Luke 5:1-11: 5 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He 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. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 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. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
In this story, Peter had a failure. He had worked hard all night and had failed to catch any fish. When morning came, he quit hoping for success. He had washed his nets. He was done.
I don’t know how successful Peter had been up to this point. I don’t know if it was a one-time fluke that his nets were empty. I can imagine, however, that it would be discouraging to give your best effort to a project or task and have nothing to show for it at the end of the effort.
I want to offer you six suggestions from this story that can help you move forward from failure whether it follows your best efforts or your disobedience to God.
We read that Jesus saw Peter’s boat, and He got into it. The text doesn’t say He asked Peter if He could get in. He just did. Jesus was about to insert Himself into Peter’s less than finest hour. He then asked Simon Peter to put the boat out a little from shore. Peter complied. The road to recovery involved interacting with Jesus. Peter may not have understood that, but notice he didn’t resist it.
So, step one in this recovery process is: Let Jesus get into your boat. The boat wasn’t just a floating vessel. It represented a whole lot more in Peter’s life. It represented his livelihood. There was financial failure involved here. It also pointed to Peter’s prowess, his expertise, and his experience. Fishing was what he knew. This was something he was good at and yet he had come up empty. There was professional failure here. Finally, the boat was part of his identity. He was a fisherman. His failure was tied to who he was. Peter, the fisherman, wasn’t a fisherman that day. There was personal failure here.
Allowing Jesus onboard during a time of personal disaster or embarrassment, allowing Him to command what Peter was used to controlling, it was all part of the first step to his recovery. We need to welcome Jesus into our boat when we are dealing with failure.
Second, On the heels of failure, let Jesus dictate your next steps. Jesus gave some orders. Instead of arguing or dismissing Jesus altogether, he complied with Jesus’ requests. It was one thing to borrow Peter’s boat, but to ask Peter to go back out right on the heels of failure? That would be too difficult for many. Sometimes we aren’t in the mood to get back on that horse, but Peter’s mood didn’t matter when the Master spoke.
One thing I know about Jesus…He will never lead us into failure. When He speaks, it is in our best interest to hear and obey what He says, no matter how much we think we know, no matter how much experience we have in some area.
The next step to recovering after a failure is to Let others help you. Part of Peter’s recovery from failure involved great success, but that success was what you could say was “too much to handle”. Peter went from catching nothing to catching more than he could deal with. He caught so many fish that their nets started to break. That sounds great, but if you could picture it, you would see how overwhelming it was. He was on the verge of failure again. He was on the verge of losing this miraculous catch due to broken nets. Had Jesus just set Peter up to fail again?
People who recover well from failure are those who realize they need help from others, and they don’t wait for other people to notice their need. They reach out. They are proactive. They take initiative.
Verse 7 says that Peter signaled to others in another boat to come and help. He wasn’t going to be successful after his failure without the help of others.
Well, the whole thing really humbled Peter. He fell to his knees, and he told Jesus to move away from him. Peter realized that he didn’t deserve the miracle that Jesus had done for him. I think he felt so unworthy of that blessing that he had a hard time receiving it. Perhaps it was his first experience with the grace of God. He hadn’t caught those fish. He hadn’t earned the reward they would bring. It was a gift that God gave to him.
Some of us need to, step 4, learn to receive the blessings God wants to give us. When you experience that favor of God it can be overwhelming. Jesus knew Peter was struggling. He didn’t even respond to Peter’s comment about asking Jesus to leave. He said to Peter, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” Fish for people? What did that even mean? It seemed big. This was a brand-new start. This was a whole new direction. How did Peter process that? He had just failed. How could he be qualified to become a disciple of Jesus or a fisher of man? Peter was invited to leave the common for the holy, the mundane for the miraculous. And guess what? Peter accepted Jesus’ invitation. He left everything to follow Jesus. After wrestling with feelings of unworthiness, he went for it. He believed that if Jesus was calling, he could follow where He was leading.
Step five in recovering after a failure is this: Let Jesus define your future. Too many people let their failures define their futures instead of Jesus.
Jesus specializes in turning lives around. Your past may be an obstacle for you, but it isn’t a problem for Jesus. This wasn’t the first and last time Peter would deal with failure. One person identified 13 different times that Peter failed after he signed up to follow Jesus, and those are only the episodes we know about.
Jesus called Peter to follow Him KNOWING that he would repeatedly fail him. Jesus even told Peter in Luke 22:32 that he knew Peter would fail him. He told him that Satan was after him, that he was after his faith in Christ. Jesus said he was praying for Peter that his faith wouldn’t fail, but then what He said next was interesting because even though he was praying Peter wouldn’t fail, that is absolutely what was going to happen and Jesus knew it ahead of time. Jesus said, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:32 Peter would turn away from Jesus, and then he would return to Jesus. He would recover.
God chose Peter, just as He has chosen us, knowing there will be moments of failure that will be part of our journey. I believe He does so, in part, because He intends to use our failures, as well as our successes, for His glory. I would say that step six in recovering after a failure is this: Let your recovery be a testimony to help someone else recover. Use your story to strengthen someone else!
Jesus knew that failures would be part of Peter’s discipleship, but with each failure, there would be a refinement of who he was. In order for Peter to be able to “catch men,” to be able to preach the Gospel, the Good News of God’s grace, Peter was going to need to experience it himself. Oh, Peter had witnessed the miracles Jesus did on earth. He was an eyewitness to the miracle of the Resurrection, but if he had not firsthand experienced the grace of God for himself, how could he assure others it was all true?
Failure is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. Allowing our failure to have the final say in our lives probably is.
Peter learned something about the grace of God each time he failed that he could have never learned from what the world would view to be his successes. God wastes nothing, not even our failure. Can I challenge you this morning with this thought? Don’t waste your failure. Let Jesus get into your boat. Let Him dictate your next steps. He knows the way to recovery. Let others help you. Look for God’s blessings and receive them in humility. Let Jesus, and not your failures, define your future. Let your recovery be a testimony to help someone else recover.