The college I went to had mandatory chapel service several times a week. They had assigned seating and someone took roll. You got in trouble if you didn’t go. So, I went, but I slept through the entire thing. Usually, there were old stodgy professors who preached, (boring) or young preachers who had come there to learn to be pastors who preached, (boring).
My grandfather and father were Southern Baptist preachers and I had an experience at Church camp that led me to think I might be called to preach. Here I was at this Bible College studying Bible, but I didn’t want to be a preacher. I wanted to be a writer.
As I sat through a horrible sermon from an upperclassman in chapel one day, I remember thinking, “That is so bad, no wonder the church of Jesus Christ is so weak.” Then I felt a metaphorical thump on the back of my head and a loud inner Voice say to me, “If you think you can do better, why don’t you try.”
I interpreted that as a reaffirmation of my call to preach. I took my first pastorate in 1984 at the wise and mature age of twenty-six. My father preached my ordination sermon. His text was Ephesians 4:1,
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.
Then he paused and leaned forward and said, “That verse has nothing to do with being called to preach, Joe. It has everything to do with being called to walk day-by-day with Jesus. That is your primary calling in life. The preaching will come as an overflow of that daily walk.”
That was a long time ago and I have learned that the calling of God and following hard after Jesus is a long process.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest. He wrote a poem that speaks to the sometimes excruciating pace of our transformation.
Listen to these wise words:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.
Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on
as though you could be today what time
— that is to say, grace —
— acting on your own good will —
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser. Amen.
Look at what Jesus says…
I’ve been taught all my life that this is a soul-winning term. And, in a sense, it is. But it is more than that. It is not as slick and “close-the-deal” like in door-to-door-sales as I had always thought. Becoming a fisher of men is a process, a journey.
In Biblical imagery and Hebrew symbolism the sea is a place of chaos and death; and represents the Kingdom of Darkness. What makes this Kingdom …dark and chaotic? Self-centeredness. Self-kingship. Self-pity. Self-absorption.
When Jesus says that He will make us fishers of men He is saying, “I’ll make you into someone who knows how to draw people out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light.”
A “fisher of men” is someone who has moved out of that chaotic darkness into the serenity of the light and now are so grateful that they begin to draw other people into the light of loving God, loving others and serving the world.
May you walk day-by-day with Jesus as your primary calling in life and Above all, trust in the slow work of God to make you fishers of men.