Why aren’t we catching any fish?
(An Evangelical Allegory)
© 2004 C. O. Bishop, revised 2020
1st Timothy 3:15; 1st Corinthians 2:2; John 12:32; etc.
When a person goes fishing, usually it is because they hope to catch fish. I have heard of folks who went fishing not desiring to make a catch, because they simply wanted some peace and quiet. But those are not the ones to whom this message is directed.
When an individual who fishes fairly frequently does not at least occasionally catch at least a few fish, they often say that they “have bad luck.” But this may not be the case at all!
There are seven very good reasons why an individual may be “having no luck”.
1. Wrong Bait
2. Tainted Bait (Right Bait, Wrong Smell)
3. Bad Technique (Right Bait, Wrongly Presented)
4. Bad Timing (Right Bait, Wrong Time)
5. Wrong Location (Right Bait, Wrong Place–No Fish)
6. No Experience (Any Combination of Above Reasons)
7. No Teacher or Guide
Let’s discuss the possibilities:
- Wrong Bait: Fish usually don’t eat tomatoes. Or chocolate bars. So we don’t bait hooks with them. On the other hand, some fish are terribly hungry, and will eat anything thrown into the water. (Those kinds of fish usually find themselves in trouble very soon.) But you do need the right bait, as a rule, so it pays to learn what it is.
- Tainted Bait: Fish frequently like worms, but not when they are coated with mosquito repellent. Or gasoline. That’s why it’s important to have clean hands, or at least that your hands be coated only with the bait itself, when baiting your hook.
- Bad Technique: Fish may like worms, salmon eggs, marshmallows, corn, or many other baits, but they unanimously turn away from anything tied to a large weight, and thrown carelessly into their midst. It frightens them, and they leave the area, or simply stay away from the offending fisherman.
- Bad Timing: Fish eat at a variety of times, but there are certain times when they almost never eat. Bait presented ever so skillfully will be ignored if it is presented at the wrong time, or under the wrong circumstances.
- Wrong Location: Fish don’t eat bait they can’t get to. If one fishes in a pool behind a gravel bar, formed by water seeping through the stones, one cannot hope for success. There cannot possibly be any fish in that pool. On the other hand, if you make a perfect cast into a pot of coffee being shared by other fisherman, the very best you can hope for is an empty hook!
- No Experience: As you gain experience, and learn from your own mistakes and those of others, you hope to eventually avoid all the reasons why you would not catch fish, and begin to see success. One of the sure signs of inexperience is a lack of preparation: not having done your homework results in mistakes that could have been avoided.
Inexperience will produce a hodge-podge of mistakes, any of which could render the fishing trip fruitless. But don’t give up hope! There are usually some fish hungry enough to overlook minor errors, and give you the early successes, encouraging you to press on and hone your skills for bigger and better catches!
- No Teacher or Guide: The fastest way to learn, and the most effective way to fish, is to have an experienced Teacher and Guide along to help you, to prevent the errors, and bring good results on the first attempts.
We haven’t discussed this aspect of fishing because that this is where the allegory breaks down. In fishing for fish it is often necessary to have specific equipment, to have any hope for success. But this message is really about fishing for people! And the Christian who hears the Lord’s command to fish for men already has all the equipment needed (God’s Word), and only needs to learn to use it.
So What’s The Application?
- Let’s start with the “Bait:” What is the “bait” we are continually to proffer to the world? Please read 1st Corinthians 2:2. (“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified.”)
This was the Apostle Paul writing. He said, effectively, “This is the only bait needed.” Every believer has this “bait” available without limit. “Fish” can and may “bite” on a variety of things (witness the myriads of cults), but the only message that can save, and change a life for eternity is the simple message of the Gospel, “Jesus Christ and Him Crucified”. Any other “bait” will eventually condemn the person who swallows it.
This is why God so strongly condemns those who preach a false Gospel. (Galatians 1:6-9) Jesus Himself said (John 12:32), “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” Jesus himself, crucified, is the “bait,” if you want to call Him that. He says that He is the One drawing all sinners to Himself. So—if He is to be what we hold out to others, we need to bear in mind why they might find Him attractive: Only people who see themselves as sinners see a need for a Savior. So, if we ignore the “bad news” of the Gospel–the fact that Jesus died for our sins–then there is no “felt need” for a Savior! You see, the “Bad News” of our sin is a necessary part of the Good News of Salvation from the eternal consequences of Sin! The Gospel must include that bad news!
- Now we should talk about “Tainted bait”, or “the right bait, but the wrong smell.” You can preach the gospel, and be “doctrinally correct,” but fail in your efforts simply because of an impure, careless lifestyle.
Look at 2 Corinthians 2:14-17. “Now thanks be unto God, who always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour (smell) of His Knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other, the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”
Our lives are supposed to “smell like” Christ Himself. To everyone! To unbelievers, His righteous deeds in us reek of judgment. And so they should. But not judgment from us, or by us. They are simply to be convicted by our way of life, as well as the words spoken in Christ. But, to those who choose to believe the message, our lives are to be a fragrance of Christ: a constant reminder of the victory now present in their lives. A new believer needs the constant encouragement offered by the pure, cheerful, loving, committed lives of older believers. We are to smell like the sweet newness of the resurrected life in Christ.
- There is then the matter of “Bad technique”, or, “the right bait, but wrongly presented.”
Each of us have heard someone say something that was actually true, but said in such an offensive spirit, or manner, that the truth of the words is lost upon the hearer.
Take a look at James 3:18: “And the Fruit of Righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” Also, in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
Now, notice it doesn’t say, “They shall become the children of God,” or “only peacemakers can possibly be the children of God,” but rather they shall be “called the children of God”. By whom? By God? No: He recognizes His children even when they miserably fail the “peacemaker test”. But people, the people we are to reach, will only recognize God’s children when we act like God’s children, offering the Gospel in the Spirit of Peace.
Remember this verse? John 13:34, 35. “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (Maybe we need to work on this one, too: how we get along with other believers definitely affects the message!)
- How about “Bad timing”? (The right Bait, offered at the wrong time.) Is it possible to present the Gospel at the wrong time? Yes, it really is!
Let’s look at Acts 28:1-10 (Read it in your Bible, and get the whole context.)
Paul and his entourage (of prisoners and soldiers) had shipwrecked on an island (Malta), during a terrible storm. All had escaped with their lives, but all were soaked, weak from hunger (having fasted for two weeks just prior to this episode), and cold. The natives of the island treated them very kindly, and started a big fire, to warm them all up (A big fire—there were 276 people who came out of that wreck!) So this would be the ideal time for Paul to preach the Gospel, right? Wrong! Paul got to work and helped gather firewood. He was just as wet, cold, hungry and tired as all the other prisoners, but service came first.
And then, as if to reward him for his faithfulness, a viper came out of the bundle of wood he had gathered, and bit him on the hand. That really got everyone’s attention. They thought, “Aha! This guy must be really bad! He got out of the sea alive, but justice is being served anyway!” But Paul shook the venomous creature off into the fire, and suffered no harm. Then the people, after waiting for some time for Paul to swell up, or drop dead, decided that he must be some sort of god: a deity visiting the island! So, they are really focused on Paul!
As a result, the chief of the people wanted Paul to stay at his house. And when Paul got there, he found that the chief’s father was deathly sick. Paul prayed for the man, and he was healed. Then lots of people wanted to be healed!
Do you think Paul may have had their attention now? You bet he did! The scripture doesn’t say when or even if Paul preached the Gospel on this island, but from what we know of Paul, it seems likely that during their three-month stay on Malta, the Gospel was thoroughly preached. And the response must have been favorable: it says the people honored them greatly, and loaded them with everything necessary to continue their journey when they left.
Be conscious of timing. You can’t take time that is supposed to be used for work you were hired to do, and profitably preach the Gospel. Nor can you hope to catch a sports-enthusiast’s interest while he’s watching a football game, or something like that. There is such a thing as bad timing!
On the other hand, developing a sense of good timing depends upon always being ready, and constantly looking for the opportunity. Remember 1 Pet 3:15. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
- Now there’s the matter of “Wrong location.” You can’t catch fish where there are no fish. Nor can you see souls saved where there are no unbelievers. If you only share with believers, you are fishing for those who should be fishermen! (Romans 15:20 “Yea, so have I strived to preach the Gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation.”)
Also, if the person with whom you are attempting to share the Lord steadfastly refuses to hear, don’t continue to waste your time and theirs! Look at Acts 28:28—Paul said to the hard-hearted Jews, “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it:” Paul knew when to stop talking and move on. (Also in Acts 13:50-52, Paul did the same thing.)
- Then, there is “No experience.” This one is a little tricky, since all believers have the “experience” of Salvation by Faith, and therefore are equipped to share it with others. But there is room for improvement, and as you examine your bait, cleanliness, technique, timing, and location, you will see experience beginning to pay off. Also, when it comes to preparation, your preparation is in the Word, in Prayer, and in a track-record of Faithfulness.
Ephesians 6:15 “…having your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace;”
2nd Timothy 2:15 “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
1st Timothy 2:1, 3, 4 “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;…For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
Will you make mistakes? Very probably. But the biggest mistake you can make is to not try. If you are not moving, God cannot guide you.
- Finally, our Teacher and Guide is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in the Person of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus said “…apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5), and He meant exactly that. Without the Teacher and Guide, your efforts will bear no permanent fruit. This is why we are exhorted to “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)
What can we conclude, then?
A good “fisherman,” then, needs to be well-informed, so as to present the right bait (Jesus!) He/she must be clean, so as to present an untainted bait. He/she must be wise, so as to present that clean, correct bait in an acceptable manner.
Patience, and the guidance of the Master Fisherman are necessary, in order to choose the correct time, and yet not miss vital opportunities. We need wisdom and sensitivity to the direction of the Lord so that, when it’s time to change locations, to move on, to find deeper, richer fishing grounds, we know it, and we can respond promptly. Jim and Judy Burdett, missionaries we have supported for many years, had to do exactly this. They packed up and moved to a different village. The result was that, besides their planting a church in the new village, the genuine (but persistently carnal) believers they left behind, got serious about their walk: they straightened up, repented of their sin, and became a profitable church, too! There are solid, teaching elders and soul-winners, in both places, now!
Finally, persistence and perseverance are needed so that experience will result in our becoming successful, joyously productive “Fishers of Men,” as Jesus promised! But, the single most important factor is your Guide. Allow the Holy Spirit to direct and teach you, and it will be He who does the “fishing.” Then there needn’t be so many stories about the “big one that got away.”
I feel like just saying, “Good fishing!” now, but there’s something else to think about, too, here:
We are here to take communion together this morning. Communion is also a testimony; a remembrance together, declaring the facts of the Gospel; agreeing together upon the Person of the Gospel, as the one message we are offering to the World. If unbelievers are here, that is what they should be seeing; not some sort of “mysterious ritual.” We celebrate our Unity in the Person of Christ, our Security in His promises, and our Position in Him as His redeemed people. And, as His Ambassadors, we offer that hope to everyone around us.
Lord Jesus, center our thinking upon Yourself! Help us to take seriously our job as “ambassadors of Christ,” “holding forth the Word of Truth,” and “shining as lights” in a dark world. Teach us to walk in Your footsteps and behave as You would behave.