Have you ever been frustrated? Have you ever exerted yourself, did your best, and still came out with results that weren’t just disappointing, but outright embarrassing? Have you ever fished all night and caught nothing? What should we do in those times? I’d like to suggest a principle that may keep you focused and faithful in the less-than thrilling moments and less than extraordinary seasons. Let’s talk about mending our nets.
Start with me in Mark 1:16-20, “As He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, his brother, throwing a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 Jesus said to them, “Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee and John, his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. 20 Immediately He called them. And they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed Him.”
It’s easy to extract the first and last parts: Jesus shows up and calls them. They leave everything and follow Jesus. They launch out on a new life, and this new life will be instrumental in changing the world – quite literally. But sandwiched between these glowing parts is a more mundane mention of what they were doing before Jesus called them…before their big moment… before their breakthrough…They were mending their nets.
Mending nets was tedious work. It was routine, likely daily work. Spreading out the nets, sifting through them. Repairing holes. Retying knots. Cleaning out debris. Tedious. Monotonous. This was the “grind” behind the glamour of fishing (if there is glamour in that). You can imagine them saying, “hey –we love the feeling of hauling in a great catch of fish. We really the love the rich profits from the market place. And we don’t mind the esteem of owning and running our own little fishing enterprise.” (James and John were partners with Peter, and apparently they all worked with James/John’s dad Zebedee.) We love the fishing – but the mending we can do without. Ever felt that way? Ever resent the mending of nets that is necessary for the fishing? Ever resent the mundane or routine that is always part of the rewarding and meaningful?
The thing is, if they didn’t do this mundane thing, they’d miss out on the marvelous thing. Nets with holes in them can’t catch fish. So, the first thing we can be reminded of from this passage is that we can’t overlook or neglect the things that might seem mundane – because it is the doing well of the little things that makes for the success of the big things.
But there is more: These young fishermen had no idea what was about to happen. They had no warning that Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, was about to step into their lives and change them forever. They had no idea that their names would forever be synonymous with the inauguration of the Church of Jesus Christ. They had no idea that their names would be on the lips of every tribe and nation for millennia to come. Today, the size of their lives measured the boundaries of this seashore and these blasted broken nets. Perhaps they had desire for something more. Perhaps they sensed something inside that said, “there has to be more than this.” Perhaps a praying grandparent had looked them in the eyes and told them Yahweh had great thing for them. Or – perhaps they’d been told that fishing was all they’d ever do, but yearned to make a bigger difference than this.
What were they doing while waiting for something more? What did they do in quiet uncertainty of the not yet? They mended their nets. They stayed prepared. They stayed faithful. They looked after the responsibilities directly in front of them. They did not stare off into the horizon and sigh. They did not say, “Hey – I’ve got bigger plans than this – why mend nets?” They did not neglect the mundane while waiting for the marvelous. So, as the Master of the Cosmos was about to summon them, they faithfully tied knots and repaired holes in fishing nets.
But there is even more to this story: Luke tells us a larger version in chapter 5, verses 1-11. “5 As the people pressed upon Him to hear the word of God, He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret 2 and saw two boats beside the lake. But the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He entered one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to thrust it out a little from the land. Then He sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered Him, “Master, we have worked all night and have caught nothing. But at Your word I will let down the net.” 6 When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was tearing. 7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear. From now on you will catch men.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.”
The partnership had been fishing all night. They labored long and gained nothing. And yet there they were – washing (mending) their nets. Many would be tempted to give up and go get drunk. When we face delay, disappointment, set back – one of things that often happens is that the “little” things start to slide. We don’t wash the car or mow the lawn. Vacuuming and dusting slips…. Shaving becomes optional. Why not eat a whole bag of chips…Why even get out of bed? Why mend the nets? Is it worth the trouble?
Because in the very next moment – Jesus said, get back out there, deeper this time, and let out your nets for a catch. Go right back out where you were – and maybe even deeper. Saddle up and get back on the horse. Time to go another round.
But, Lord – we tried. We tried for a long time. We tried over and over …. And over. We got nothing. We hoped for much but had to settle for naught. But. They were willing to go back out. AND – they were ready. The nets were ready. And it’s a good thing they were. Because the next catch was so big that the nets began to burst and they had to call for backup – and so great in fact that the boats began to sink.
Before anyone sells you some idea that this passage – or one like it in John 21 – is about making small changes for big results – which is a great, stand-alone principle, but not at all what these passages teach – just listen to what happened. The disciples had been working hard without result (both passages). Jesus sends them back out into the same waters they were before, with the same nets, and the same boats and the same personnel. In John’s account, Jesus says, “try the other side of the boat.” That is just ridiculous. That isn’t strategy. The boats aren’t even large enough to separate more than a handful of fish. This was, actually, pointing out that there was NO difference in where the net was placed; there is no suggestion that the lesson is that we need to carefully discern what minor (secret) change we need for breakthrough. Sheesh – that just makes us superstitious and afraid of fishing on the wrong side of a boat (or praying at the wrong time, or putting on the wrong pants, or choosing the wrong sentence, or turning down the wrong road, or any other fear-fueled query about the massive consequence of a single decision. Even though yes, sometimes small changes can bring big results – that is not the point of this passage). By saying, “try the other side” – Jesus made it clear that it was NOT a change in location or strategy that would lead to breakthrough. “Go back out into the waters of failure.” “Let your nets out again – just a few insignificant feet away.” But this time, do so with no reliance upon your own ability. This time, do so with a complete confidence in the promise of God, and in the providence of God. Believe that His word and His good will (grace) are more than sufficient for breakthrough. Trust His promise and providence. Don’t waste time in regret. Don’t hover around the memory of failure. Believe. Imagine. Hope. Obey.
And remember, the best way to prepare for net-breaking, boat-sinking breakthrough is to…. mend the nets.
I remember when we were trying to rent our house some years ago. We tried everything we could. It was getting really frustrating. After weeks and weeks – nothing. No success. So, I decided I’d better just start mending the nets. I went to Home Depot and bought some paint and repainted my fence. I remember saying to myself, “here I am Lord, mending my nets.” And I don’t even think I can trace the series of events – but within weeks we were in a new house.
When you’ve fished all night and caught nothing – keep mending your nets. When you’ve experienced set back or disappointment – don’t give up and go away. When the night was long and you’re worn out, don’t leave holes and debris in your nets. Bear down. Be faithful with the little things.
I think of the single parent who doesn’t know how rent is going to get covered – but still stays up after the kids go to bed making lunch for their backpacks the next day. I think of the out of work former executive who spends time ironing a shirt or shining his shoes. I think of the athlete who missed the big shot or a team that lost the big game – back in the gym, on the court, or on the field the next day. I think of the saint that seeks the salvation of their household but faces rejection over and over – and returns to the place of prayer and practice of love. I think of the pastor who longs for landscape-shifting revival and isn’t yet seeing all he longs for – yet he prays without ceasing. That’s the thing about net-mending. It is the quiet refusal to give up.
For me: people have disappointed – even betrayed me. Opportunities have escaped my reach. I’ve had grand plans and great ideas that just seemed to come to nothing. And the only thing I can do is go back to mending nets. Keep reading stories of those who’ve overcome, who have broken through. Keep studying scripture. Parse the Greek and Hebrew. Exegete the passage. Get back on my knees and pray in tongues for another hour. Read another biography. Read another testimony. I see a miraculous healing from cancer or long-term pain, and then turn around and lay may hand on Ben – again. That’s the thing about mending nets – faithfully attending the routine and mundane tasks of life.
Because: We can’t overlook or neglect the things that might seem mundane – because it is the doing well of the little things that makes for the success of the big things. The best way to prepare for net-breaking, boat-sinking breakthrough is to…. Mend the nets. And when disappointment, delay or set-back hits us, the best way to hit back is to keep mending the nets. And stay ready for deep water.
Hope you’ve been encouraged; thanks for reading!