Have you ever tried to learn how to play a new game by just reading the directions? It’s pretty hard to do, isn’t it? It’s much easier if someone in the group already knows how to play the game and they walk you through the first couple of times.
Have you ever wondered how skateboarders and motocross riders learn to do what they do? Do they sit in classes, read books on their tricks, take tests over the physics involved and write papers? In fact, a person could read an infinite number of books about how to skateboard, but until he or she actually got on a skateboard and tried to ride it, he isn’t going to learn how, right?
When Jesus called His disciples, He followed the same pattern of teaching that we now know ensures the most success. First, He talked about what He wanted them to learn. Next, He showed them, and then He had them try it, both with supervision and without. That’s how apprentices used to learn their tasks.
We don’t have many apprentices around anymore, but my father, who was born in 1910, began his working life as a blacksmith’s apprentice. Since he was kind of on the cusp of what we would consider “old world” ways of thinking and “modern” ways, he went to school too. He became a tool and die maker/machinist and never lost his love of creating things with his hands. He was also a sculptor and could make pretty much anything out of metal, stone or wood.
Now, even though my father learned his skills mostly through practice, I remember that he had a book he would refer to from time to time. It was called the Machinist’s Handbook. I really couldn’t tell you what all it had in it, even though I have looked through it many times, because it made absolutely no sense to me. But he could look through its pages and find a solution to a problem that he had encountered in one of his tasks. He even had parts of that book memorized because they were the most helpful to him. Hm … are you thinking what I’m thinking?
We could say that the disciples were Jesus’ apprentices, couldn’t we? Apprentice fishers of men.
“And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him.” Matthew 4:18-20
“The prompt, unquestioning obedience of these men, with no promise of wages, seems remarkable; but the words of Christ were an invitation that carried with it an impelling power. Christ would make these humble fishermen, in connection with Himself, the means of taking men out of the service of Satan, and placing them in the service of God. In this work they would become his witnesses, bearing to the world His truth unmingled with the traditions and sophistries of men. By practicing His virtues, by walking and working with Him, they were to be qualified to be fishers of men.”1
Can you imagine what that must have been like for the men that Jesus called? Did they really understand what Jesus was calling them to do? Did they have any idea what was involved in being a fisher of men? I’m thinking, probably not. And they went anyway. Isn’t that odd?
Do you think you would have gone? Did Jesus call other people who chose not to go with Him? Do you realize that Jesus is calling us, right this moment, to become fishers of men, just like He did those men?
How do we become fishers of men? I mean, the disciples had Jesus right there with them for three and a half years, and they still didn’t really figure it out until after Jesus died. How can we even begin to learn?
Well, in addition to the Holy Spirit, we do have the Bible. We can sit at Jesus’ feet almost like the disciples did and learn from His words. In some ways, it might even be easier for us, because it’s condensed to the most important information.
We have to remember, though, that it’s easy to get stuck in the book phase of learning. We can get all caught up in theory and debate, but that’s probably not going to lead anyone to Jesus.
A few years ago, I decided to learn to crochet. I got a book or two, I looked on the internet. I read how to get started and I looked at picture after picture of all the different kinds of stitches. I looked at pictures of afghans and baby sweaters. But until I picked up a crochet hook and some yarn and started practicing, I hadn’t learned how to crochet.
Reading the directions is fine, but we have to move on from there. We have to start practicing what we’ve read. How many of us come to church every week, study our lesson, read our Bibles, and that’s all?
We’re stuck in the first phase of becoming fishers of men.
That’s all good stuff to do, but it isn’t enough. We have to move on to phase two: practicing what we’ve been learning.
What? You don’t think you’re ready?
“One of the lessons I have learned in six and half decades of life is that very few dreams should go on hold while you improve the shortcomings of your life …. To be sure, there are times when you need to stop what you are doing and focus on conquering a flaw. But if you wait till all your shortcomings are remedied, your dreams will die. All our advances are with a limp.
“If you wait till you are beyond criticism to pursue your dream, you will never do it. You won’t marry or stay married. You won’t decide to have children or raise them. You won’t take your first job or keep it. You won’t go into missions or stay there …. Few things paralyze people more than their own imperfections. And there are always people around to remind you of your flaws and suggest you can’t move forward until you’re better.”2
You know what? On our own, we’ll never be ready. And Satan will make sure that we never, ever feel ready. We have to start anyway, holding Jesus’ hand, and He’ll take us where we need to be. We just have to start doing something. Jesus didn’t spend three and a half years teaching His disciples and then say, “OK, the teaching’s over, go home.” No! That’s when the real work started! If you doubt that, you need to re-read the book of Acts.
I’m sure that sometimes the disciples didn’t feel like they could do what they were supposed to be doing. And without the Holy Spirit, they couldn’t. But, with the Holy Spirit, they could do absolutely anything!
The same goes for you and me. There will be times when we’re tired or when we mess things up or just don’t know what to do next. But Jesus is right with us, whispering to us, “for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20b