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Fishing With Jesus

by Michael W. Campbell

Some of my earliest memories are of going fishing with my dad and grandpa. We loved to go fishing, especially on my grandpa’s boat off Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We would leave at the crack of dawn. Of course, we loved to show off the fish that we caught, too. Even many years later, as a vegetarian, I still love the nostalgia of going fishing with family.

The Bible is full of “fish stories,” but some of my favorites are found in the Gospels. Jesus called four of His disciples while they were fishing—which for them was a life or death business that determined their livelihood and whether they would be able to eat that day. What is clear is that they had toiled all night and caught nothing. Simon Peter said, “Nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:5, NKJV).1 And before they knew it, they had caught so many fish that their boat was about to sink!

Jesus first taught His would-be disciples on the shores with a great multitude, but now He made a significant and tangible difference in their everyday lives. When they realized, after both listening as well as experiencing, Peter’s natural response was to observe his own sinfulness: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (verse 8, NKJV). Fortunately, Jesus used this teachable moment to both challenge them as well as to give new purpose to their lives. “ ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people’ ” (Matthew 4:19, NIV).2

Fishing lessons

Since most of my family is Canadian, and I grew up in the United States, I looked forward to trips back to British Columbia to visit family. One such summer my dad, Uncle Colin, my best friend Wesley, and I decided to canoe the 116 km (72 mile) trek of the Bowron Lake Provincial Park canoe circuit. We prepared for months in advance. One of the things that I wanted to see, but had never seen before, was a real, live moose. After all, how could I be a Canadian citizen and never have seen a moose?!

As we set out the first day, we enjoyed the pristine wilderness. We stayed in a rustic cabin the next night. Early the next morning my dad woke me up; a moose had practically looked at us while we were sleeping. I was now more determined than ever.

In an effort to help pass the time, my buddy Wesley built a sail for our canoe, a patchwork of clothes that never seemed to work. Two girls from Switzerland sailed right by us—we called them the “Swiss Misses”—as I put bait on the end of my fishing pole. I was going to pass my time fishing, after all, even if I couldn’t find a moose, at least I could prove to my dad and uncle that I could catch fish. Apparently I was a bit rusty because on one of my first attempts, I forgot to hold on to one of my grandpa’s fishing poles. Unfortunately, it went down so far that I couldn’t retrieve it, but oh, the water was so cold!

Two days later I was putting in my line (as well as making sure to hold on to my fishing pole!) when I felt that tug I remembered. It was a strong pull. I yelled to Wesley to get ready with the net. I managed to pull up a 20-inch rainbow trout. It was beautiful! My dad and uncle were too far ahead to notice, but we quickly caught up. When we did, we made a fire beside the lake. As it turned out, I was the only one to catch anything on the whole trip! There are few pleasures in life better than eating a fish that you have caught after a hard day of canoeing.

Suddenly we all froze as a grizzly bear lumbered out of the woods. Apparently he was hungry, too. We ran for safety to a protected shelter nearby as we watched him eat our fish. Our feast was gone. Fortunately, I had better luck with moose. On our last day I saw a moose with its calf on the edge of the lake. Not all was lost.

Fishing for Jesus

Growing up, one of the things that I learned is that fishing is hard work, and the pressure was only more intense for those disciples whose livelihood depended upon what they caught. Yet, it is interesting to me that after Jesus died and was resurrected there is another fishing story. Like most Christians, I’ve discovered that my Christian experience is not just mountain top experiences. There are also times when I’ve gone through valleys of discouragement. After Jesus died, the disciples were discouraged, so they went back to what they knew was safe: catching fish. 

Once again Jesus finds them on the edge of the shore unable to catch anything. “He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ” (John 

21:5, NIV). The words sound as crazy as when our family is on a trip and we run out of snacks—except for them it was worse! They had been up all night. The response was a simple, “No!” 

Then Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the other side. Before they know it, they have more fish than they know what to do with. Soon after, Peter recognizes that this is the risen Lord. He drops everything (including some of his clothes) to head directly to Jesus. Although Jesus had shown Himself before, He chose to meet them where they were at, doing what they knew how to do best. Yet they remained powerless and ineffective. 

I believe that Jesus chose this as the final place to meet His disciples before His ascension as a curious act of providence to help remind them about where their journey began. He called them to proclaim the good news of the gospel. They were no longer to fish for themselves in their own strength. Instead, He called them to proclaim the good news of salvation and to fish for Him. Jesus calls us all to do the same for Him. As this summer begins, let’s all take on God’s command and go fish for Jesus . . . you’ll be amazed what you catch when you use Him as bait. 

1 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. 2 Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All right reserved worldwide.Michael Campbell writes from Cavite, Philippines. 

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