Swimming has never been something I’ve enjoyed very much. I learned to swim as a child but I always hated the feeling of being out of my depth. I would swim quite happily as long as I knew that I could put my feet down and touch the bottom if I wanted to, but as soon as I moved to the deep end my confidence left me and all I wanted to do was cling to the side.
Sometimes I have approached the Christian life in the same way. I’ll obey God as long as I can see how it will work out, I’ll “step out in faith” as long as I also have a back-up plan, when challenges come I’ll lose confidence and retreat to a place where I feel safe.
This is not how it should be. God does not call us to stick to the shallow end where our own ability is enough. He calls us to launch out into the deep, where our trust is not in ourselves, but in him.
In Luke 5, Jesus is teaching the crowd. He has been standing in a fishing boat to do this, and when he has finished speaking, he tells Simon Peter, the owner of the boat, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4)
I think we can learn a few things from this story about what it means to launch out into the deep.
Going out into the deep doesn’t always make sense according to our human logic. Simon Peter had been out fishing all night. He had worked hard and he had nothing to show for his efforts. He was tired. He had just washed his nets. Going back out onto the lake in broad daylight must have seemed pointless. When you’re tired and disappointed and discouraged, going out into the deep sometimes seems like the last thing in the world you want to do, but sometimes it’s what God asks of us.
Going out into the deep is about obedience. Although Simon Peter is reluctant, he tells Jesus he will do it for one reason only: “because you say so.” (Luke 5:5) It’s not about whether it makes sense to us, and it’s not about forcing ourselves out of our comfort zones and taking risks just for the sake of it. It’s about obeying God.
When we are willing to put aside our doubts and discouragement and launch out into the deep in obedience to Jesus, the results can be greater than we would ever have imagined. Suddenly the nets are so full of fish that they begin to tear, and help is needed to bring them in to shore. Simon Peter would probably have been happy with a small catch, but this was beyond his wildest dreams- and it was his willingness to obey that paved the way for a miracle.
When we go out into the deep, we discover who Jesus is and who we are. Simon Peter sees Jesus’ power and falls to his knees. He recognises Jesus’ holiness and his unworthiness. Until now he has probably seen Jesus simply as a good teacher, but now he understands who Jesus is. And Jesus responds with reassurance and with a call: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” Luke 5:10)
Going out into the deep and encountering Jesus prepares us to go deeper still. It changes us and we can’t go back to who we were before. Simon Peter going out to fish again after having caught nothing all night doesn’t make much sense, but it makes more sense than his next move: walking away and abandoning his fishing business after the best catch of his life! Having encountered Jesus, everything has changed and he gives up his whole way of life to follow him.
I have seen the same features myself on the occasions when I have managed to leave the safety of the shallow end and launch into the deep in obedience to God. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense- I’ve been tired and discouraged and wanted to retreat to where it feels safe- but when I have obeyed, the results have been greater than I would ever have imagined. I have done things I would never have believed I was capable of, and I have seen God at work and discovered more of who he is.
As long as we’re standing at the shallow end or clinging to the side we’re depending on ourselves, and, although there are still times when I want to retreat to that place where it feels safe and easy, my experiences of launching into the deep mean I can never settle at the edge. I have been changed. I know God has more for me- and for you- and I long to go even deeper and to reach the point where, like Simon Peter, I can surrender everything to follow him.