I just got off the phone with a guy who’s a part of our college ministry who got some devastating news today. He just found out that his dad has inoperable brain cancer and probably only has 4-6 weeks to live.
As soon as I picked up the phone, I knew something was wrong. I don’t know this guy well at all. We’ve only met in passing. But as he told me about what was happening and described the whirlwind of emotions he and his family are experiencing right now, all I could think of was how helpless I am. I didn’t know what to say, or what to do, or even what to offer.
I’ve felt that way a lot lately. As a pastor to middle and high school kids, I’ve seen a lot of sad situations. But the past few weeks, it’s felt deeper and darker and more intense. Some of my students have been abused, assaulted, ripped from their families and placed in foster care, faced the death of loved ones, faced the murder of a family member, been attacked by people they trusted, seen parents separate or divorce, lose jobs, and suffer pain…all in addition to the everyday stuff…and that’s just within the past three weeks.
I like to fix things. I’m not a “let’s sit around and talk and share our feelings” kind of guy. I’m a “tell me what’s wrong and I’ll fix it right now” kind of guy. I don’t do well with helplessness, but lately I’ve felt helpless more than ever before.
To some, the obvious thing to do is hope that God will do something crazy, some miracle that is out-of-bound, beyond what we are capable of. We hope that God will beam down some kind of Heaven-magic and fix things. And when He doesn’t, we’re left picking up pieces and wrestling with questions we can’t even fully wrap our minds around. Suddenly doubt starts creeping in and we wonder, “Is something wrong with me? Did I really go so far that God has finally written me off? Am I too broken? Did I make too big a mess out of my life?”
On one hand, we know we should “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16) and expect great things of God. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact, we’re completely foolish not to. We should believe that God can do anything, that He wants what’s best for us, and that He’s with us.
On the other hand, there’s a real danger to living with our eyes focused only on the big things.
When we’re consumed with waiting for a mind-blowing, out-of-this-world, crazy miracle, we miss out on some of the best things that Jesus wants to do for us. I’ll tell you what I mean.
In John 21 we find this story about a time that some of Jesus’ friends have been out on a boat fishing. Despite the fact that they’re professional fishermen who have been hard at work all night long, they haven’t caught a single fish. But these guys know by now who Jesus is, so when they see Him strolling toward them on the beach, they’re most likely figuring it’s their lucky day.
They’re leaning in, waiting for Jesus to tell the fish to jump into the boat, or to touch the water and do something mysterious. They had great expectations. But what did Jesus do? “Throw your net out the other side of the boat, guys.”
No doubt this was not the answer they were looking for. By this time, they had probably cast their nets off of that boat from every side, in every possible way, with no luck. And now Jesus says, “Try the other side again.”
John 21:6 says that they tried it again anyway, and maybe you know what happened. They caught so many fish that they could barely haul them in. They had to just drag the net to shore.
There are two huge lessons in this story for us. First, Jesus told them to cast their nets, plural. But what we read is, they couldn’t drag in their net, singular. They listened, kind of.
Maybe they thought, we’ll give it a shot, but they weren’t all in. I’ve done this. I’ve answered God by saying or doing something that communicated that I was willing to go along, but not all the way. We’ve gotta be all in. Here’s why:
The second really amazing thing is found in John 21:11. The NIV reads this way, “Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.”
I’ve read this story many times, but only recently noticed the real miracle. The miracle isn’t the 153 fish…don’t get me wrong, that’s big, and amazing, and definitely a “God thing.” But I think the real miracle is that the net held together.
We can get so caught up waiting for the big miracles in life, the huge answers to prayer, the “153 fish-sized” stuff, that we miss out on the small, intricate ways that God moves in our lives every single day. Sometimes He brings that catch, and sometimes He just keeps us from falling apart.
Just think if they’d cast all their nets…who knows how many fish they would have caught. Let’s be all in when it comes to following Jesus. Let’s not hold back, but follow with great expectations. Let’s not overlook that in the middle of the chaos, when life is at its worst, that’s exactly where Jesus will be found. Right where He said He would be. Holding us together.