A failure can become a stepping-stone to success. An incident from Peter’s life (Luke 5:1-11) illustrates this wonderful truth. Peter and his friends had been out fishing all night, but they had caught nothing. This was probably unusual, since Peter was a professional fisherman. He definitely was not a novice. Probably he had the best nets, a good boat, and he knew exactly where to catch the most fish. He had worked all night, as his income depended on a good catch. But still Peter came up short. Even the superstars strike out sometimes.
Next day the disciples were washing their nets on the seashore, feeling very tired and discouraged. At that moment Jesus came along and said, “Peter, I’d like to use your boat as a platform to speak from.” So Peter let Jesus get into his boat and launched out a little way from the shore. There Jesus could speak from the boat to the crowd standing on the shore.
After finishing His message Jesus said to the disciples, “Now let’s go fishing. Launch out into the deep water,” He said, “and let down the nets for a catch.”
But Peter replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything-yet if You say so, I’ll let down the nets.” When the disciples obeyed, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.
WHEN OUR BEST IS NOT ENOUGH
What does this story teach us about failure? Jesus never did a miracle without a purpose. He always used His miracles to illustrate principles. This incident teaches us what to do when our best is not good enough.
Sometimes you give it your best shot but you still come up ten feet short. You study diligently for a test but only get a “C.” You work hard to make your marriage better but still don’t see any progress. Life can be tough at times and it’s tempting to give up. You feel like saying, “What’s the use? I just set myself up for more failure. Can anything make a difference?”
The interesting part of this story is the comparison between the two catches. The disciples had worked all night and had caught nothing, but later they went out for ten minutes and caught more than ever before. It was the same lake, the same boat, the same nets, and the same people fishing. So what made the difference?
There are actually three differences between the two fishing expeditions, and these differences give us principles to follow when our best attempts end in failure. I believe any person who applies these principles will be a genuine success in life. God intended them to be easy to understand, so that everybody could get in on the benefit.
But first you must realize God is interested in your success; He’s not interested in seeing you fail. Suppose my daughter Amy said to me one day, “Daddy, I’m a total failure in life. Everything I touch falls apart. My problems are insurmountable. I can never do anything right. I’m a total failure and I’ll never change.”
Would I reply, “Oh, I’m so happy you told me that! That makes me feel so good inside!” no, of course not. As a father I want my children to be successful, to be the best they can be. Likewise, your Heavenly Father wants you to be successful in life too; in your personal life, your family, your spiritual growth, and in all your relationships.
APPROPRIATE GOD’S PRESENCE IN YOUR LIFE
The first principle of success is found in Luke 5:3: Jesus was in the boat with the disciples. Christ’s presence made a big difference! This time the disciples weren’t fishing by themselves; God was with them. The first principle for successful living is this: You must appropriate God’s presence in your life. In other words, you’ve got to get Jesus in your boat. That’s the starting point. Nothing has greater influence on your personal success than whether or not you are living with Christ in your life. Now in Peter’s life his boat represented his livelihood. When you’re a fisherman, that boat is your business! It’s significant that Peter made his boat available for Jesus to use. Christ used Peter’s business as a platform for ministry.
Does God have access to your job? Is your business available for Him to use at any time? Is He able to minister to people through your job? Too often we try to separate the secular and the spiritual. We have our Christian life nicely partitioned off from our career. But this prevents God from blessing your business or job. God will bless anything you give Him. If you give Him all your life, He’ll bless all of it. But if you give Him just a part of it, He’ll bless just that one part.
A friend told me that as president of his corporation he invites God to every board meeting. He reports that as a result they make fewer mistakes, and have more peace of mind about difficult decisions.
There’s something about having Jesus in your boat that eliminates the fear of failure and reduces your worries about the results. When Peter made Christ his fishing partner, the results were incredible: he caught more fish than he had ever caught on his own. Don’t miss the sequence, though. First Peter used his boat for Christ’s purposes. Jesus took the boat and preached from it to reach people. Then, after Christ had used the boat for His own purposes, God took care of Peter’s needs.
God promises us that if we “Seek … first the kingdom of God and His righteousness … all these [other] things shall be added” unto us (Matthew 6:33). Does that mean if I give my whole life to Christ, putting Him first in every area, then will He bless it all? Yes, that is God’s promise to you.
COOPERATE WITH GOD’S PLAN
The second principle is found in Luke 5:4: The second time the disciples went fishing, they fished under the direction of Christ, obediently following His instructions. We must not only appropriate God’s presence in our lives, but we must cooperate with God’s presence in our lives. Jesus told the disciples where to fish, when to fish, and how to fish. When God is guiding your life, you cannot fail. As Ethel Waters says, “God doesn’t sponsor flops.”
Peter’s reaction to Christ’s guidance was beautiful. First, he didn’t argue. He didn’t say, “Wait a minute, Jesus. Who are You to tell me how to fish? Don’t You know I’m Simon Peter? I’m the premier professional fisherman on this lake. I own the record. Who are You to tell me how to fish?” He didn’t ask, “Lord, are You sure?” Also he didn’t hesitate and he didn’t ask any questions. He might have been thinking that if he didn’t catch anything at night he certainly was not going to catch anything in the middle of the day when the sun was glaring down on the water. From a human standpoint it was bad timing-it seemed ridiculous. But Peter didn’t ask any questions; he just obeyed.
Also, he didn’t listen to his feelings. I’m sure he was dog-tired from working all night but he didn’t ask, “What’s the use? Why should I keep on going?” Peter’s attitude was perfect. He was eager to cooperate with God’s plan.
Why do you think Jesus said to Peter, “Launch out into the deep?” I think it was because it’s in the deep water that the big fish are located. You only catch minnows in shallow water. Most people live in the shallow waters of life. They simply exist on a superficial level. There’s little depth to their lives because they’re content to just play around the edge, never getting out into deeper water. Why, because it’s safer in shallow water. They think, “If I get out into the deep water there might be some waves. They might rock my boat, and it might overturn. So I’ll just stay back here where it’s safe and comfortable and piddle around.”
When God works in your life it always involves risks, because God wants you to live by faith. Many Christians barely get their feet wet because they’re afraid of getting in over their heads. They think, “If I really get serious about my commitment to the Lord, He may make me a fanatic. I may become a religious nut. What will my friends think?” So they’re content to live in the shallows of life-and they miss out on so much.
God’s plan for your life is a good plan, one that will work for your benefit. God says, “Let Me get into your boat. Let My presence be with you wherever you go-in your business, in your family, in your marriage, in every area. Let Me direct you, and cooperate with My plan.”
EXPECT GOD TO ACT
The third principle is found in Luke 5:5: “Because You say so.” To rebound from failure you must anticipate God’s promises in your life. In the second fishing attempt the disciples were acting on the basis of God’s promise to them. They went fishing again because they believed God would provide the fish. Now Jesus didn’t specifically say, “Peter, if you go fishing with Me, I promise you’ll make a big catch.” He didn’t need to say that because Peter realized that when Christ told him to go fishing, and also got into the boat, and also told him exactly where to put down the net, it wasn’t going to come up empty! Peter expected God to act. He expected God would keep His promise. Peter wasn’t merely depending on his own fishing ability, so he wasn’t afraid of failure. He anticipated the promises of God.
When you get God’s presence in your boat, and when you get God’s plan in your head, and when you get God’s promises in your heart, you cannot fail. Start expecting some wonderful results.
IT CAN WORK IN YOUR LIFE
Maybe you’re saying, “That sounds great, but you don’t know my circumstances. Right now I’m defeated by the problems I’m experiencing. I’m having some hard times.” If you are defeated by your circumstances, let me suggest an antidote for you. Begin reading your Bible to find a specific promise from God, and then start claiming it. Start expecting God to act, and you will find that God’s promise will inject new hope into a hopeless situation. Real success often begins at the point of failure.
I know a married couple who’ve had a severely damaged relationship, one that looked irreparable. But they sensed God saying to them, “I want you to stay together. Don’t give up.”
Without any outward evidence they took the attitude of Peter: “Lord, we’ve worked on this marriage a long time, without improvement, but because You say so, we’ll keep at it.” Today they have a fulfilling marriage and a dynamic ministry together.
Look at the results (Luke 5:6): the disciples caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. God blessed them with more than they could handle. That is always the case when you appropriate God’s presence, cooperate with God’s plan, and anticipate God’s promises-you’ll be blessed with more than you can handle. In fact, Luke 5:7 points out that the disciples had to share the results with those in another boat in order to keep from sinking! That’s a great way to live!
The point is this: God not only wants to bless your life. He wants to bless you so much that you have to share your blessing with others in order to keep yourself from sinking. He not only wants to bless you, but He wants to bless other people through you-people whose nets are empty. God blessed them with more than they could use for themselves.
The miracle so astounded Peter that he cried out, “Lord, I don’t deserve this! I’m a sinner. This is too good for me.” The incident became a turning point in Peter’s life and in the lives of the other disciples.
Jesus then said to Peter, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men” (Luke 5:10). So the disciples beached their boats and left everything to follow Jesus.
Think about that when the fishing party got to land, they left the greatest catch they had ever experienced sitting right there on the shore and went after Jesus! They realized that if Jesus could perform a miracle like that, He could do anything He wanted. They knew as long as they followed Him, their needs would be more than satisfied. Christ would take care of them no matter what happened. They wanted a relationship with Him that was more than a one-time miracle. Then Christ invited them to become part of the greatest task in the world: “I’m going to make you fishers of men. You’re going to share My Good News with other people.”
TRY IT AGAIN WITH CHRIST
How does this story relate to your life? Maybe you feel like the disciples before Christ came along: “I’ve worked all night and come up with an empty net.” Does that describe your attitude toward your marriage, your job, or toward another personal problem? You feel that you haven’t made any progress so you’ve said to yourself, “What’s the use? Why keep on trying? Why put forth the effort?” Maybe you’ve become a little cynical about life.
Peter didn’t get cynical. He didn’t say, “Lord, I’ve worked ten hours and didn’t catch anything. That must mean there are no more fish in this lake.” He knew that the fish were there, but that he just hadn’t caught them yet.
Just because you haven’t solved your problem doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution. Through failure we often learn the lessons that help us succeed. God’s message to you is this: Don’t give up. Try again, but this time, do it with Jesus in your boat. He will make all the difference.