Sifted (v) \ sift-ed 1. Accelerated spiritual growth in times of trouble, 2. Increased trust in God and surrender to His sovereignty, 3. Refined and cultivated seed for increased fruitfulness and multiplication, 4. The seemingly painful process through which every child of God has or will face trials that result in being broken and refined, strengthened and restored, and grown and empowered for God’s glory and Kingdom expansion. Wordly trouble intersecting spiritual warfare producing increased surrender to GodWorldly trouble intersecting spiritual warfare producing increased surrender to God
Mark was working an his account of Jesus’ life again and asking me for stories of the time we spent with Jesus. He asked me why it was so easy for us to leave everything and follow Him.
I smiled. It wasn’t easy at all. It took more than a year for me to be ready after I met Him. I had met Jesus a year before the night He called us and my fishing business was doing well. Even though I was aching for a change, that final decision to sacrifice it all was the hardest thing I’d done to that point.
Success is difficult to set aside. It becomes a question of significance and legacy. I didn’t want my gravestone to read, “He sold a lot of salted fish.” I had worked hard to build a life. Now I would be faced with the choice to leave it all behind.
I drifted into memory and heard my voice recount the story to Mark of the days we became His disciples…
It was going to be a long night.
As the waves lifted and fell in gentle rhythm, my hands again found their resting place. The wood was worn smooth from the sheer volume of times I had touched the railing in this exact spot. I loved this time of night, even when the fish weren’t moving. It was beautiful stillness. It was peace.
That was on the outside. Inside I was boiling for things to change. Somehow I knew that a new chapter was beginning but it was frustrating to not see my next step clearly. It was a discontent that had no anchor, no lines mooring it to anything I could point to as real.
Calling out commands to stop, our boat slowed and I motioned for our team to throw the net. Their calloused hands, full of grace and synchronicity threw the lines out over the darkness into the sea. As it slowly fell into the deep in practiced silence, my thoughts descended too, sinking into darkness where I couldn’t see.
There was nothing in my life that merited this level of unease, but I was surrounded by it nonetheless.
Is this all there is?
I had success in business, owning one of the largest fishing operations in Galilee. I spoke and dreamed and traded with partners who respected me. I ate and lived with a good family and I had known love. Somehow I was still adrift. My life was worn smooth from the touch of years, bringing no comfort.
I wasn’t in focus. Something just had to change.
We waited. So much of fishing is the waiting. The men spoke of children in quiet tones and, like all stories of children, the exploits were completely ordinary, except to the fathers who loved them. The night stretched on as Andrew told me stories of the Baptist and the time he had spent with him these last few months.
We pulled the net for the first catch of the evening and I murmured under my breath when it was empty. Not a single fish! That happens, but it’s been years since I’ve seen an empty net return. I looked to the east and tried to pierce the darkness by the sheer force of my will. It didn’t feel like a storm was coming.
My oldest team member barked a laugh at the dismay of the younger men and offered to let them sit and rest while he continued to work for a living. Shame isn’t always a good motivator, but this time it worked pretty well. Again I watched the practiced motions of a thousand throws, on a thousand nights, their legs and arms coiling and releasing in the carefree motion of a thousand memories, just like this one. The net flew, extended and sank for the second time.
Andrew was telling me again about the Carpenter and the amazing things God was doing. I’d met Jesus about a year before and I’d heard him speak. Andrew was right, there was something different about him. He spoke with a power and a love for God I’d never seen and the stories about miracles were growing. John the Baptist was saying that he was the One. It would be perfect if Messiah came and sent the armies back to Rome. Israel was long overdue for her coming King. I would love to be a part of that revolution. That idea was exciting and scary all at the same time. I had a lot to lose.
We pulled the nets and caught a boat full of nothing. It was time to move. We set for our second location and I could see that the men were becoming discouraged.
Glide. Gather. Throw. Sink. Wait.
Still no fish.
The night was an empty boat and we were getting weary. I signaled the other crew to start for shore and joked with my men as we turned to the north. One of them mentioned in passing that since the fish were smarter than we were it was just a matter of time before they were on to us.
The earth held it’s breath as the sky lightened from amber to the brilliant crimson of a new day. We hit the shore, secured the boat and started unloading. Andrew cut the men loose for breakfast, sleep and time with their families. We had one more night before the Sabbath and I set a time for us to meet again before they doggedly walked away. I told Andrew to go as well but he just gave me that look that brothers give before pulling a section of the first net and starting to scrap it clean.
We were still cleaning the nets when the crowd started to gather. People were buzzing about him – have you seen him? Is he really on his way? I heard he healed a blind man and now he can see… Their whispered voices slowly gained strength and echoed out over the water. I didn’t see him approach, but suddenly he was there, drawing Andrew into a warm embrace. I stood and tried to wash my hands clean before greeting him but he didn’t seem to mind.
“Simon, can I use your boat to teach from?” he asked. I glanced at Andrew, who was grinning from ear to ear and of course I said yes. It was a good idea. Sound carries over water and as the hundreds of people who had gathered at the beach sat, Jesus began to speak.
I was exhausted, irritable and resentful of the extra time being taken. It was the worst day my business had experienced in months. I hadn’t eaten, slept or bathed in far too long.
But with the Teacher in my boat, speaking God’s life and love to everyone around, my heart was energized. In some small way I felt like I was a part of something significant, a partner in ministry, at least for a few moments. It felt good. I felt alive in a way I hadn’t felt in years.
When he finished and dismissed the crowd, I found myself wanting him to stay, but was afraid to ask if he wanted to eat with us. I wanted to impress him, to make myself important in his eyes. I wanted to let him know that I was the owner of this small fleet of ships and that our salted fish kept people fed from here to Nazareth and sometimes all the way to Egypt. As I started to take him back to shore with unspoken rehearsed words on my lips he nodded to the south and said, “put out into the deeper water and let down your nets for a catch.”
My thoughts came quickly, almost instantaneously and were, in no particular order:
- The fish aren’t running this time of day
- I’m tired
- We just cleaned the nets, I don’t want to scrape them again for nothing
But there was something about the way he said it and my heart was beating faster. In spite of every reason and objection I immediately replied, “We’ve been at this all night and haven’t caught anything, but at your word, we’ll cast our net again.” In the corner of my eye Andrew was nodding in approval. It seemed that whatever was happening, he felt it too.
Our weary nets spread and splashed, froze, then slowly dropped and I experienced a moment of double vision. Part of me was saying, “This is pointless” but another part, a deeper part, was saying, “Watch this!” I glanced at Andrew as the line jumped out of my hands and I had to scramble to keep from getting pulled in. The boat lurched and dipped crazily towards the sea. Our boat was being pulled towards the net.
That’s not possible.
The net was already filling. I could see the schools of fish flooding into it, just under the boat and they kept coming. When we tried to pull the catch into the boat, the net started to tear so we eased the lines back into the water to keep from losing the fish.
I called to the shore for help and they immediately launched out to help us. We pulled our second boat along side with practiced motions to capture and load the catch. There were so many fish, both boats swamped and we made our way carefully to the shore with a small fortune. Andrew was giving me his best, “I told you so” brotherly glance. We had more than one hundred years of experience between us and none of us had ever seen the like.
The weight of the morning continued to build until we got the boats upon the shore and I collapsed. The combination of the night’s work and frustration, the path of my life and inner turmoil, the amazing words of our Teacher and the miracle we had just witnessed was too much for me to bear. This wasn’t a story for other people, some rumor of God moving and doing amazing things far away. It was horribly present. God was moving nature itself to speak to me and I suddenly felt very small.
In the very gaze of heaven I fell to my knees. “Lord, go and leave me here, I’m full of sin and not worthy to be in your presence.”
His hand on my head and his touch raising me communicated kindness and purpose. Speaking to me, to my brother, to my partners and friends, he called us to service. “Don’t be afraid.” And somehow we felt peace. “From now on, you’ll catch men.” And we knew that it was true.
We looked at the catch, at our ravaged nets, at our boats overflowing with fortune… looking at the success we had worked so hard for, it was hard to walk away. But that’s exactly what we did, to follow Him.
When the chance comes to leave everything else for what God calls you to do, do it. Do it without hesitation. You’ll sacrifice more than you ever imagined. You’ll lose everything. You’ll question that decision a thousand times but hang on with both hands to day that He called you.
It’s worth it.
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Peter answered him and said, “We have left everything to follow you!” (The Account of Matthew, 19)