It is no secret that I love to fish. I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember. Fishing has always been a refuge for me, a place I can escape to– whether it’s a hundred yards over to the ponds in my neighborhood, a mountain stream in Colorado, or the far off shorelines of Hawaii.
As if I needed another excuse, I have always been struck by the prevalence of fishing and fishermen in the Gospels:
- Seven of the original twelve apostles are thought to have been fishermen by trade
- Not once, but twice, Jesus orchestrated a miraculous catch of fish
- Jesus uses a fish (and a fisherman) to deliver the required temple tax
- Jesus’ first promise to His disciples was not to make their lives easier, or to fix up their marriages– no, it was to make them “fishers of men”!
I am encouraged by the fact that Jesus valued fishermen! But before I get carried away by the special spiritual status afforded to me by my love of fishing, we need to put this all into context. In this case, we need to make sure we understand exactly what “fishing” and being a “fishermen” meant in those days.
To be clear, what we consider fishing was something very different from what Jesus considered as fishing. Fishing was not done with graphite rods, multi-ball bearing reels and braided fishing line. What Jesus envisioned as fishing would not have used hooks but nets– heavy circular nets. The fisherman of the day would have either cast their nets from the shoreline or dropped their nets from boats. After tossing or dropping the net, they would then have to pull the heavy net in hand over hand. If they were skilled (and lucky), the net would be made heavier by the presence of fish– not just one but many. Being a fisherman meant long nights (most fishing was done at night) of back-breaking work, followed by a day of ensuring the nets are clean and laid out to dry, and mending any tears. Fishing in Jesus’ day was far from a relaxing refuge!
What Jesus valued in those fishermen He called to be His first disciples was their work ethic as well as the ability to care for the tools of their trade, no matter how tired or discouraged they may be. I am sure there were many nights where they caught nothing, yet the nets still needed to be cared for and made ready for the next night of fishing. Luke 5 even tells a story of exactly that. In the same way, Jesus chose men who would care for the Gospel no matter how intense the persecution or how discouraging the circumstances. He was looking for men who had the strength to pull in a full net and the determination to cast the nets back out even if the last toss came up empty.
I’m not sure the image of the lone fisherman on a high mountain stream is what Jesus was looking for! In fact, to be perfectly honest, modern rod-and-reel fishing works more like the Enemy than Jesus! Although it pains me to make such a comparison, the way a fisherman works a lure and fights a fish illustrates the exact way Satan uses temptation to ensnare us.
Let’s take a look at how a fisherman goes about catching a fish. As an avid fly fisherman, one of the first things I learned is to “match the hatch.” One of the main targets of the fly fisherman is trout. Trout feed mainly on insects. One of the best times to fish is when one of the many varieties of aquatic insects are actively hatching– that is, emerging from the water and taking flight. What starts out as underwater larvae in the riverbed ends up working their way to the surface, where they unfurl their wings and then literally take flight. While they are floating on the surface, drying out their wings, they’re an easy meal for a hungry fish. As a fly fisherman, I would want to put on a fly that looks like what the fish are eating– something the same color, size and shape as what is currently hatching. In other words, I want to deceive the fish into thinking my fly is the real thing– an easy meal! I’m only hoping they won’t notice the hook in the fly that is sharp enough to lodge itself in its jaw.
Once a fish takes the fly, the battle begins. The fish knows it’s in trouble and will do everything in its power to get free– shaking its head, running upstream, downstream and even jumping clear out of the water. Meanwhile, a professional fisherman is not afraid to give his catch room to “run” and tire, allowing it to take line. In those moments, I wonder if the fish thinks it is free, only to be disappointed when it again feels the tug of the hook. The fish eventually succumbs, worn out from fighting, and ends up in a net before being subjected to the humiliation of having its picture taken with its captor, or worse yet, kept for dinner.
In James 1:13-15 we are given a play-by-play description of how we end up ensnared by sin:
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
James could very well be describing what happens to an unfortunate fish that is enticed by a well-presented lure. The Enemy does this to us all the time. He dangles a deceptive lure in front of us that appears to hold the promise of satisfying our hunger. And once we take the bait of temptation, we find out there is always a hook– sharp and hard to dislodge. Sometimes we may think we’re free, except the hook is still there. One yank on the line and we feel its pain once again. Without help, we will eventually get worn out, and end up as Satan’s prized dinner.
Fortunately, God offers us a chance for freedom. When we find ourselves with a hook in our mouths, instead of running around aimlessly trying to escape, run straight to God. I find the hardest fish to land are the ones who make a beeline directly away from me. Once a fish begins moving side to side, it becomes much easier to land. Hebrews 12:1-3 tells us the same thing:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
What does this look like in practical terms? For starters:
- Spend more time in scripture
- Spend more time in prayer
- Seek (and heed) Godly counsel
- Increase your participation in a community of believers (the church)
- Don’t be afraid to seek professional help– counseling, rehab, etc.
There are probably dozens of ways “running to God” can play out in each of our lives. No matter what we end up doing, I know this: If we make a run straight to God, He will set us free!
Comment below: What specific practical things have you done when you felt the sting of the “hook of sin” in your life?