New Life: Fishing Again? Returning back to the Old

Jesus calls us to new life in Him. But we don’t have to wait until our resurrection day to begin that new life. New life in Jesus begins now!

Before we look at what new life looks like, I must warn you: there is always a great temptation to stay in our old life or return to it again. Even the disciples experienced this setback. When Jesus called His first followers—Peter, James, and John—they were out on the Sea of Galilee fishing from a boat (and not doing too well at that!).  Jesus challenged them to go out into deep water and put out their nets again. Peter was exasperated, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets” Luke 5:5, NRSV).

New Life: Fishing Again? – Sermon by the Rev. Charlie Holt from The Church of St John the Divine on Vimeo.

You remember the rest of the story. Peter, James, and John pulled in a miraculous catch. Thus began a great adventure with the incarnate Lord and Savior of the world as Jesus called them from their profession as fishermen to become fishers of men.

Fast-forward three years. Peter, James, and John have now experienced amazing things as disciples of Jesus. They have walked beside the Lord witnessing His mighty acts of healing, listened to his teaching, and even participated in miracles. And yet, even they returned to their old ways— fishing for fish instead of men (and not doing very well at that!). Read John 21:1-25.

After the dramatic events of the His death and resurrection, Jesus again appears where the men are fishing.  He calls to them to cast their empty nets on the other side of the boat. Another miraculous catch. Recognizing Jesus, John whispers to Peter, “It is the Lord!” And in true “Peter” fashion…

When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish… Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” (John 21:7-12)

The story begs the question: why did Peter and the disciples go back to their regular jobs of fishing again? Jesus had called them to so much greater.

The reason is clear from an earlier account in John’s Gospel.  Remember that before the crucifixion, Peter had denied Jesus three times. If that wasn’t bad enough, his denials were in spite of a personal vow that he would go to the death with Jesus: “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times” (John 13:37-38).

After his denials, Peter was acutely aware of his own inadequacy, his own failings, his own weakness. Rather than stepping into the Resurrected Life and moving forward with Jesus’ call on his life to be an apostle, Peter had reverted back to being merely a fisherman. And evidently, he had brought the others with him. Like an athlete who lets down the team in the big moment, Peter had fumbled the ball after vowing to be a superstar! He was discouraged and disillusioned.

In our own walks with the Lord, very often some major disappointment or failing on our parts hinders or blocks us from truly stepping out into the fullness of the Resurrected Life. Is there any disappointment in your life that would have you fishing again rather than boldly living for the Lord?  Is there any unworthy feeling holding you back, some guilt or shame, that would prevent you from truly walking in the newness of life that the Lord has for you?

In a wonderful moment of restoration, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”  (John 21:15-17).  The disciple who once vowed,  “I do not know the man!” now says to Jesus, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you” three times. In reversing his three denials, those affirmations became a reaffirmation of Peter’s calling to be a shepherd to the flock of the Lord. Jesus sealed Peter’s affirmations with, “Feed my sheep.” By taking Peter back to the beginning, to the moment of his calling, Jesus gave Peter a new start and a new challenge.  Peter would indeed be fishing again for people!

The Lord would do the same for you. The Lord has a special call upon your life. It’s a call that will require you to step into a new reality, a new life. The temptation will be to return to the old ways and to the old life. And yet Jesus, your risen Lord, will meet you in your failings and challenge you to get back to your calling, to living once more for His kingdom.

What’s holding you back? Is there any failing in the Christian life that has disillusioned you and hindered you from living the Resurrected Life? Have you been fishing on the wrong side of the boat again? Jesus restored Peter, and he will restore you!

Excerpted from The Resurrected Life: Making All Things New

I would love for you to express your thoughts on my blog in order to strengthen our common conversation. What is your take away from this post? What question does the post leave you wondering? Let's get some discussion going! Please note that for the sake of the trust of my readers, I do reserve the right to remove comments that are offensive or off-topic.

10 thoughts on “New Life: Fishing Again? Returning back to the Old

  1. I felt lead to leave my job in 2020, I grew closer to God
    after leaving my job and bills were paid. Now 2022, the funds
    has ran out and I’m just sitting waiting on the LORD to see what
    He needs me to do next. So I found a job to keep a roof over my head
    and other bills paid, basically went back to work. I’m now confused
    about this whole spiritual journey now!

    • I want to encourage you that your call hasn’t changed. God provided you with a job and a vocation. Often times the story of the fishermen dropping the nets and following Jesus is inspiring for us to leave whatever we do for a living to enter ministry. The primary lesson with “dropping the nets” is to know and follow Jesus and leave behind a life not knowing and following Jesus. That’s it. Sometimes some of us will be called to leave our occupational boats for a season or a lifetime. Some of us will leave the boats into ministry and then our calling will lead us back to our vocations where we will still minister and pastor in the workplace. Some of us will stay in our vocations earning money to help fund ministry. We must “quit” not following Jesus. That doesn’t necessarily mean quitting our vocation. If everyone quit their jobs how would mission and ministry be funded?
      Remember that James and John left their father, Zebedee, in the boat to run his fishing business. Folks sometimes imply that Zebedee missed out on a life with Jesus. Nothing could be more incorrect. Zebedee raised sons and had a wife (Salome) who lived in a home saturated with God as they were prepared and able to walk with Jesus and live a life in ministry. Zebedee ran a successful fishing operation to the glory of God. Surely he funded and financed much of the ministry of Jesus.

      I left my corporate career for ministry in 2018. It’s a “superhero” story for some folks, but I have found the opposite to be true. Yes, God has provided, but God has provided with people who work for a living. Those people are just as valuable to the kingdom of God as any pastor or missionary is. Recently I’ve supplemented my income by returning to some corporate work to relieve financial burdens from the ministries I’m involved with and, most importantly, relieve the financial burden I put my family in. This move has provided tremendous freedom and fulfillment for my call. If I return to full-time corporate work someday, the lens through which I will see the office will be through the holy spirit. It will be as much of a mission field and an opportunity to pastor as any place I have found myself the last 4 years in professional ministry.

      So, don’t feel as if you’ve failed or God is absent. God has led your calling to the workplace for this time. What a blessing to have work and be able to call the work your parish!! My question would be, why has God led you there?

      • Rob,

        Your reply was spot on! It is easy to say we must ‘drop the net’ of our current vocation to fulfill what God has designed for us, but that is not always the case as you so carefully explained. It is not always our vocation that needs changing, but sometimes the ‘nets’ in our lives become not just a means to assist the financial burden of life and ministry, but they become our ministry!

        Thank you for your thoughtful insight and I trust your words and Charlie Holt’s message will continue to be a blessing and an encouragement for others going through similar situations and doubts.

        Randy McConnell
        bi-vocational chaplain

  2. This has greatly inspired and revived me. I thank God for leading me to it. Be blessed.

  3. Thank you, a needed word facing dissatisfaction and disappointment in ministry.

  4. I just want to thank God for using you man of God, yes I am the one who went back to old ways. Please Lord forgive me and restore me, my sins are before me. I love Jesus and I would love to go back to fishing man, please pray for me pastor. My name is Xolani Nsele.

  5. Even if we have strayed in our walk with Jesus, He’s always there to help us back into the right path.

  6. It is never comfortable to cast our nets into deep water. We are Christians stuck in the shallows. It’s more comfortable where we can touch bottom, but our Father wants us to expand our field to the depths of his grace, the depths of his mercies, and the immeasurable depths of his blessings when we trust that He will more than sustain us .
    I too often fish the wrong side of my boat! Thanks for the reminder!

  7. I think we lose track for short periods of time and fish on the wrong side. It is not always a full time move to the dark side. We need to be redirected on a fairly regular basis.

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