Lessons for Christian Workers
In the account of the manifestation of Christ to his disciples at the Sea of Galilee, there are many instinctive suggestions for Christian workers in all times.
To begin with, the picture of the Master standing on the shore, in the grey dawn, watching his disciples as they wearily dragged their nets through the water—is most encouraging to all who are fishing for souls. Thus he ever stands with his eye upon those who are toiling for him. The thought should be full of cheer and inspiration. We should always do our best—for the Master's eye is always upon us. It is with a look of loving interest that he watches—not with the eye of criticism and blame.
Then the disciples' night of fruitless toil has for all workers its deep suggestion. No doubt the incident was meant to teach a spiritual lesson: Christ was not with them—so nothing came of their efforts. All night they had been drawing their nets through the waters, and in the morning they were still empty.
It is just thus with the workers always, when they try to save souls in their own strength. Even Christian work amounts to nothing, unless it is directed and inspired by Christ himself. We should go always from our knees—to our pulpit, to our bible class, to all our missionary efforts. If we do not, it is really not worth while for us to go at all. That certainly was the lesson which Jesus meant to teach his apostles that weary night on the Sea of Galilee. Until we learn it, too, we shall never have success in winning souls and in doing good.
But the moment the Master had spoken and the weary fishermen had done his bidding, their net was full. Toil guided by Christ, is always successful. No effort put forth under his direction can ever fail. No net cast at his bidding is ever drawn up empty. No sermon preached, no lesson taught, no word spoken simply and truly for Christ, in obedience to his command—ever returns void.
If we would do Christ's work, we must be in immediate communion with him. When he sends forth a worker, he says, "I am with you always." This promise means what it says, and the very first thing we should do if we would be used by Christ in saving souls and in blessing the world, is to realize his continual presence and put ourselves entirely under his guidance. This implies a life of constant communion with Christ. We cannot live far from him, and be really used by him. Someone says, "Christ always uses the vessel that he finds near his hand."
Another important suggestion in this narrative, is that deep and sincere love for Christ is the one essential qualification in workers for souls. Perhaps we have too much overlooked this truth. We have not failed to appreciate the necessity of education and training in those who would do Christ's work. We insist on our pastors being familiar with the arts and sciences, with Hebrew and Greek, with church history—and this is well. Christ educated his apostles, teaching them for three years, until their minds were thoroughly imbued with the truth, and they were thus prepared to expound to men the doctrines of his kingdom and tell sinners the way of salvation.
But his treatment of Peter when he would restore him to the apostleship from which he had fallen, suggests to us that without personal loyalty and devotion to Christ, and deep love for him, no one is ready to be entrusted by the Master with the care of souls. The highest learning, the most persuasive eloquence, the most faithful preparation, the best natural gifts—avail nothing if to the question, "Do you love Me?" the answer does not come welling up from the heart, "Lord, you know that I love You!" Love for the work is not enough, nor is love for the Church, or love for children, or love for humanity; the heart of all true discipleship is deep, strong, intense, all-absorbing love for Christ! Personal devotion to Jesus is the secret of all acceptable service. It was this passion for Christ that made Paul the marvelous missionary that he was. "The love of Christ constrains me!" was the only reason he gave for his burning zeal which men misnamed madness. We talk about a "passion for souls." But above that, is the essential qualification in a Christian worker; love for Christ himself must be behind all, and must kindle all true love for souls.
We also learn here very much about the work itself which Christ wants us to do. Fishing is not all—he would have us do shepherd work as well. That is, it is not enough to draw lost souls out of the waters of death; when they are saved, there begins a shepherding ministry for them and on their behalf which must be continued until they are gathered into the heavenly fold.
Some workers forgot this. They strive only to secure the conversion of sinners, and after that they let them go on as best they can. Young Christians sometimes complain, and justly, too, that their pastors and teacher were unremitting in their attention to them until they had accepted Christ and united with the Church—but that afterward no loving interest in them was manifested, and they were left to go on alone in their struggle with temptation and in their efforts to grow as Christians.
Christ's teaching here is very emphatic on this point. He bids us to feed his lambs, and to tend and shepherd his sheep. Anyone who recalls the kind of care given by Oriental shepherds to their sheep will understand the tender, faithful, patient, helpful art which Christ would have us give to all young Christians and to all feeble, tempted, struggling Christians of whatever age, over whom we are in any sense overseers. A great part of the work of every true pastor is the shepherd work—this work of feeding, protecting, guiding, comforting, encouraging and helping in all ways—the people under his care. If he fails in this, his ministry will be a failure; and how can he then appear before God's judgment bar at last, and answer for the souls committed to him? Bible teachers also, with young Christians in their classes should not fail to be most loving and faithful shepherds to them.
The last word then is one of great encouragement to the workers. When these tired and hungry apostles had brought their net to the shore they found a meal prepared for them by the Master's loving thoughtfulness.
There are two suggestions: That Jesus always provides for the needs of his faithful servants. At the close of every day of toil, when they came back to his feet with the results, he has food ready for them of which the world knows nothing.
Then at the close of all earth's toil, when the last net has been dragged through the waters and the weary worker reaches his eternal home, the Master will be standing on the heavenly shore to receive them and will immediately invite them to feed upon the blessed provisions of his glorious love and grace!