And while walking by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:18,19
Here in the midst of the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village, this passage is understandably well known. Yet I had occasion recently to revisit these words from the Lord. My wife and I began our September vacation with a trip to Helen, Georgia, where we met up with our good friends, Captain Mike and Marguerite Parker. While our ladies entertained themselves with zip-lining in the treetops of Unicoi State Park, Mike and I hired a guide to take us fly-fishing for monster trout. Now I love to fly-fish, but my learning curve is still plenty steep when it comes to catching swift-water trout on a fly.
We met our guide early in the morning at a little breakfast diner and then followed him into the mountains for about 45 minutes to a little stream on private land. Waders on, check. Fly rod with proper tippet, check. Wading staff to keep me from taking an unexpected swim, check. Then off we went into the wild — and we did, indeed, catch some mighty fine trout.
In the few weeks that have followed our adventure, our country has continued to be filled with vitriol no matter where one turns. People seem content to talk over one another without taking the time to listen. Being offended at every turn has become a national pastime. There appears no end in sight. And here we are as Christians being sent out by Jesus with the expectation that we will be, figuratively speaking, fishing for people who do not yet know the Lord. Wow! How do we do that when people are already primed to get upset at us for trying?
I think trout-fishing has taught me some ideas that may translate in making me a better fisher of men. The first thought involves a little humility on my part. Hey, I have been fishing all my life in all kinds of places for all kinds of fish. So my first impulse was to make sure the guide knew that I am no novice. Then my better voice spoke up inside my head, “You are standing next to a guide who has been trout fishing longer than you, who knows the water better than you and who is willing to impart some of his knowledge to you if you will just stay teachable." Jesus placed his followers in a community for a reason. There are always those in our midst who have been fishing for people longer than we have, who know the territory better than we do, and who have much to teach us if we will take time to watch and to listen.
My second thought involves understanding that trout are notoriously finicky eaters. There are certain times of year when certain hatches of little flies and nymphs appeal to trout, and times when they ignore those same flies and nymphs. The trick is to figure out what they are really hungry for and then present your offering to them in such an attractive and natural way that they bite. Isn’t it the same when we are sharing the good news of Jesus with people who don’t yet know him? The same message presented the same way will only attract some of the people. We need to pay careful attention to what folks are naturally attracted to and then let our explanation of the gospel appeal to that interest. Jesus did it all the time. He shared parables about farming with country people, stories about businessmen with townspeople and talked Scripture with religious folks. And, critically, Jesus shared his gospel in the most winsome manner, never backing away from the truth, but always loving and respecting his hearers. We need, more than ever, to follow his model and spend more time loving people than insisting on our way.
That leads me to my third thought from that trout stream. When I had a fish on the line, if I wanted to get him to the net, I had to be patient. If you try to reel a big fish in too fast, he will either break your line or pull the hook. Instead you need to give the fish enough time so that he willingly is led to the net. Fishing for people is the same. Once folks have latched on to the gospel they will need time to sort things out. They will have lots of questions. There may be a whole lifestyle that they are thinking about leaving behind. If we get anxious to draw them in too quickly, they might end up breaking off the relationship altogether. Remember, God gave us free will and the mightiest Christians are those who have been given the time to respond to the Lord in their timing and his - not ours.
Who would have guessed that a little stream, a beautiful fall day, and some mighty fine trout could give me such a lesson in fishing for men!
The Rev. Mike Hesse, former senior pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church, is now retired and living in Destin.