We all like success stories, and we all seek success. Hundreds of books purport to tell us hundreds of different secrets of success. When really, it’s quite simple.
One example of a man who was successful by many human standards was Howard Hughes. Hughes became by turns a Hollywood movie producer, aircraft inventor, mining mogul, and casino owner. An avid pilot, he set world flight records, including his 1938 flight around the world in just over 91 hours. In the 1960s his business dealings paid off so handsomely that his wealth reached one billion dollars. That’s pretty much the American Dream – isn’t it?
But the last years of Hughes’ life were spent sitting naked in his white leather chair in the center of the living room – an area he called the “germ free zone” – his long legs stretched out on the matching ottoman facing a movie screen, watching one motion picture after another, addicted to codeine and Valium (that’s pretty much the new American Dream – isn’t it?) A doctor who examined him at the end of his life likened his condition to prisoners he had seen in Japanese prison camps during World War II. In the end, all merely earthly success doesn’t amount to much more than this.
This morning’s lesson from Luke 5, in which Jesus appears to His fishermen disciples, is really the simplest of success stories. Peter, a skilled fisherman, and his professional associates had been fishing all night. In fact, they consider that their work is done, because in verse 2 they are washing their nets to put them away. They had caught nothing all night, which to a fishermen means they were at that time failures.
But in verse 4 a certain rabbi comes to the professional fisherman in the morning and tells them that they should try again. After they have already washed their nets. After they have worked hard all night. Knowing that night was the best time for fishing with nets and morning was the worst.
Now Peter is a man who in the Gospels is always doing things his way. This time he is justified, because he’s competent to fish and judge when, where, and how to catch fish. Remember: he does this for a living. So we’d expect Peter to raise objections to this foolish idea from someone who’s not even a fisherman. To our surprise, in verse 5 Peter, with only a brief pause, obeys this strange command. To his and his friends’ surprise, he and his friends catch more fish than their nets can even hold.
Peter found that the secret of success was simple, but the success he found was much more than success in catching fish. He had discovered the secret to true success in all of life, and that secret was simply to obey the Master.
Let’s examine Peter’s obedience in more detail. Peter was faced with a commandment that didn’t make sense. At the moment of obedience, Peter didn’t know the outcome of his obedience. For all he knew, it would just be that much more weary labor after a full night’s work. It took faith for Peter to do what didn’t make perfect sense to him, for, you see, the true test of faith and obedience is not when the commandment makes sense or when it is what you want to do anyway.
The true test of obedience and of your faith is how well you obey . . . when you don’t want to.
Why was Peter able to do something contrary to his own intuition and his own desire? Because he loved the Lord and submitted to His command. Though he raised an objection, he immediately overcame it with his faith. Here’s Peter’s attitude: “We have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing. Nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net” (verse 5).
Of course the result was a catch of fish so large Peter and his friends couldn’t handle it. Peter had discovered that the secret to success is obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.
How often are we like the disciples in their failure? How often do we fail when we try things on our own power? Now Peter wasn’t being sinful by fishing and not catching anything, but Jesus uses this failure to teach that we must trust Him for all things. Peter’s failure teaches us that even in your occupation or calling, you should remember that it is only God who gives you this ability. More than this, our Lord Jesus Christ is the master of all callings: fisherman and all manual laborers, teachers and managers and all white-collar workers, parents and pastors and all leaders.
Peter fished all night on his own power – and caught nothing. The question for you is: in what area of your life are you fishing on your own power – and catching nothing? I’m willing to wager that each of you has one thing, one area (and probably more!) where you are still going your own way. Some thing that you know isn’t working because you have not submitted to your Lord. Maybe it’s a relationship you know isn’t right. Maybe it’s a besetting sin you keep promising you’ll work on tomorrow. And I’m sure the Lord is calling you to greater prayer and good deeds.
It’s time, like Peter, to hear the voice of your Lord this morning – and obey.
How many times must you learn the same lesson – that God’s way is better than yours? It reminds me of New York pizza boxes, where it is written: “You’ve tried all the rest, now try the best.” Haven’t you tried your own way long enough? Isn’t it time to try the Lord’s way?
Though we are too often like Peter in his failure, thank God that we are also like Peter in his success. We shouldn’t measure our success by how smart we are (that is, how intelligent God has created us to be), nor by how strong we are (that is, how much strength God gives us). You may never own half of Las Vegas like Howard Hughes; you may never set a world record; you may never lead a mass of people to make a decision for Jesus Christ. But that’s OK, because that’s not how God measures success.
True success in life is measured by your obedience to God. True success is measured when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. When this happens, then the Kingdom of heaven comes to men, and that’s what I call success!
When the Lord gives you commandments in your life – the big ones that are obvious, and the small ones that we so easily ignore each day – how do you respond?
I tell my kids that “thy will be done” means four things: there are four parts to your obedience:
- Speed – Like Peter, you should obey God immediately, and not only when you find it convenient.
- Quantity – Like Peter, you should obey God completely.
- Quality – Like Peter, you should obey God to the best of your ability.
- Attitude – Like Peter, you should obey God cheerfully.
All of this obedience requires that you are actively listening to the voice of God. You must be in such close communion with your Lord that you are able to hear and thus obey His voice, whether it comes through His Word, through your conscience, or through the counsel of others. Remember who it is that is commanding you: it is the Lord!
You must accustom yourself to the voice of Jesus Christ in your life, and this means tuning your spirit to the voice of the Holy Spirit. This obedience requires that you forsake all and follow Christ – even when you don’t understand (verse 11). In a similar way, Jesus Christ commands those who want to be His disciples, in Matt 16:24, that we must deny ourselves, take up our cross daily (which means submitting our wills to His in all things), and follow Him. This is the way the original disciples followed Jesus Christ, and it is the way His disciples today must follow.
If you obey, you will see the Lord bless you beyond your imagination, as Peter did. For Peter, this meant a miraculous catch of fish. For you, it might mean greater peace with yourself or your friends and relatives: it will certainly mean a closer fellowship with your God. Success for Peter meant that impetuous Peter became Peter the bold.
Success in God’s eyes often looks like failure in man’s eyes: remember John the Baptist and the Crucifixion of the Lord. And success in man’s eyes is often failure: remember Howard Hughes.
But in the eyes of the Lord, obedience is always a success because obedience is always the goal for the disciple of Jesus Christ all along.
Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Point for Meditation: Meditate on one way in which God has given you spiritual success, even when it didn’t (or doesn’t) look like it.
Resolution: I resolve to listen today to what the Master is telling me in one area. I further resolve to obey His commandment immediately, completely, to the best of my ability, and cheerfully.
Calling of Peter and Andrew by Duccio di Buoninsegna – U. S. Public Domain