How God’s Will Can Mess Up Your Life in a Good Way –
Sermon 1 of 8 from the Beyond Denial: Finding Ourselves in Peter’s Story series
March 2009 – As you read this story, keep three things in mind:
1. The great revelation comes in a totally unexpected way.
Peter has no idea that his whole life is about to change. That’s usually how God works. We’re just going on in life, business as usual, everything copacetic, doing our thing, and suddenly the Lord intervenes to redirect our steps. My own experience has been that you can’t predict this in advance. As Jesus pointed in John 3:8, the Spirit blows wherever he wishes. You never know when the call will come to “launch out into the deep.”
2. The great revelation comes in the course of daily obedience.
Fishermen fish. That’s what they do. In the first century, that meant going out on the Sea of Galilee at night, casting your nets into the water, fishing all night, and then coming ashore at daybreak. When the text says that Peter and the others were cleaning their nets, it means that the long night was over, and they were taking care of the nets so they could go fishing when night came once again.
The way you discover God’s will for the future is to do what you know to be the will of God right now.
Teachers teach. Singers sing. Cooks cook. And on it goes for all of us. Where do you begin in discovering the will of God? Do what you already know to be the will of God in your present situation. The way you discover God’s will for the future is to do what you know to be the will of God right now. So many of us live for those high mountain peak experiences, for those emotional moments, for those times when the clouds part and God seems so real to us. Almost as if we could reach out and touch him. When we say “God, show me your will,” what we mean is, “Lord give me some feeling, some insight, some spiritual revelation." And God says, “I have already shown you my will. Now, just get up and do it!”
3. The great revelation comes only after the small step of obedience.
Jesus first asked Peter for the use of his boat as a kind of floating pulpit to address the crowds that gathered on the shore. That was fine with Peter who was busy cleaning his nets. It was a small thing, really. But that small step of obedience led to the miracle that changed Peter’s life. You never know when one of those great miracles is around the corner, but they are more likely to come as we travel along the pathway of daily obedience.
Having agreed to let Jesus use his boat as a floating pulpit, Jesus now challenges Peter to a much greater step of faith. “Let down the nets for a catch.” So first we obey in small things, and out of the nitty-gritty of daily obedience, we discover a greater challenge looming before us.
Luke 5:1-11 tells us how Christ called Peter to be his disciple. The progress of this story is very simple. First Peter caught fish, then Jesus caught Peter, then Peter caught men. It all begins with a frustrated fisherman cleaning his nets after a long, hard night.
I. A Sense of Need vv. 1-3, 5a
Fishing is hard work. It’s one thing to fish on the weekends. It’s something else to fish every day for a living. Peter, Andrew, James and John fished on the Sea of Galilee year round. They either sold their fish locally or the fish were salt-cured and sold as far away as Spain. You wouldn’t get rich that way, but a hardworking man could take care of his family.
Now it is morning and Peter and the others are tired, exhausted, and probably in a foul mood. Fishermen like to say that “your worst day fishing is better than your best day in the office,” but I’m not sure Peter would have agreed at that moment. Now they are busy mending the nets-time-consuming work made more difficult by the frustration of knowing they caught nothing the night before.
God still prepares us for his call by allowing us to endure personal failure.
When Jesus asks Peter if he can use his boat, Peter immediately agrees. He knows Jesus and admires him greatly. He is like so many church members I know in that he already has become a follower of sorts, but until now has never made a wholehearted commitment. So when Jesus wants to use his boat for a pulpit, Peter is honored to grant the request.
How fitting it is. Jesus comes to the scene of Peter’s failure and uses it to preach the Word. He takes the ordinary and makes it sacred. He uses a simple fishing boat as the setting for a mighty miracle.
Nothing in this story happens by chance. All is meant to teach us an important truth: God still prepares us for his call by allowing us to endure personal failure. Until we sense our need of him, we will not be ready to follow him. After all, if you think you are self-sufficient, why would you need Christ? We must be stripped of our self-confidence before we can be greatly used of God. Peter must be broken before he is ready to respond to the call of Christ.
II. A Challenge to Obedience vv. 4-5
The words of Jesus contain both a command and a promise. It’s not as if Jesus is saying, “Let’s go out into the deep water, put down the nets, and we’ll see what happens.” Jesus is promising that if Peter will obey, he will catch fish. I’m sure that after a long night of fruitless fishing, this must have been hard to believe.
God never gives foolish commands, though they may look foolish at the time.
We can learn some useful lessons from this:
1) God never gives foolish commands, though they may look foolish at the time.
2) God intends to bless those who obey him without hesitation.
3) God’s greatest miracles usually require our cooperation.
There were certainly reasons for Peter to be skeptical. After all, the experience of the previous night seemed conclusive. As a professional fisherman, Peter knew the lake. And he knew that sometimes even the best fishermen get “skunked.” He could have said, “Sorry, Lord, but it’s not worth the trouble.” Or “I’m the expert here.” Now comes the time to “fish or cut bait.” What will Peter do?
I love the way Peter puts it, “Because you say so” (v. 5). In the King James Version, the phrase is “Nevertheless, at Thy Word.” This is the watchword of the saints. Across the centuries believers have found them to be their divine marching orders. Conditions may be dark and the world may fight against us, circumstances may overwhelm us, and our fears nearly submerge us. But God speaks and his children say, “Nevertheless, at Thy Word.” And off we go in obedience to Almighty God. Middle-aged Abraham set off across the desert with no more than this: “Nevertheless, at Thy Word.” Noah built an ark in the face of an unbelieving world with no more than this: “Nevertheless, at Thy Word.” Moses defied Pharaoh, looking to heaven and saying, “Nevertheless, at Thy Word.” Joshua marched around Jericho day after day with this in his heart: “Nevertheless, at Thy Word.” And young David confounded all the doubting men of Israel by marching into the valley armed with this confidence: “Nevertheless, at Thy Word.”
“Without God we can’t; without us he won’t.”
Then Peter added, “I will let down the nets.” We still have a part to do. The fish aren’t going to jump in the boat by themselves. We still have to do what we have to do. We’ve got to go to work, we’ve got to stay on the diet, we’ve got to go to the meetings, we’ve got to go to the counselor, we’ve got to share the gospel, we’ve got to do our homework, we’ve got to write the term paper, we’ve got to get that project done. There is still work for us to do. I believe there are many answers to prayers that await only one thing: “Let down your nets.” Put your net down into the deep water, do your part, and then God will do his. Lloyd Ogilvie says it this way: “Without God we can’t; without us he won’t.”
III. A Demonstration of Divine Power vv. 6-7
This is what fishermen dream about. They spend a lifetime fishing in hopes that maybe one day something like this will happen to them. What a sight! So many fish came into the nets that they begin to break. The men end up filling both boats with so many fish that they began to sink. Think about that. Two overloaded boats with fish flopping everywhere slowly coming to shore. This is the biggest catch ever-and it happened in the middle of the day.
Please note that the fish were there all along. It’s not as if Jesus created the fish on the spur of the moment. Those fish were in the water the night before; Peter just couldn’t find them. But when Jesus is in the boat, everything changes. Everything is happening according to God’s plan. He allowed Peter to fail so he would learn what he could do with Jesus’ help.
There is a nice moral to this part of the story: Empty Nets without him; full nets with him. Let’s go fishing with Jesus every day!
When we lose, we always have an excuse.
IV. A Confession of Inadequacy vv. 8-10a
This part of the story has always intrigued me. Why would Peter beg Jesus to leave? For most of us failure is easier to handle than success. When we lose, we always have an excuse. It wasn’t the right time, the boss hated us, the job stunk, she didn’t love me, I didn’t need the money, the market wasn’t right, the refs were against us, the coach called the wrong plays, we were cheated, I wasn’t trying to win, my head wasn’t in the game, and on and on and on the excuses go.
Losing is easy.
Winning is much harder.
What if God blew your categories and gave you success beyond your wildest dreams? What if he let you fail miserably so he could give you overwhelming success later?
Not everyone can handle that kind of success. Most people can’t. We’re ready for “medium success” but not “outrageous success.” Like most of us, Peter thought in “man-sized” categories, not “God-sized” miracles. He had room in his mind for anything he could handle on his own. But when Jesus got involved, the results blew his circuits and (in the providence of God) drove him to his knees in desperate prayer.
To see God is to see ourselves as we really are.
The scene is reminiscent of Isaiah’s reaction upon seeing the Lord high and lifted up: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). Once Peter realized who Jesus really was-the true Son of God from heaven-he saw himself in a new light. To see God is to see ourselves as we really are. And sometimes the vision is too much for us to handle. Peter could not stand the contrast between the purity and power of Christ and his own sinfulness.
Here is a man who has been deeply changed on the inside. His pride has been burned away by a transforming vision of Christ.
V. A Call to Personal Commitment vv. 10b-11
I find it significant that Jesus seems to ignore Peter’s desperate confession of unworthiness. Jesus knows the truth about Peter and he knew it all along. What matters is that Peter now knows the truth about himself. With his pride stripped away, he is now ready to serve the Lord.
There is an important lesson for us to ponder in all this: When we encounter Jesus, we will never be the same again. No one can meet Jesus and walk away unchanged. We may end up closer to God or we may harden our hearts, but no one ever meets Jesus and stays the way they were before. In Peter’s case, his confession became part of his testimony. He knew he was a sinner and wasn’t ashamed to admit it. God can use a man who knows his weakness and doesn’t try to hide it.
When God wants to shake up the world, first he finds a man or a woman and he begins to shake them up.
Several years ago my friend Ramesh Richard sent me an email containing a one-sentence prayer that changed my life:
“Lord, do things I’m not used to.”
That prayer is an invitation to the Lord of the universe to enter my little world and shake it up any way he chooses. It’s a way of saying, “Lord, here’s my life. I’ve got it ordered the way I want. Here is my wife and here are my children. Here is my church, here are my friends, here is my place in the world, and here is all the stuff I own. Lord, I’ve got it all laid out neat and tidy. But I’m asking you-no, I’m inviting you to come into my world and rearrange anything you like if it will make me more effective for your Kingdom.”
Let me warn you-and I know this from personal experience-if you ever dare to pray that way, you’d better buckle up because God will take you up on that prayer. He’ll move you from where you are to where he wants you to be. Things may start happening quickly.
That’s always been God’s method. When he wants to shake up the world, first he finds a man or a woman and he begins to shake them up. And when they are shaken up, he uses them to shake up the world around them.
God’s will is always good, but it’s not always comfortable. And it’s certainly not predictable.
Peter proves the point. God’s will is always good, but it’s not always comfortable. And it’s certainly not predictable. One day you’re catching fish, the next you’re catching men. One day you’re on the boat, the next you’re following Jesus down some dusty road. One day you’re arguing about where to cast your nets, the next you’re arguing with the Pharisees. One day you’re washing the fish smell out of your robes, the next you’re watching Jesus raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead.
That’s what I mean when I say that God’s will can mess up your life in a good way.
“Put Me In Over My Head”
A few years ago I heard the story of Charlie Riggs and his favorite prayer. After his conversion Riggs was being discipled by a young man named Lorne Sanny, who in turn was being discipled by Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators. Charlie wanted to grow in Christ, but he was a bit rough around the edges. Sanny wrote to Trotman telling him that Charlie Riggs was the only man he was working with and that he felt discouraged by the prospects. “Stay with your man. “ Trotman wrote back, “You never know what God will do with him.”
So Lorne Sanny continued to work with Charlie Riggs, teaching him about Scripture memory and the secrets of effective follow-up. A few years passed and Billy Graham began his ministry. In the 1950s the Navigators joined with the Graham team to handle the follow-up of new converts in their early crusades. On the eve of the New York Crusade in 1957, the general director suddenly had to be replaced. Who could they get at the last minute? The lay chairman suggested Charlie Riggs but Billy wondered if he could handle the job: “I didn’t think he could do it. But I had this peace–that Charlie so depended on the Holy Spirit that I knew the Lord could do it through him.” Charlie Riggs got the job and the New York Crusade became a model for the many crusades that would follow in later years.
Charlie Riggs retired after many years of effective service for the Lord. What was his secret? How could a man with little formal training rise to such a high position and hold it for so long? Here is his answer: “I always asked the Lord to put me in over my head. That way, when I had a job to do, either the Lord had to help me or I was sunk.” God delighted to answer that prayer time after time. He put Charlie Riggs in over his head . . . and then bailed him out.
Let’s take Charlie Riggs’ prayer as our own: “Lord, put me in over my head.”
Here’s a challenge for every Christian who wants to become a difference-maker for Jesus Christ. Let’s take Charlie Riggs’ prayer as our own: “Lord, put me in over my head.” It’s always safer to stay in shallow water where you can feel the bottom under your feet, but the real challenge is to jump in where the water comes up over your head.
Walking the “Jesus Road”
For Peter and the other disciples, following Christ meant leaving behind the old life (including the incredible catch of fish), giving up their boats, their nets, and their livelihood, and following Christ into an unknown future. Dietrich Bonhoeffer described it this way: “They must burn their boats and plunge into absolute insecurity in order to learn the demand and the gift of Christ.”
Letting go must always come first. Anything that hinders our walk with Christ must go. Even some good things must go in order that better things may come from the Lord. We can’t have it both ways.
The word for “followed” means “to walk the same road.” That’s what a disciple does-he walks the same road as Jesus. He gets on the “Jesus road” and follows it wherever it may lead. No guarantees, no deals, no special promises. He simply walks that road every day, following in his Master’s steps.
Don’t be afraid to follow Jesus.
Don’t be afraid to follow Jesus. You’ll never regret starting down the “Jesus road.” You’ll only regret that you waited so long to do it.
Are you ready to follow Jesus wherever he leads? That’s all he wants.
They gave up everything and followed him! And my heart cries out, “Me too, Lord. Me too!”
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