I don’t know how I’m going to start with this subject. It has been on my heart for the last several days. So I guess I’ll go about it in stream-of-consciousness fashion, as usual. There are two metaphorical images floating around in my mind right now as I think about this – catching fish and knitting sweaters. The comparison of God’s love to the idea of catching fish is intriguing and so I’m rolling with it. (The sweater will be addressed in part 2, a separate posting),
For many years it was a struggle for me to fully believe in God. There was always the sense that yes, God was “there” in the background, but I saw Him more as an abstract idea rather than the truly living being that He is. While I did understand that the only way to reach Him is through His Son, Jesus, I didn’t truly know what that meant. Looking back on my mindset at the time, I see now that I didn’t understand Jesus at all. But then, I wasn’t really taught nor had endeavored to learn much about Him. Schools and our society in general tend to discourage the public from knowing of Jesus Christ.
I suppose what I couldn’t understand was why anyone would sacrifice themselves for humanity, which I considered little better than a virus on the planet at the time. I also didn’t understand the Holy Spirit, either, except as a mysterious third entity Whom God placed here for us to learn from. I understood the basic idea of Him, but not the reality of Him. And then I wondered, how can I get to know and love God when I can’t even understand Him?
Even when I began trying to plow my way through the Bible, reading passages in an older version of English that I didn’t understand, I just didn’t “get it,” no matter how hard I tried. It occurred to me one day, by way of the Holy Spirit, that I was trying too hard.
“Fishing” versus “Catching”
Have you ever watched people fishing at a dock or along a shoreline and noticed that there are always one or two people among them who always seem to catch fish when no one else can? They throw their line into the water and reel in one fish after another, while the person sitting beside them – using the same rig, same bait, same everything – won’t catch anything all day long. Fishermen have a saying for those people who copy the techniques of others yet catch nothing: “They’re just not holding their mouth right.”
There is, apparently, a difference between those who “go fishing” versus those who “go to catch some fish.” One is trying, the other is doing.
I’ve watched these not-so-skilled fishermen as they finally figured out what they were doing wrong. Most times they’re not successful because they were overthinking the problem and using equipment that was too complicated. A man with a $500 fishing rod with a lot of built-in sensory tech is usually out-fished by some kid sitting there with a cane pole with a bit of string tied on and using a bent safety pin for a hook.
Other times, they are simply over-throwing their baited hook. The fish might only be a few feet away from them, feeding at around 4 feet deep. The fishermen who can’t catch them are throwing their lures way too far out into the water, well beyond the fish, or else they are fishing too deep or too shallow, missing that “goldilocks level” where the fish are. And there are those who are either lazy, impatient or both, and they often give up, leaving the dock empty-handed. These things are basically what I’d been doing in my efforts to get to know God in Jesus Christ.
- My motivations were wrong (I just wanted to be saved, saving my own life)- fishing too shallow
- My attempts to understand Him were often misled (misinterpreting the scriptures or listening to too many people who were “reading between the lines”) – fishing too deep
- My efforts became desperate, I didn’t believe in “Grace” and thought I had to adhere strictly to the Law of Moses – throwing past the fish
- I wasn’t praying in a way that God would hear me, I often left Jesus out of the conversation, and struggled with how to address the Holy Trinity – I wasn’t “holding my mouth right.”
- When I saw that others were hearing from God all the time, and things always seemed to work out for them but never did for me, I became frustrated. I gave up more than once, figuring that maybe there was something wrong with me, that God didn’t want anything to do with me. – I got up and left the dock many times. I had no patience.
Over the last several years, especially when I was forced to face my own mortality when I was diagnosed with cancer, it suddenly became really important to me to get to know God. But that’s the way it usually happens, isn’t it?
When we ourselves are threatened with something that will either change our lives forever or end them, our God-given sense of self-preservation kicks in and we begin to take these things seriously. And yes, that sense of self-preservation IS God-given. It’s there for a variety of reasons, but mainly because if we didn’t have it, we would never have survived as a species. At one point, God wanted us to “go forth and multiply,” which meant taking risks and moving to new and possibly dangerous places.
When we’re faced with impending doom or the fact that we may be about to die, at that point we make a choice based on our basic understanding of God. Can we set ourselves aside long enough to get to know Him? Because you can tell yourself you believe all you want, but if you don’t know God and if He doesn’t know you, you’re not going to be allowed into God’s Kingdom. And even more importantly, if you have a stubborn brain like mine, there might not be enough time to get to know Him. But that’s where God’s Grace comes in. He knew long ago that many of us wouldn’t understand His love for us nor the Gift of Jesus Christ, but as long as we had faith, repented because of our faith in Him and worked overcame the flesh and the things of the material world, that’s really all we need to “get” the message the Lord was conveying to us. We don’t have to understand God in order to do His Will and believe in Him.
But, I was pretty hard-headed. As I came to understand several years ago when things were going pretty badly for me, if I had truly believed there was nothing beyond this life, I would have ended mine right then. I would have walked away from it forever. This wasn’t the case, though. I’d seen and experienced way too many strange and unexplained things in my life to write off the fact that God is real. As long as there was the possibility in my mind that He was waiting there in the unknown, then I had to keep trying to seek Him.
That curiosity is what made me look further into it to start with. Most people have a sense of self-preservation and a natural, God-given curiosity. These are the innate characteristics that God set inside all of us so that we would then have the motivation to seek Him. When we finally understand what we’re fishing for – Salvation – we realize it is a gift from God to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. We come to realize just how great a gift it is and why we need to Trust God. Most of all – this gift was right in front of us the whole time! We were just overthinking it.
All the good things we have in this life came to us by way of God, whether we know it or not. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to catch the fish, but that you finally caught it. Because on that day, even if it’s at sunset. you do finally get to take that fish home. On that day, you get to eat.
As Jesus explained in his parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the people that started worked late in the day are receiving the same reward as those who’d been there all day, and in fact the late-comers would be paid first. The point of that parable is that it is never too late to ask for Salvation in the Lord Jesus.
Matthew 20:8-16 (KJV)
“8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last ones hired and moving on to the first.’ 9The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when the original workers came, they assumed they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarius.…”
Being as I was not only “late” in receiving my Salvation, when it turned out that I would live a lot longer than I thought I would, I was (and still am) so grateful and I wanted to get to know Jesus and Lord God the Father. I continued on reading and studying the Bible as well as everything I could get my hands on about it. It’s one thing to read the Word, though, and quite another to understand it. Plus, during these years of soul-searching, I had a lot of questions that ultimately only the Lord Himself could answer by way of His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
I finally figured out that I didn’t need to spend so much time figuring it out. You start by believing and doing. You study and you learn, but you also keep having patience and Faith. You learn to trust God and in trusting Him, everything else just starts working out for the best, as He intended. You start catching fish instead of constantly fishing with nothing to show for it. You don’t just believe God is there, guiding and loving you, you know it for a fact.
Featured image: “Fish Art” by Tommy Kinnerup
Dock image: Salmon fisherman on Puget Sound by JKSC 2015
Sweater with heart image: https://blog.tincanknits.com/2015/02/14/hearts-for-valentines/