Let Down Your Net:
Spiritual Refreshment for Pastors
by Joni Eareckson Tada
Every pastor and every lay person has experienced them – dry times. Times when the Bible seems as inspiring as the Los Angeles phone book. Times when prayer feels like an exercise in futility. I had one of those dry times not long ago and it seemed as though my prayers couldn’t even reach the ceiling, let alone heaven.
I listened to my Christian friends talk about how they were learning and growing and what God was telling them and wasn’t the Lord wonderful!? I tried to listen hard, but faking it made me feel even more guilty.
The hardest part was that I could not trace the dry spell to anything specific. No besetting sin that had entangled me. No fights with my husband. No root of bitterness over my disability. No great lapses in my prayer life or Bible study. And certainly not a lack of fellowship. Yet my spirit felt as arid as July in the Mojave Desert. Maybe you can identify. Your smile loses its shine, your soul becomes dim, and your countenance tells you and everyone around you that something’s not quite right. Especially as you get up to deliver your sermon on Sunday morning.
Strange as it sounds, the closest Biblical analogy I can find for those dry days takes place in the middle of a lake. Let’s pick up the story in Luke 5.
[Jesus] got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and I haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:3-8)
That’s a story for dry times. It’s a story for when you feel tired of trying… when you’re weary of praying prayers that don’t seem to get answered… when the pages of the Bible might as well be written in hieroglyphics. Sometimes in the pastorate, the very people you count on for help seem to disappear – whether it’s your elder board, your vestry, your trustees, or your staff, no one seems able to lift your spirits or lighten the load. To be honest, you’re just plain weary. You’re tired of trying.
Simon, too, was weary. He was tired of trying. His back ached and his eyelids drooped. Yes, he had heard the Master preach to the people just moments before, but still he lacked faith and confidence in Jesus’ words. Besides, he had been up all night long without so much as a sardine to show for it. Yet at the command of Christ, he was able to summon what little energy he had left and let down his net. One more time.
As a pastor, perhaps all of your nets are empty today. You’ve been wrestling over decisions with your board of elders, but you’ve come up with no solutions. You feel dry and deflated, and you pray, Lord, where is the fire? Where did my passion go? Why am I floundering? You wonder if God has misplaced your file somewhere on His desk.
He hasn’t! God has been actively engaged moment-by-moment, every step of the way. He has been working behind the scenes, shifting hearts and pushing souls and prodding unwilling spirits. He has been laboring specifically and intentionally with a clear goal in mind for your life, your family’s and the lives of all those around you – including your elder board and congregation. Just be encouraged; it has been those petitions you offered in the dry times that have pleased Him best.
Your heavy heart is no secret to the God who loves you. As David wrote: “All my longings lie open before you, oh Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you” (Psalm 38:9).
He is asking you today to let down your net. One more time. Even though you haven’t seen amazing results in recent weeks. Even though your emotions say, “What’s the use?” Even though running an uphill marathon seems more appealing than seeking the Lord right now. Nevertheless, obey the word of Christ and let down your net. Keep in the Word. Hit your knees and return to prayer. Confess your sins of unbelief (not to mention, a sour, skeptical attitude). Finish that research you pushed aside months ago – ask the Spirit to show you something fresh from the pages of scripture.
Get into a closer relationship of accountability with a trusted Christian friend. Do some little, special thing for your wife and kids. When the choir – or your worship team -- lifts praises to God this coming Sunday, humble yourself before the throne and sing like you really mean it. Worship your God with a hands-down, slam-dunk amazement over His grace to you and every other sinner in your congregation.
Because sooner or later, He’ll surprise you just like He surprised Simon Peter. He’s going to bring you out of that long night – out of that dryness. He’ll open the eyes of your heart to some dazzling insight in Malachi or Matthew that you’ve never seen before. He’ll strike a match in your heart and reignite your love for the lost – a love you haven’t sensed in ages. Best of all, you’ll see Jesus, Friend of Sinners, and Healer of Broken Hearts in a way you’ve never seen Him before – you’ll know His approval, sense His nearness, and feel His pleasure. You’re going to experience His joy… more joy than you can handle. So be faithful, friend. Trust Him. Wait on Him.
Jesus can still fill an empty net.
©Joni Eareckson Tada 2007
A diving accident in 1967 left Mrs. Tada a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, unable to use her hands. During two years of rehabilitation, she spent long months learning how to paint with a brush between her teeth. Her high detail fine art paintings and prints are sought after and collected. Due to her best-selling books, beginning with her autobiography, Joni, as well as having visited 35 countries, Joni's first name is recognized around the world. World Wide Pictures' full-length feature film, JONI, in which Mrs. Tada recreated her own life, has been translated into 15 languages and shown in scores of countries around the world. Mrs. Tada's role as a disability advocate led to a presidential appointment to the National Council on Disability for three and a half years, during which time the Americans with Disabilities Act became law. To read a full printable copy of Joni's bio, click here.