When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let
down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but
have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this,
they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.
--Luke 5:4-6 NRSV
My family and I were watching a movie this week when Carrie Underwood popped up on the screen in a cameo role. My sons vaguely know the former American Idol winner and country music superstar from the musical introductions to Sunday night NFL games. They are too young to understand what a big deal American Idol was in its early seasons. I remember when Underwood won American Idol and received a record contract. Her first single was “Jesus Take the Wheel.” I thought, “Oh boy, what a dumb song title,” and I rolled my eyes at its overt sappiness.
I can’t really say why, maybe it’s middle age or maybe I’ve experienced one to many moments of feeling helpless in the years since the song came out, but I don’t hate the song anymore. It’s still sappy and more than a bit manipulative in its use of Jesus to get a song on Country radio, but I can relate to the character in the song who hits some black ice, loses control of her car and realizes her lack of control is a good metaphor for her life. I’m pretty sure anyone who hasn’t hit a moment when they’ve done all they know to do only to realize it’s not enough just hasn’t lived long enough yet.
I listened to a minister friend of mine’s sermon from last Sunday where he preached on the story in Luke 5 where Jesus enables his soon-to-be disciples to catch a miraculous number of fish. When Jesus tells them here to put out their fishing nets, Peter replies they’ve been fishing all night and have caught nothing. Jesus tells them to try it again on the other side of the boat, and when they do the nets are full. My friend interpreted the story as a metaphor for all the ways we exhaust ourselves trying to do things with little to show for our effort. When we finally humble ourselves and try it Jesus’ way the results are far different. When we say, “Jesus, take the wheel. . . er. . . the fishing net,” we have a better outcome.
Is there a place in your life where you have exhausted yourself trying to do things under your own power, because you have resisted admitting you have no control over that situation? As Christians in America, we have been taught that faith is about a set of beliefs rather than faith is about the practice of trusting God. We understand faith as only an intellectual pursuit—a checklist of things we say we believe that have no real bearing on our lives. I confess that I often act as a “functional atheist”—as if God were not a real part of my life. I am surprised each time I reach the end of my own ability and effort only to discover what is beyond my control.
The Episcopal priest and writer Barbara Brown Taylor writes the following about her spiritual journey:
“I…arrived at an understanding of faith that had far more to do with trust than with
certainty. I trusted God to be God even if I could not say who God was for sure. I trusted
God to sustain the world although I could not say for sure how that happened. I trusted
God to hold me and those I loved, in life and in death, without giving me one shred of
conclusive evidence that it was so.”
In other words, “Jesus, take the wheel” or the fishing net or the parenting or the job hunting or the healing or the (insert your anxiety here).
As a minister, I’ve learned how rarely I truly trust God with my life. Despite preaching about it for a couple decades, I’m not great at actually doing it. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised then to see that church folks, even the most faithful ones, aren’t very good at it either. It’s no wonder church leaders and the most ardent volunteers exhaust themselves trying to do church, because they are doing it by their own power, their own skills, their own best ideas instead of trusting God with the wheel or the budget or (insert local church crisis here).
Whether in the church or in my personal life, I’ve had plenty of experiences where I feel like I’m fishing all night without much to show for it. How about you?
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
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We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.