By the twenty-first chapter of John's Gospel, the risen Jesus has appeared to his disciples on two occasions. But here, seven of his followers are in a quandary. (They still don’t get it—encouraging, huh?) Frustrated and discouraged, they decide to do the typical »guy thing.«
They go fishing.
It’s what they know best. It’s what’s familiar. Better yet—it’s seemingly a total waste of time. Just a group of buddies hanging out all night, telling fish stories, reminiscing about when Jesus was around, talking about what they’re going to do now. (Luckily there wasn’t a church board there to evaluate how they were spending their time.)
But it isn’t all goofing around. A couple of the guys on the boat are still good fishermen. They know this lake like the back of their hands—where the fish are, all the primo spots. So they stay out the entire night, and what do they catch?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
What a bunch of losers.
Or were they?
While they’re still in the boat, a voice breaks the morning silence: »Hey there! Haven’t you any fish?« A man is standing on the shore, directly in front of the sun, his silhouette dark, his features difficult to discern. Not understanding why, the disciples respond in tense unison, »No!«
Without hesitation the man yells back, »Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some!« Within seconds their net fills with a truckload of fish.
John knows what’s going on. The full net of fish has Jesus written all over it. »It is the Lord!« he yells.
Peter, in very Peter-like fashion, jumps in the water and swims for the beach. The rest of the disciples row like crazy to be with Jesus. Why? Because they all realize at that moment that boats don’t matter, nets don’t matter, and fish don’t matter.
You know what did matter? Nothing.
That’s right. Nothing.
Turns out that catching no fish, getting no results, and wasting hours of time was exactly what the disciples needed to recognize Jesus. They had been frustrated, confused, angry, exhausted, and unable to get in touch with what they needed. They had been lonely, afraid, and disillusioned. But this night of »nothing« had prepared the disciples for the »something« (or the Someone) they needed. Now they were ready to receive what Jesus wanted to give them—more time with him.
Jesus didn’t care about the big catch of fish—he cared about the guys on the boat. Jesus didn’t want to teach his disciples more stuff—he wanted to spend more time with them. He didn’t say to his disciples, »Go!«—he said, »Come and have breakfast with me.«
Jesus just wanted to have breakfast with his friends, one more time. He just wanted to tell stories together, one more time. Jesus loved his disciples. Loved spending time with them. You see, Jesus understood then—and he understands now—how easy it is to substitute programs, results, and ministry for him.
When our ministries are going well, and when they are going poorly, the question should always be the same: Where’s Jesus?
I was recently hit with that very question during a meeting with a well-known evangelist. After an hour and a half of his very organized presentation on a new, nationwide program for spreading the gospel, he stopped and asked some of us to respond.
I started to speak, but the words caught in my throat. My tears ambushed me, and I was unable to respond. Taken by surprise, I wondered what my tears were all about. Instantly I saw the following mental picture: A man was leaning against the wall a few feet from us. He seemed lonely and sad, like a wallflower at a dance. One look at his eyes, and I could tell he desperately wanted us to notice him, to pay attention to him, to talk to him—but we just went on with our business and ignored him.
That man was Jesus, of course. There he stood in the midst of our long conversation about strategies, programs, and target markets, and we didn’t even notice the very reason why we have these meetings in the first place!
I believe that in much of modern youth ministry, the question »Where’s Jesus?« has been replaced with »Who needs Jesus?« I’m really worried that youth ministry itself is drowning out Jesus’ constant invitation to us to come have breakfast with him.
I honestly believe that Jesus would love to see nothing happening in youth groups across the country. I honestly believe Jesus would love to hear youth workers all over saying to their pastors, parents, and board members, »Oh, sorry! I can’t hear about your new program right now—I never miss my breakfast with Jesus.«
He’s on the shore right now. Just waiting.