On one occasion Jesus was preaching by the Sea of Galilee. As the multitudes pressed about him to hear the word of God, he noticed two boats drawn up to the shore. The fishermen were standing nearby, washing their nets. Climbing into one of the boats, he asked the owner, Simon, to put out a little from the land, so that he could use the boat as a floating pulpit and project his voice to the crowd.
When Jesus had finished preaching, he said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon replied, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing.” Remember, Simon was a seasoned fisherman who had spent years plying his trade on the waters of Galilee. Jesus was a carpenter-come-preacher who knew next to nothing about fishing. But mindful of the fact that he was addressing a man who was in the habit of performing miracles, Simon added, “Nevertheless, at Your word I will let down the net!”
Good thing that he did, because no sooner had they lowered the net than it was swarming with fish. Sensing that the net was starting to tear, they frantically signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And such was the magnitude of the catch that both boats began to sink under the weight of the heaving nets!
Astonished at what he had just witnessed, Simon fell down at Jesus’ knees and cried, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” But Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will catch men” (Luke 5:1-10).
What was the difference between a night of fruitless endeavour and a day of extraordinary success? Answer: the presence of Jesus in the boat! Simon and his partners had worked hard, utilizing the very best of human wisdom, skill, and experience. But it had come to nothing. Jesus, on the other hand, transcended the laws and limitations of the natural world and operated in the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, he alluded to this key in his very first sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me …” (Luke 4:18).
The question the Lord has asked me of late is: “Is Jesus in your boat?” If we are honest, certain areas of our lives are about as fruitful as Simon’s night of fishing on the lake of Galilee! And this, in turn, highlights the besetting sin of religious zeal: assuming that Jesus is with us just because we are doing things in his name.
Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt. 7:21-23).
The message is clear: activity performed in Jesus’ name does not necessarily indicate his endorsement or guarantee his approval. In the final analysis, only that which is born of God will overcome adversity and only that which is planted by God will bear lasting fruit (1 John 5:4; Matt. 15:13).
Moses understood this principle, declaring, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth” (Ex. 33:15-16).
In other words, “Don’t let us try to enter the promised land in our own strength; don’t let us try to fulfil our purpose and destiny in our own might.” Moses ‘Declaration of Dependence’ may well have been a prelude to the prophetic utterance of Zechariah centuries later: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6).
Humbling oneself through fasting
David, the great king of Israel and the man after God’s heart, talked about “humbling himself with fasting” (Psa. 35:13). The word fasting denotes temporary abstention from, and in certain cases, permanent cessation of participation in an object or an activity. It is usually used in reference to eating and drinking, however, this is by no means its only application.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 7:5, Paul admonishes married couples not to “deprive one another” of sexual relations “except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer”. In this passage Paul espouses the concept of temporary abstinence from food and sexual activity in order to focus on one’s relationship with God.
I have come to understand that one can fast from many things besides food and sex in the pursuit of the knowledge of God. One may, for example, fast from watching television or reading the newspaper; playing sports or listening to music. One may, in fact, fast from anything that God, by his Spirit, asks one to give up – either temporarily or permanently - in order to obtain the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
The prophet Isaiah explained the true nature of fasting in chapter 58; “Is this not the fast that I have chosen; to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke …. If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honourable, and shall honour Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord …”
Fasting is ceasing from doing our own pleasure and pursuing our own ways and speaking our own words, and instead, delighting ourselves in the Lord … walking in his ways, doing what is pleasing in his sight, seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness. Fasting is, in effect, an attitude of heart that says “not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42); a willingness to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him (Luke 9:23).
Recently the Lord asked me to ‘fast’ or abstain from a part of my business that was not bearing fruit. It was a case of a lot of hard work for little or no results, or to put it another way, ‘fishing all night and catching nothing’. I asked the Lord what was going wrong, and he showed me very clearly that he had not instructed me to engage in that particular business venture. It wasn’t immoral or unethical – it just wasn’t his will! I had missed the mark and taken the wrong path. Jesus wasn’t in the boat and his blessing was conspicuous by its absence!
I was faced with a stark choice: to continue in my own strength, hoping that things would change (which is pride); or to humble myself, acknowledge my mistake, and repent (turn around and go the right way). Let me tell you, I repented in about ten seconds! Anything to get back in the flow of God’s blessing and the anointing of his Spirit!
I hear many people claiming the promise of Deuteronomy 28:12, that the Lord will bless all the work of our hands. However, the blessing of Deuteronomy 28 is contingent on the condition of verse one: “If you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God …” Verse two says, “All these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God …”
The blessing comes when Jesus is in the boat; but in order for Jesus to be in the boat, we must hear and obey his voice – “Launch out into the deep and let down your net …” Otherwise we are rowing in our own strength, and the results tell the story!
In conclusion, I would remind you of the words of Solomon, who, in the days of his enlightenment said, “Unless the Lord builds the house, it doesn’t matter how hard you work or how many things you try, it won’t amount to a hill of beans! (Psa. 127:1 the somewhat paraphrased version).