, it was surprising. After pulling the hook out of its mouth, the fish bled all over the table. It also fought hard to survive. It flopped all over the table trying to get back into the water where it had been living its whole life.
Studying the Bible and realizing where you are before God is a painful process, and people often want to return to their old life. As a disciple, it is easy for me to get impatient with people. I know the Truth, and I understand the amazing gift that it is to be in the Kingdom of God. I sometimes want people to join me here so badly that I forget that it can be a painful process that people have to fight through. Romans 6:1-6 tells us that each person literally dies in order to be raised to a new life. It is my role to be there to help them through the process, not to be upset or frustrated because they are not doing it in my timing.
3. The Grossest Stuff Comes Out After You Catch the Fish
I learned that after catching a fish, it has to be cleaned. Honestly, I had never put much thought into how it went from a scaly fish to a yummy fillet. Without being too graphic, that process begins with slicing it open and taking out all the insides that no one wants to eat.
Matthew 28:18-20 explains to us that we must make a disciple, baptize them and then teach them to obey everything He commanded. And James 1 tells us that the Word, the things He commanded us, are like a mirror. When we help people look into that mirror and do it ourselves, we see all the gross stuff…and it is only then that God can clean it all out. The hard work continues after someone has become a disciple. Otherwise, we end up with a fish that has all this grossness inside them and is not going to be useful. We cannot be afraid to do the hard work of discipling afterwards or give up trying before the job is actually done, for ourselves or the fish we catch.
4. Sometimes You Do Everything Right and the Fish Aren’t Biting
At one point in the day, my husband had done all the prep work, and we sat for two hours and caught nothing. He would pull the line in and most of the bait was eaten off the line, but we caught no fish. In Luke 5, Peter fished all night and caught nothing. But he told Jesus, that if Jesus said try again, he was going to try again…and Jesus gave them more fish than they could handle.
This has been the hardest one for me to come to terms with recently. There was an amazing young woman with whom I had the privilege to study the Bible. We had one study left to do, and she said that she was ready to be baptized no matter what the cost. Upon talking to her family, she decided that she did not want to commit her life to following Christ and while making that decision chose not to be my friend or even talk to me. After giving my whole heart to her and celebrating her impending baptism, I was disappointed and discouraged in her decision. When my husband spent several hours fishing and caught nothing, he brought his line in, retied the line and went straight back out. In less than five minutes, he caught his one fish of the day. In my situation, I wanted to withdraw my heart because of the disappointment. Afa would never have caught a fish if he didn’t cast his line out again, and I will never make a disciple unless I go back out and keep fishing too.
5. Fishing Feeds the Soul
After Afa caught and cleaned our fish, we had a great fish dinner at our house. This was the best fish I had ever eaten because I had seen the work that had gone into it. Most fish that I eat comes filleted and frozen from the grocery store. I was so excited about the fact that we had caught it, cleaned it and cooked it on our own.
In the same way, making disciples is part of our Spiritual food. It nourishes our souls. Jesus told his disciples in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me.” The joy and energy that comes from making and baptizing a disciple with pure motives in our own hearts is indescribable.
Even though it comes through my (VERY!) limited experience fishing, I am grateful for the opportunity to have a deeper understanding of Jesus’ metaphor. Indeed, we are all called to be fishers of men.