SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON/The Treadmill Effect
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 1:00 AM
"Master, we have worked hard all night and caught nothing" (Luke 5:5a)
From the life of Christopher Robin comes the following pearl of wisdom: "Halfway up the stairs isn't up, and it isn't down. It isn't in the nursery, It isn't in the town. And all sorts of funny thoughts run around my head: "It isn't really anywhere! It's somewhere else instead!" Sometimes life is like that, isn't it? After all our planning we still find ourselves someplace other than that which was anticipated; after all our work and labor, we still meet with less-than-satisfactory results that don't in any way seem to be reflective of our effort; and at the end of all our dreaming the prince never comes and the wardrobe remains a wardrobe.
Simon Peter was an experienced fisherman, as was his brother, Andrew, and their partners, James and John. Each of these men knew the lake well. They knew the best places to fish as well as the best time to do so. But still, on this occasion, after fishing the long night through, they had come up empty - not a single fish to take home to their families. Now picture this - Simon is dirty and smelly, he's hungry and dreaming of hitting the local I-Hop on the way home (well, maybe not). But surely he was tired and every muscle in his body cried out for rest - and then along comes a traveling Rabbi who gets into his boat and says, "Let's go fishing!" Well, that's not exactly what he said, but you get the picture.
Now put yourself in Simon's place. Of the two of them, which would you assume knew more about fishing - the man who had done it all his life or the one who, to the best of our knowledge, had never fished at all? Personally, I'd have gone with Simon every time. I might even have looked at this stranger with the same measure of incredulity as those men on the television commercial who scowl at some individual who gets his salsa from New York City!!! But you know what? --- I would have been wrong, for this itinerant teacher was no ordinary man. He knew that lake much better than Simon or any of the others because He had created it. This One was Jesus.
I don't know about you, but I detect an element of condescension in Simon's response. "We've worked hard all night, and caught nothing, but I will do as you say and let down the nets." I'm wondering if Simon didn't seek to amuse or pacify Jesus when he really anticipated the same dismal results which had frustrated all their earlier efforts on the previous night. And so, no one could have been more surprised than Simon when his nets enclosed around such a quantity of fish that they began to break from the strain as these weary fishermen sought to haul the catch on board. This Simon, of whom we read in verse eight, then, is a man filled with absolute awe as well as intense shame. Conflicted in this manner, his only response was to cry out that Jesus should leave him, as he was deeply conscious of his inadequacy to even be in His presence.
Now, what can we take from this? Well, first of all, the story highlights for us the superiority of Jesus over the circumstances of our lives - His knowledge over our understanding - His wisdom over our baser instincts - His power over our weakness. No matter how accomplished we may feel ourselves to be in a given work and no matter how routine our labor may seem to be, there is always the possibility for Jesus to enable us to learn more and to see our labor in a new and different light, profiting from His guidance and presence.
Secondly, this account would have us learn something about discouragement. As I said earlier, we've all been there. We've all struggled with less-than-satisfying results from our efforts. It is what some have called the "treadmill effect." We work hard and accomplish very little or anything at all. We walk far and seem to get nowhere. We study hard but our grades don't seem to show it. We follow the directions and still the cake falls flat. We preach a sermon but see no visible change in the hearts or lives of God's people.
How do we handle such disappointments? How do we, as believers, manage discouragement? Is not the key to this discovered as we come to focus our eyes on Jesus rather than the results of our hands, whether they are as expected or lacklusterly wanting? Are we not called by God to give Him our best effort and leave the results to Him?
I love the way this story ends. In the following verses, after the men had landed their boats and catch, we're told that they just left everything and followed Jesus. The residue of Simon's earlier weariness and disappointment lay there on the beach, washed from him and replaced with an entirely new prospective on life and what was truly important. Suddenly, in the presence of this Jesus, his former vocation with all its cares and worries didn't seem so worthy of the investment. And so, all was abandoned (the abundant catch as well as the boats) for now Simon had a new reason for living, a new hope to fill his days.
Where are you? Perhaps you've wandered in circles long enough? Perhaps you've wasted enough of your time and energy in pursuit of the things of this world that can never satisfy? Maybe it's time for you to give Jesus a fresh look? I'm not about to tell you that yielding to Jesus everything in your life will suddenly turn out great and all your problems will be resolved. Quite the opposite! In many ways your life may become more complicated and the trials more intense. But the results, in the end, will be infinitely more rewarding.
The Rev. Donald Caviness is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, MS.