Lessons from Fishing

At GOC we use the term “fishing” (from Matt. 4:19) for cold contact evangelism. Often, those who are interested in this form of evangelism will pair up and walk around on campus to converse with strangers about their beliefs. It’s something I’ve done a lot more this quarter, and I’ve learned a lot through it. In many ways, these are things I’ve learned only through fishing, and I’m thankful that God planted the desire in me to do cold contact evangelism. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from going fishing:

1. It gives you a heart for the lost

At the beginning of the school year, our college pastor preached Jonathan Edwards’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” I remember being incredibly convicted by the truths of that sermon–in particular, how perilously close people were to perishing and being lost forever. I thought about my younger brother, who is not saved, and how lax I’ve been in sharing the gospel with him. I thought about all my friends who are not saved, and all the people on my campus who aren’t saved. I was struck by how little I cared for them to receive the gospel, and since then it has been a prayer of mine that God would give me a heart for the lost. I prayed that request on and off for months, and I never felt satisfied with my level of passion for the lost. I didn’t come to a point where I felt satisfactorily broken for those who don’t believe. Despite this, at the end of last quarter, I arranged with a friend to go fishing every other week.

I think that was the turning point–fishing turns that prayer into practice. In this case, God chose to use my obedience to His command to go (Matt. 28:19) to foster my heart for the lost. Here’s what I learned: it’s one thing to sit in my room and pray that God would break my heart for those who are perishing, and it’s another thing to do something about that prayer. Neither one of them is meant to develop in isolation; both heart and action must be present with regards to sharing the gospel. Going fishing has been the best thing for me for developing a compassion for unbelievers. It gets personal, because I see them, in person, reject the gospel of salvation. It’s difficult to watch. They are rejecting the gospel I know and love–the truth about men’s souls and God’s love! It is personal and heartbreaking. I didn’t expect that, but I’m thankful for it. It drives me to greater prayer and evangelism.

2. It shows how hard men’s hearts are

I hang out with believers a lot. Most of my time interacting with people is doubtlessly spent with believers. Doing this, it’s easy for me to forget what grace does to a person; it’s easy to assume sanctification is normal and that justification is a given. It’s not. Go fishing a couple of times and you realize that there are a lot of people who, for one reason or another, don’t believe the gospel. Even if they believe in a God, even if they believe in sin, even if they believe in justice, even if they believe in a Jesus, they may still believe that they can get into heaven by doing enough good. The concept is foreign to us as believers, but that doesn’t mean it’s not commonplace outside our sphere.

In one of the most startling and heartbreaking encounters I’ve had, I found someone who exemplified Isaiah’s judgment: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20). She started out by saying that there isn’t anything wrong with sin, and so it really shouldn’t be punished–calling evil good. As I explained to her Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, she was disturbed by it. She didn’t understand why an innocent man would have to die for people who are guilty. When I asked her if she could see it as an act of love, that God would punish His innocent Son to save sinners, she rejected the idea, choosing to see the cross as an act of cruelty–calling good evil.

Isaiah says, “There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you” (Isaiah 64:7a). In an echo of that truth, Paul says, “‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10b-11). This becomes clear in evangelism: left to their own devices, man is dead set against God. People deny His existence. People deny a need for Him. We sow the gospel seed on stony hearts. It’s something we as believers can too easily forget when we spend our lives with believers at church and Bible study.

3. It shows how powerful God is

This point follows directly from the previous one. The more you realize how sinful and depraved man is, the more you realize what kind of power it takes to take a heart so opposed to God and change it to desire Him and worship Him. It takes a miracle to change someone who doesn’t believe that the Bible is true to someone who does and chooses to live by it. It takes a miracle to convince someone who believes in the seemingly concrete things of this world to live by faith in things unseen (Heb. 11:1). It leads me to worship Him more to understand just how hard the human heart is, because it demonstrates God’s power that He can change it. Moreover, it makes me incredibly thankful that, in His mercy and grace, He chose me to be called His son.

4. It shows how dependent I am

There is a beautiful futility to sharing the gospel. I don’t mean that sharing the gospel is futile, but that if all evangelism is consists of me speaking words, there is no way people will get saved. My best arguments, exposition, logic, love are useless against a heart set against God. If a lost person is to be saved, the power of salvation must come from outside me, because on my own my best efforts are futile. John 15:5 says that “apart from [Christ we] can do nothing”; this becomes starkly clear in evangelism. It teaches the importance of prayer, that the Holy Spirit would come and work in peoples’ hearts in a way I cannot, that He would use my faithful preaching to shake the conscience and open their eyes, because I am utterly unable to affect men’s hearts. Dependence through prayer becomes a joyful necessity in the arena of evangelism, and I’m thankful to be taught that.

These are things I wouldn’t have learned in a profound way if I hadn’t been faithful to evangelism this past quarter. They are all truths that I understand, but now I understand them emotionally and experientially in a way I hadn’t before. It’s for that reason that I encourage you to evangelize, whether relationally or cold contact, so that you can grow in these ways. If you’d like to grow your heart for the lost, I can recommend no better way of doing so than talking to them about the gospel. I am certain you will be led to worship our God more fully through what you learn by evangelizing.

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