(Originally published in Inspire Magazine, Sept. 7, 2007)
“Many fish bite if you got good bait.
Here's a little tip that I'd like to relate:
Many fish bite if you got good bait.
I'm a-goin' fishin', yes I'm goin' fishin',
And my baby's goin' fishin' too.”
My sons and I recently had a spiritual experience involving a boat, a fishing hole and gathering storm. It was near the end of a long day catching plenty of fish, but only one keeper. All day we’d been pursuing a cooler-full for the hunt. In fact, “free dinner” was one of the justifications offered to my wife when purchasing the boat, along with:
1. It’s rated for 7 passengers, like a minivan without wheels;
2. It’s not about having a toy, it’s about making memories, and
3. It could save us money on flood insurance!
Some wives deploy a counterargument (whether my wife did or not I cannot say) that runs like this: “the definition of boat is: a hole in the sea you throw money into.” That’s why I take lots of pictures of my children’s smiling faces. That’s also why I HAD to catch dinner. But the hunt had been fruitless that Saturday afternoon, until we found the spot. (“The spot” is fishermen’s lingo for that special location which an angler keeps secret and where he stores hundreds of edible fish – right; like herding cats!) We arrived at “the spot” at around 6:30 P.M. By 6:35 rods were bending and water was churning, but not just from the fish. In the east, a storm was brewing.
As we fished on, forbidding clouds rolled in like a giant claw, surrounding us and threatening us with their piercing convulsions. I forecast the number of fish needed to fill the table and decided to defy the weather for just five more minutes. By 6:40, my oldest son had landed a mangrove snapper. Finally, from the seven year old came the prize catch: a fat redfish big enough for the entrée. We had done it, but not soon enough. I had been stubborn too long, and now we would have to face the storm’s fury.
The boys hoisted the anchor. I brought the boat about and set an eastward course toward the dock and into the deepening black. We met rain, first as stinging pellets, then a seamless sheet. Rainblind dusk was split by flashes of lightning falling from the heavens like shards. Silently, I began my heavenward cries for guidance into port, and safe haven. The engine screamed as the boat raced on, buoyed by prayer. The boys hunkered down.
The ordeal seemed stretched out, time passing slower as the storm accelerated. By the clock the race was over by 6:55 – a mere quarter-hour stand against nature. Safe inside the familiar confines of my SUV, we laughed and began boasting about our victory. Boasting gave way to a serious moment: “Boys, were you scared? What did you do?” The reply came in chorus, without prompting: “We prayed like crazy for God’s mercy!” Suddenly, like lightning a father’s foolishness was transformed into a providential lesson. My children had responded to the storm, not as flimsy sons of the world, but as Christian soldiers.
I realized in that moment that, unplanned by me, there were more fish caught that day than the prey in my boat’s livewell. Jesus told Peter and Andrew, fishermen, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). Indeed, while I was leading an aquatic expedition, scratching for my dinner table, Jesus was using the whole experience to create an existential exercise for genuine biblical faith. When young boys spontaneously pray and get their theology right, the world is amazed (see Luke 2:47). When we cry out to God in the storm, he answers (see Luke 8:24). The children knew all this as they cried to the sovereign God of mercy. In that circumstance, the dinner-table devotions and Sunday school lessons paid off. In a moment when life’s prize was not just fish, but real trust in the God who can bring us safely home, the conquered spoils of a fishing trip were cashed in to become the currency of real faith.