Six rules for becoming successful “fishers of men.”
When I married Allen, fishing came with the territory. Not only would I enjoy the thrill of hooking salmon off Canada’s west coast, but I would also experience fishing for people in ways I never expected.
After a dramatic conversion to Christ in 1993, my fisherman husband had a new passion: “catching people” for Jesus. Together we discovered similar rules held true for both kinds of fishing.
1. Go where the fish are
Allen and his buddies fished for salmon in one area for over twenty years. But as the fish became depleted in that locale, they looked elsewhere. When Allen caught a forty-five-pound beauty farther north, he and his friends quickly changed spots.
For Christians, the “catch” is usually not sitting in a church pew. He (or she) is more likely living next door, working at the office, strolling through a park, or attending a family reunion. Jesus instructed His disciples to go to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6, NKJV) — their own territory.
In order to bring people to Jesus, we may need to befriend a neighbor, volunteer in our community, join a sports activity, or simply walk the dog more often.
2. Use the right bait
Cut-plug is Allen’s favorite way to hook a salmon. Apparently, a headless, spinning herring lures the big ones.
What attracts people to Jesus? Only the Master Fishing Guide knows what each individual will “bite” on, because personalities, backgrounds, and needs differ.
When I married Allen, I had to move to a new city. My first friend there was our bank’s receptionist. Pat was not a believer, but she knew I was involved in Christian activities.
When her mother died from cancer, Pat was devastated. “Cathy, I need to know if I will see my mom again,” she told me over lunch one day. “Do you think there is life after death?”
I was thankful I had answers to give her. Today, several years later, Pat is a solid Christian. The fishing grounds? My bank.
In order to use the right bait, we must depend on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).
3. Give ‘em line
“If you feel a jerk, give the fish some line so they will swallow the bait,” Allen told me when we first started fishing together. Salmon are fighters, and if the hook is not firmly set in their jaws, they will simply nibble at the bait. Knowing how much line to give them and when to “set the hook” is the key to successful salmon fishing with cut plug.
Many people have been frightened away from Christianity because well-meaning Christians tried too hard too soon to lure them into the kingdom. Allen, for instance, told me he would have become a believer years ago had it not been for Christians who rammed the Bible down his throat.
It’s important to give potential Christians “line” unless the Holy Spirit prompts us to do otherwise. How do we do that? By accepting them as they are and by listening to them without judging. I’ve seen this method of “fishing” work time after time. Love, listen, and let God net them in His good time.
This kind of fishing can be compared to harvesting a crop. Jesus said that “as soon as the grain is ripe, he [the farmer] puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:29).
4. Reel ‘em in with care
I’ll never forget catching my biggest fish — a forty-two-pound king salmon. With three men itching to help me, I played it for over an hour before bringing it in. Over and over, I let the fish swim away from the boat and then slowly reeled down until it finally tired. Only then could I reel down faster — and pray one of those men would net it!
Likewise, it takes patience, knowledge, and prayer (lots!) to know when to ask a nonbeliever to make a commitment to Jesus Christ. Fortunately, netting is the Holy Spirit’s job.
A few years ago, I befriended my neighbors next door. Bob and Alice were good people, but not Christians. I asked the Lord to show me how I could influence them for Him. I felt impressed to simply be a good neighbor and friend. I made it a point to have tea with Alice on a regular basis.
But when Bob was diagnosed with throat cancer, I knew it was time to “reel in” faster. God prompted me to give up my church responsibilities in order to “go fishing.” I’m so glad I did! The apostle Paul said, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4).
5. Don’t fish alone
Catching large salmon by oneself is tricky. It takes one on the rod, one on the motor, and one on the net. I’ll never forget the time there were four of us fishing together, and two thirty-four-pounders got on our lines at the same time. We were in for some excitement — and teamwork!
We are not totally responsible for someone’s salvation, even our children’s. The apostle Paul said, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6, KJV). If Paul had been a modern fisherman, he might have said, “I had the rod, Apollos ran the motor; but God netted it.”
Although I befriended Bob, invited him and Alice to church, and visited him in the hospital, it was actually my pastor who led him to the Lord. And the Holy Spirit was on the net.
6. Preserve the catch
As soon as a salmon is caught, it is cleaned and put on ice. Once back home, we freeze, smoke, or can it immediately.
Likewise, we can’t let new believers flounder on their own. They need Christian fellowship, the Word of God, a prayer life, and encouragement to share their faith. They must be “preserved.”
The apostle Paul worked hard to help new converts grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. Not only did he continually pray for them, he also wrote them letters of encouragement and visited them when possible: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy . . . being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:4, 6).
The salmon stock is rapidly depleting in our part of the world, but fishing for the souls of men has never been better. Christ is coming soon, and “the bite is on.” It’s time to do some serious fishing!