Follow the Leader
Leaving Our Nets
Early in Christ’s earthly ministry, He walked along the Sea of Galilee. Close your eyes and immerse yourself in the story in Matthew 5. Feel the sun warm your face. Smell the slightly fishy air. Hear the water lapping on the shore, the sound of two brothers’ easy banter, and a voice calling out to them. It is the voice of Jesus beckoning, “Come, follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men.”
It is His invitation to join in an exciting venture. To this, most of us would shout, “Yes, count me in! I want to catch men!” But they do something a little crazy, something that doesn’t make any sense. They leave their nets. They go empty-handed on this unknown journey.
So, I look at these nets left behind on the ground—these man-sized casting nets—and I wonder what the nets represent to them. What would they mean to me? Could I truly leave my nets behind?
These nets marked the brothers’ identity. Everyone who saw James and John knew they were fishermen. Fishing was more than a job. It was who they were. A heritage. It was all they knew; and they knew it well. What is a fisherman without his nets? How would people know who they were without the tools of their trade? I can see myself picking up that net of identity and trying to follow Jesus.
Where do we place our identity? It might be focused on what we do, in who others say we are, or in what we wish we could be—causing us to lose sight of the One to whom we belong. This can easily lead to comparisonitis. You know, that disease that leads to envy, pride, or feelings of worthlessness. This cancer eats at us, robbing us of joy, and keeping us off the path of thankfulness.
If someone asked, “Who are you?” how would you respond? I’m afraid I might focus on what I do, where I live, or my occupation. Maybe the family to which I belong. All those things fall far short of who I really am. Not that anything is wrong with these things; but they do not define my true identity. They actually pale in comparison to who I truly am. When we say yes to Jesus, we become children of God. It is not earned or deserved—just a part of saying yes. I am the cherished daughter of the Most High King! How awesome is that?
Those nets were James and John’s livelihood, their security. They not only made their living with those nets, they put food on the table for their families. They invested time, energy, and money in the tools of their trade. Who would walk off and leave their job or turn their backs on the very thing that gave them support and supplied their needs? Without those nets, they had no income.
At the very least, by hanging on to their nets, they could feed themselves and Jesus…they wouldn’t go hungry. Yes, I would try to make it about how I could serve Jesus. It would not be about me, or my needs; but down deep, that would not be the truth. This leaving-it-all-behind kind of living, the living-sacrifice kind of living, just makes no sense! So, I wrap my net of security around my shoulders, ready to follow Jesus.
What makes you feel safe and secure? Maybe the better question is: what don’t you have that will fill your needs or make you feel safe? A person or place? A job or money in the bank? Our nets are the “if only” things we have labeled “needs” in our hearts and minds.
Have you ever wrestled with God about these things…money, for instance? Have you ever known He was calling you to give a seemingly crazy amount? You try to remind Him of the real needs you have, which make this kind of giving impossible. All the while, knowing full well when we say yes to Jesus, and all is yielded to Him, He promises to fulfill all our needs. Knowing crazy, hilarious giving is how He supplies the needs of others. It is truly all His anyway. We just steward it to bless others. As we give obediently, in turn, we are blessed.
The feel of those nets in their hands must have brought a sense of comfort. Yes, fishing was hard work. Their success depended so often on things outside their control. Still, I can just imagine there was something about the way the nets felt in their hands. The familiar rhythm of casting. The pleasure of tugging them in, with the hope of a catch. They would return to their nets when confused, at a loss, or when facing the unknown.
What brings you comfort? That sense of ease—the known? Today, many comforts are available, from mattresses to La-Z-Boys® to cars with smooth rides, technology, and gadgets. We easily become a little obsessed with all the things available—things we need to make life more comfortable. During my flights across the Pacific, I am allowed one 50-pound bag. Believe me, it is always full and never less than 50 pounds. My bag is filled with things to make my life more comfortable.
Nothing is inherently wrong with things that make life more enjoyable or more bearable. But what if we become so focused on what makes us feel comfort that we are lulled into a sense of entitlement? “I have a right to my nets. If I can’t take them along, then I’m not so sure it is worth the trip!” The things we own or need trap us. Life just does not seem possible without them. Eventually, they own us. They enslave. In the midst of the hard, cold, and confusing things life brings, we forget—He alone brings comfort. And true freedom can only be found in following Him.
It is not that there is anything wrong with nets. They serve a good, useful purpose. They are a source of blessing. Can something that was once a blessing cease to bless? Yes…when it gets in the way of following Jesus down the hallways of our schools, into our places of work, through the hospital, into shops and markets, as we interact with those He brings into our path.
Somehow, we have diluted what it means to follow. We have forgotten He warned us there is a cost—that following is a daily act of surrender, denying ourselves, taking up our cross. We also forget He promised He would always be with us. In the messy, hard things of life He will be present, giving irrational peace, joy in the journey, and so much more.
The invitation is given. “Come.” I bend over and pick up my nets, wrapping them around my shoulders like a shawl. It just doesn’t make sense to leave them behind.
So off I go, following Jesus down the dusty roads, through the desert, along the crowded streets. Tripping others and myself. Weighed down. Stumbling. Distracted. Exhausted. Literally wrapped in my nets and eventually, unable to continue.
He kneels beside me, gently untangling this mess of netting, assuring me I have no need for the nets. I am His, and He is faithful and true. In Him, I will find all I need. Rising, I willingly, maybe fearfully, open my hands and let go. I surrender, knowing my deepest longing is not filled by identity, security, or comfort, but by Someone—Jesus, the faithful One, who alone can fill my emptiness and satisfy my soul.
About the Writer: Sarah* lives and works for a non-profit organization in Asia. Her last name is withheld for security reasons.