Can faith be found in the folds of an empty net?


What is true faith? Can it really be “called” faith if you find yourself empty, exhausted and moving towards a thing, especially when, “that thing”, slaps against the face of reason? Shouldn’t you just call it giving up or giving in? Or, Can faith really be found in the folds of an empty net?

Is this a trick question? We know in our mind we’re supposed to respond gleefully to questions of faith and serving with something like “ Faith and doing the right thing is a reward in itself” or “ I do it just because I love Jesus”. But don’t those responses seem trite and ring a little hollow, when what’s being asked seems unreasonable, especially when you’re ‘dead dog tired’ and or emotionally raw? Many times, we do things ‘as a matter of course’ or ‘just to get it over with’ and it doesn’t feel like faith. It might seem that you went that extra mile because of relationship, love or a sense of duty. And as is often the case, it was done- out of the limelight, almost in secret, and generally without a word or expectation of thanks. Is doing those things and in that sense really considered doing them in faith? Lets see.

We encounter a ‘dead dog tired’ person who may have been feeling this way in the bible, in Luke chapter 5. Simon (later called Peter) a full time fisherman has just been out fishing in his boat all night ‘casting the net’ and has caught ‘zero’, he has just dragged his boat into shore when Jesus unexpectedly and seemingly uninvited, climbs into his boat and begins to teach a crowd that has gathered on the shore line. Simon (it seems historically) though he recognizes Jesus as being a rabbi or teacher, has neither spoken to, or had relationship with Jesus up to this point. It is here, that we pick up the story in Luke 5:3.

3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Can you hear the exhaustion and disappointment in Peter’s voice? He’s worked hard all night, casting and pulling nets and rowing to new fishing spots, only to come up empty (emotionally and financially). Exhausted, Peter knows that even now, there are nets to dry and mend before a chance to wash up and to eat and sleep.

But it is here and now, that Jesus asks Simon to do something that frankly seems nonsensical. The fact is that any fisherman can tell you that mid-day is the worst time to fish- that is why they fished at from dusk till dawn- when the fish are most active. So why is this teacher asking him- to row out into deep water and cast the net? Peter must have been thinking to himself that this teacher, ‘he certainly knows nothing about fishing or about truly exhausted I am’.

But Simon in the midst of weariness and disappointment says- Vs. 5…“ But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Did Simon do this as a matter of faith? Yes and I believe that this is one of the greatest statements of faith in the bible.
Why? Because acting on the request was made in the face of what the facts were on the water. It went against every rule of fishing. Secondly, we know something of Simon (Peter) from later accounts- he was at times brash, headstrong, and argumentative. It would have been more in Simon’s nature, to at least politely reason with Jesus, pointing out the facts. But Simon didn’t. Instead he responded saying “But because you say so, I will let down the nets” Was it was something that Jesus had taught from the Bow of the boat, something we aren’t privy to? Or was it because he, who like most of us at times, was at the end of himself, both discouraged and exhausted, Thinking, what does it matter, I’m just going to do it to please the teacher. Or was it a true exercise of faith? I can tell you from experience, that exercising faith rarely comes when you’re rested, fed and coming off of a victory. So, maybe this begs the question. ‘Can real faith- be exhausted faith? Against all reason faith? At the point of giving up faith? Faith that is barely more than putting one foot in front of the other faith?”

And I call this faith, because Simon Peter knew only, that it was the right thing to do, though he had no expectation of a positive outcome, doing it possibly- ‘In the face of the facts’.

But faith exercised in the goal of ‘doing good’ or doing ‘the right thing’, does not go unnoticed by God. Whether or not we think it reasoned or unreasoned, our standards of thinking don’t apply in how God chooses to respond. Doing selfless good is at it’s core exercising faith. And it might raise some eye brows, but I think this holds true for the believer as it does for the unbeliever. Doing a selfless act for another carries with it a deep and often unexplainable expectation of hope. In doing, we hope for a good outcome for the people or persons we are doing it for. Hope is glue of faith as spoken of in Hebrews 11:1- “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

So when we feel short of faith or don’t understand it, we can at least point to ‘hope’ as being the main ingredient. Let’s continue with the story at verse 6.

6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

Question. Was God’s ‘overwhelming response’ in the blessing dependent on the strength, fervor or desire of Simon Peters exercise of faith? It doesn’t seem so. I think it was in the ‘desperation of faith’, that the blessing came. The same desperation that we feel, when called upon by Jesus, to do the improbable and at times nonsensical. Like when were at ‘the working end’ of our, empty- wet heavy net. You know that net. That net comes in the form of the daily grind, the cranky boss, the mountain of unwashed laundry or the stack of homework a child needs help with. It comes in picking up our bible when it’s the last thing we really want to do or praying for a need, or a person, that seems hopeless. And miraculously, (for the one who is seeking), but knows in their hearts that they are coming to, or calling out to God, empty handed and questioning, but still holding on to hope, this I think, is the pure essence of what ‘GOD SEE’S, AS OUR GREATEST ACTS OF FAITH.’

At it’s core the question comes down to Will I do what God is asking? Will I do it, if for the only reason that Jesus asked me to? Will we do the nonsensical? The unreasoned? Unquestioningly and at possibly our weakest moment?

What followed next was an innumerably greater blessing than a net full of fish. The boat, the fish, careers and livelihoods were abandoned on the beach that day. That was the day life really began for Simon, and the others, who on the word of their ‘master’ alone, chose to do the unreasonable and unreasoned, in what little strength they had left, to row out to the deep and drop their net.

8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.