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.
I have been asking God to give me practical messages that speak to real life situations because I realize we all have a need to learn how to apply God’s Word to everyday life situations in order to live well. I want you to walk away with something each week that you can utilize yourself or can give to someone else who is struggling. Besides dealing with pain, the other thing we all probably have in common is dealing with personal failures. How do we successfully move on from them?
In this story, Peter has 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.
Anyone can have a tough day at work. Anyone can have a dry spell in a relationship. Anyone can wrestle with the disappointment that comes when a deal is lost or a goal isn’t achieved. What do you do when those things happen? What if they happen repeatedly? 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. What do we do with those moments, those seasons, and the feelings the result from them? What do we do when it is our sin that creates the failures in our lives? I mean, at least Peter was trying to do something productive. What happens when we are bent on sinning and our failure is the result of our disobedience to God? 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.
As I studied for this message, I became aware of something I had not noticed in this text before. I think it is step one when it comes to recovering well. Look again at verses 2 and 3: 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.
This is one thing I love about Jesus. He comes to us when we need recovery. 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. The text says he had been washing his nets. He literally had to stop doing what he was doing in order to accommodate Jesus’ request to be put out from shore.
Peter could have said, “Get your own boat.” He could have said, “We are on our way home now.” He could have said, “I don’t have time to listen to a sermon right now.” That’s why Jesus wanted to use a boat and have it put out a little from shore. People would hear him better if there was a little distance between him and the crowd. Sometimes the last thing we are interested in hearing when we have experienced failure is a sermon, but I guarantee you, it’s what we need every time.
So, step one in this recovery process is: Let Jesus get into your boat. Let me unpack that a little more. 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. This wasn’t his first rodeo. 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 into that space, allowing Him 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. We need to let Jesus take control of our livelihood, our professional pursuits, our personal identity and dreams. That thing that we are used to controlling and commanding, we need to relinquish it to Him.
When Peter welcomed Jesus into His boat, He was welcoming Him into the very spot His failure occurred. I don’t want to make too many theological leaps here, but it is something to ponder.
The second step I would commend to you is this: On the heels of failure, let Jesus dictate your next steps. 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.”
Peter didn’t have an extended pity party about his failure. Oh, he may have been bummed. He was surely tired after fishing all night, but he didn’t let his failure or fatigue cause him to shut out Jesus’ voice. Jesus gave some orders. For lots of seasoned fishermen it would be tough to be told where to fish and how to go about doing it. It required some humility for Peter to listen to Jesus. Peter knew how to catch fish. He knew where to go. He knew the best methods. He knew the best time of day and the best spots, but instead of arguing or dismissing Jesus altogether, he complied with Jesus’ requests.
It’s interesting to me that in verse 5, Peter called Jesus, “Master.” In a moment of failure, he acknowledged Jesus as Master. Isn’t that a great time to acknowledge Jesus as Lord? Sometimes we have an easier time letting Jesus be Lord in our successes than we do allowing Him to be Lord in our failures.
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. I mean, we need time to eat our pint of ice cream, don’t we? We need some time to look for people to commiserate with, time to post something dreary on Facebook or at least time to binge watch a few Netflix shows before we are ready to try again. Like, sometimes we aren’t in the mood to get back on that horse, but Peter’s mood didn’t matter when the Master spoke.
There are times when we create more brokenness for ourselves by trying to lead ourselves out of our situation rather than listening to the voice of Jesus. Just think what would have happened if Peter had gone home instead of having done as Jesus had asked? What if he would have walked away from the One who could produce a miracle in his life right after his failure? Why would anyone walk away from or distance themselves from the One who can take brokenness and bless it, the One who can take messes and mistakes and turn them into miracles?
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. Failure can put us in a funk. It can cause us to put up walls and to give up. We have to exercise faith in the Lord. He always has something helpful to say. When you are a believer there is always a way up and a way out. Always. Listen to the voice of the Master. Let Him speak into your failure.
Before I give you the third step, let me say that recovery is a process. Sometimes the process is quick. Sometimes it is long and drawn out, but recovery is a process because it involves several steps, and sometimes it gets complicated along the way like we are about to see.
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. They 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. I mean, if the fish aren’t biting, they aren’t biting, but if they are biting and you just lose them due to faulty equipment or a lack of skill or because you can’t think fast enough or whatever the reason, you are risking double failure in the same day. 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. Part of recovery involves learning from our failures. Sometimes we fail because we try to do everything on our own. Some of us need to learn to reach out the minute things start to feel overwhelming, but because of pride and fear of what others might think, we often keep dragging our nets as they tear further, creating gaping holes.
Well, the whole thing really humbled Peter. He fell to his knees, and he told Jesus to move away from him. I’ve thought a lot about that and wondered why Peter would want Jesus to move on, to depart from him. I mean, when you meet someone who can make good things happen for you, why would you want to dismiss them? I think Peter realized he was in the presence of God. I think he 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. It can be hard to know how to deal with what comes your way. I don’t know what Peter’s past had looked like, but I get the sense that there were some things that needed to be dealt with. God’s grace gives us a clean slate to move forward. Big things were ahead for Peter, bigger than he had ever known. His past didn’t matter. Sometimes we let our failures, our past, keep us stuck in a rut or routine or keep us from the best thing God has for us. Anyone who has done great things for God first came to the place where they realized they weren’t worthy but by God’s grace they were going to take hold of the life Jesus wanted to offer. Peter had a hard time in that moment, receiving what Jesus was doing and was about to do.
Imagine if Peter had been successful in getting Jesus to leave? What kind of life would he have lived from that point? Well, Jesus knew Peter was struggling. He didn’t really 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. Not everything the disciples said or did was recorded, you know.
Of course, his most famous failure was the moment he denied knowing Jesus. Jesus had been arrested, and Peter was afraid of the consequences he would personally face if it was found out that he was one of Jesus’s disciples. When asked, instead of entrusting his future to the Lord, with oaths and curses, he denied knowing Him. It was the biggest failure of his life for sure. But God had a plan for Peter. Even Peter’s denial couldn’t derail the plan of God. Isn’t that comforting?
Get a hold of this…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. He told Peter, “After you fail, you will turn back to Me. You will get back on track, and when you do, strengthen your brothers.” I would say that step six in recovering after a failure is this: Let your recovery be a testimony to help someone else recover.
Sometimes the best advice we can give is advice about what not to do because we have been there and done that and wish we would not have. Sometimes the person with the most influence over us, the one that can help us the most, is someone who has walked in our shoes when we have failed and has walked out of failure into the future God has designed.
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?
We are saved by grace through faith. It is a gift. We don’t earn it by trying to achieve some perfect track record or by trying to hide the moments of failure in our lives. We simply receive grace to start again and again and again.
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.