Push the boat out

I am continually surprised by how many common phrases have their origin in the Bible. At first sight the idea of ‘pushing the boat out’ does not seem to have a biblical ring at all. Yet it comes straight from a story told in chapter 5 of Luke’s Gospel.

It comes from an incident on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. We can picture the scene if we try.  The Sea is a large inland lake in the north of the Holy Land. It is 18 miles long and eight miles wide and occupies a hollow in the ground 680 feet below sea level. It is full of fish and so there is a fishing industry and quite a large population around its shores. There are nine seaside towns, none of them with a population of less than 15,000.

Jesus always went where the people were. It was true that He preached in synagogues, but He never confined Himself to them. So, in Luke chapter 5, we find that, after preaching in a synagogue, He made His way to the Galilean seashore, and, as always, the people flocked to Him.

This presented Him with an opportunity – but also with a problem. The opportunity was to meet people and share His convictions about the Kingdom of God. The problem was to avoid being pushed into the water by the crowd. He had to find a way of being visible and audible (and dry!) when He spoke to them.

He did what He always did. He looked around and used the things and the people who happened to be available. Near Him were a couple of fishing boats and some fishermen, including Simon Peter. If we look at the incident through the eyes of Peter, we find that Jesus said four things to him. They are worth noticing because Jesus says exactly the same four things to us. Let me summarize His words:

1. Push the boat out for me

Peter’s boat was to serve as a pulpit for Jesus. In fact anything, anywhere can become our pulpit for Jesus. The world needs to hear of Him, but so often we fail to see just how, when and where we can be His spokespeople. We are not good at ‘pulpit-spotting’.

Of course in common speech today, to ‘push the boat out’ has an alternative meaning.  It means to ‘be extravagant’, ‘be generous’. In this sense too, this story brings a message to you and me.  Do you and I ‘push the boat out’ for Jesus in this second sense? Or are we rather mean with our generous Lord? I have the horrid feeling that though we know that Christ has given His all for us, we are often shamefully stingy in our response to Him. This can be true in terms of our time, our talents and our hard cash.

We often put so little at His disposal, rather like the congregation who one day heard their vicar say ‘I have good news and bad news for you.  The good news is that we have plenty of money to repair our church roof. The bad news is that it is still in your pockets!’

So the questions we ought to be asking are ‘How is Jesus calling you and me to push the boat out for Him here and now?’ and ‘How are we responding?’

2. Push the boat out further

Peter did push his boat out – and because of this many people were able to hear the gospel. But Jesus was not yet finished with Peter. The old translation of his next words used to be ‘Launch out into the deep’, but I like the more recent Good News version which simply says, ‘Push the boat out further’. Christian commitment is never a static affair. When we respond to Jesus in one area of life, always immediately He has something else for us to do and to be for Him.

If at some point in the past you made the decision to take Christianity seriously and to trust Jesus as your Saviour, Lord and friend, then I guess there would be things in your life that would change at that time. But I do hope you have not been marking time since then. With Jesus there is always more to discover and more to do. So when did you last ask Christ what comes next in His plans for you?

We are told that Peter could not see the point in pushing his boat out further, but he trusted Jesus enough to do as he was told. The result was amazing.

3. Learn what I can do for you

When Jesus takes charge of our lives, the result is never a ‘non-event’. In Peter’s case what Jesus gave him was the biggest haul of fish he had ever known in his life. They would not fit into his boat and he had to call for the second boat to join him.

He is still today the same Lord of Surprises. There is so much that He wants to do for you and for me. As we walk through life with Him, we will find that he has not changed. He still has the healing power we can see in the scriptures. He still has the same life-transforming power, the power to help us do and be that for which we were created.  

All of this is part of the learning process to which He calls us, and it does not stop short at the many things He can do for us, because there are also things which He wants to do in us and through us.  Peter had to discover this.

4. Learn what you can do for me

Characteristically, Jesus spoke to Peter and the other fishermen at their own level. He used fishermen’s language. ‘Follow me,’ he said ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ They were to have a haul of human souls which would make the miraculous draught of fishes look small by comparison. However, He required their consent because He always leaves his followers free.  Thank God, they gave it.

So what about you and me? If we have heard Him say to us, ‘Push the boat out for me, and now push it out further. Learn what I can do for you and what you can do for me,’ how have we responded?  The words will mean something different to each one of us.

In my own case hearing those words involved a call to the ministry. I was distinctly reluctant to answer, and perhaps one day I will tell you just what happened. But for now, you have your own story to contemplate

It may include any number of things  –  new friendships with neighbours, new directions at work, new ways of spending spare time, a new look at the deep things of the Christian faith, a new use for your hard-earned cash,  all sorts of new ways of living and of loving. I certainly can’t tell you. These things are for God to know – and for you to find out. Fortunately, finding out is not as hard as we sometimes think.

Jesus is standing by you at this moment. If you listen, He has a personal message for you, a call, a challenge. He will never manipulate or pressurize. Your response must be free, just like that of Peter, James and John. However, it is my conviction that nothing is more important in your life – and in mine – than the way in which we react to whatever Jesus is saying to us here and now.

To help us clear our mind, here is a fisherman’s prayer.

God our Father, we who sail the sea of life can find it vast and deep.  

The voyage can seem confusing and the hazards many.

Yet you have given us the chart of Holy Scripture and the guiding star of the Holy Spirit, and you offer us your own Son to be our Pilot.

We know that nothing can be better than to place ourselves totally under your command.  

Grant us your strong help and guidance, as now we seek to do this afresh.

So may we set a sound course and come safely to the eternal harbour.

In the name of Jesus