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Listening on the Lake

John 21

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: [2] Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. [3] "I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

[4] Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

[5] He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?"

"No," they answered.

[6] He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

What do you do when your whole world seems to have fallen apart? After following Jesus for three years and diligently seeking to learn about the kingdom of God that He announced, the disciples were now trying to pick up the pieces and figure out what was next. Jesus had appeared to them in the Upper Room and commissioned them for ministry empowered them by the Holy Spirit. Yet they continued to struggle. They were drifting apart as they tried to find direction.

Seven of the eleven remaining disciples returned to Galilee some 80 miles north of Jerusalem. They may have done so because they had been told by the women to go to Galilee (Matthew 28:7). Still they were confused about the future and at least one of them was nursing the wounds of personal failure. Peter was struggling.

It was Peter who declared he was going back to the fishing nets. He may have needed money. He may have felt his person failure disqualified him from moving ahead. Whatever the case, Peter was not one to sit around. He was going to fish. He returned to the very nets he had walked away from three years earlier and the others quickly went along.

But the fishing did not go well. It must have been a difficult night. After three years, the calluses on their hands would have disappeared. The muscles used to throw nets would have ached. For these men who grew up on the lake, the discouragement must have been tremendous as the dim glow of a new day signaled the end of a fruitless night. Aching and weary, they prepared to return to the shore when a voice broke across the silence of the water.

"Friends, haven't you any fish?" It would have been obvious in the dim light that there were no fish. But they answered anyway.

Then the voice called again. "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." Just what every fisherman loves. Someone on the shore, calling out suggestions! Yet, there was the possibility that the stranger on the shore could see a school of fish from his vantage point. And there was only one way to find out.

The disciples ordered their aching muscles and raw hands to cast one more time. Just one more time, and then they would quit and go in to shore. But this time they were in for a surprise. When they cast on the right side of the boat, the catch of fish was so large they were unable to haul the net in!

What do you do when your whole world seems to have fallen apart? What do you do when things are unclear? When you are discouraged or wounded by failure?

1) Do something. Whether we wait or go, we must do something. Peter’s decision to “go fish” may not have been led by the Lord, but it is likely that the other six disciples did follow the lead of the Spirit when they did not let Peter go out alone. Waiting is a good thing to “do” as well. Isaiah 40:31 tells us that “those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” In our times of discouragement, we do well to listen and then get moving even if moving is into a place of waiting.

2) Listen. No matter what we do, no matter the task we attend, we must listen. We may listen all night before we hear, but we must listen. We really don’t know what happened out on the lake that night. We only know what did not happen, fish! It may have been a time of wonderful communion with the Holy Spirit. Whatever the case, we know that when the voice of the Lord called out in the morning, they did not resist Him. They listened.

3) Obey. We might soften it a bit by saying—respond, comply, act, or “reply to His invitation”. But the bottom line is that when the Lord invites us to fish in a different spot we need to do what we are told. He has a vantage point that we do not have. He knows what He is doing. He knows why He is asking. Whatever the Lord conveys, we must walk in that directive.

Are you feeling discouraged? A little beat up? Confused about the future. It can help to get moving. Do something, but be sure to listen. Listen for what is next. Then obey.

Lord, I love You. I am listening for Your voice. I am earnestly seeking Your direction. I am ready to obey. In Jesus’ name.