A John 21 Calling
We are called to give God the first portion of our earnings. During Biblical times, “earnings” were usually agricultural produce rather than numbers in a bank account. Hence “first fruits” referred to the literal first fruits to appear on the trees, the first fruits to grow in the garden, etc. Now we refer more to the tithe (10%) of the amount of money we receive. But still, we are supposed to give back to God first and pay for everything else afterwards; not pay for what we want first and give God the leftovers.
What do first fruits, fishing, and calling have to do with one another?
John 21:1-14 recounts a particular fishing story. I advise you to read the entire passage, but you can get by without doing so. In a brief summary, Jesus is dead, so they think. The disciples can no longer follow Jesus around. So they go back to their previous occupation of fishing. It doesn’t go well. At least, not until Jesus reveals himself again. Several disciples “got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing” (v3). Fabulous. Professional fishermen caught nothing. Can you relate? I can. Your best isn’t good enough. Not even close.
“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.” John 21:4 (NIV)
So people who lived with this man for years didn’t recognize him. Makes me not feel so bad when I don’t notice Jesus working in my life. Jesus then asks if they have any fish, and the disciples tell him no. In other words, the King of Kings asked for something they didn’t have to give. Oh good. I’m in the same boat as the disciples when he asks me for something I don’t have and therefore can’t offer him.
Jesus tells them, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some” (v6). Has anyone else been on a boat? The right side and the left side aren’t all that different when it comes to moving fish. They are on the Sea of Galilee; we aren’t talking about a large cruise ship here. The instruction is ridiculous…though incredibly easy and completely within the disciples’ capabilities.
They give it a shot.
“When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish” John 21:6 (NIV)
Working all night produced nothing, but getting close to Jesus and following his simple instruction produced a massive return on investment. That huge ROI opened the disciples’ eyes to realizing the person who gave the instruction is the Lord. They get as close as they can to him with this large catch. “When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread” (v9). Wait, What? Jesus already had fish? Plus a fire and bread? Oh yeah, he already has everything.
But still Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught” (v10). Jesus asked for fish first; the disciples didn’t have any. Jesus then tells them what to do to get fish, and then once they’ve obeyed and now have lots of fish, he asks them to bring him some, not even all of it. And on top of this, the fishing net doesn’t break though it’s not designed to hold so many fish.
Then Jesus invites them to breakfast, which he’s cooking. Jesus gives them bread (an item the disciples didn’t have) and fish that’s been on his fire—aka cooked able-to-be-eaten-now fish, not the raw fish they offered him. Jesus took what they gave him and gave a better version, what they needed in that moment, back to the disciples.
“This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.” John 21:14 (NIV)
Jesus doesn’t play dead very well. Thank God. Additionally, he’s not okay with just standing on the shore while his disciples produce nothing. Instead, he provides direction so they can be fruitful. Sometimes, that fruit may be what Jesus wants you to keep producing. Other times, he may call you to something else. In the instance of this fishing story, that massive catch financially provided for the disciples to go back into full-time ministry.
If God is asking you for something you don’t have, keep your eyes and ears open for his instructions on how to get it. Once you do, bless him with what you first earn; it all belongs to him anyway. If you are hugely successful in one area but feel God is calling you to something else, consider that he may have blessed you in that first area to sustain you through the next endeavor.
Through it all, remember there’s work involved. It takes effort. Not the least of which is spending time with Jesus to be able to hear him and obey. But that effort produces the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25). Jesus meets your needs first, and then he sends you to meet the needs of others, making you like him. Let's respond to the call with:
Yes and Amen!
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