You probably know the story of Simon and his fishless fishing trip. After repeatedly, fruitlessly casting his nets into the waters of Lake Gennesaret, the weary fisherman is about to call it quits. Then, as Simon cleans his nets near the water’s edge, he meets the Christ. When Jesus asks him to sail into deeper waters to fish, Simon replies:
“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5, NIV).
Simon’s discouragement is an apt illustration of what I felt like in the winter months of 2013, when The Glow 5K, a fundraiser for the pregnancy center I work with, was nothing more than a castle in the sky – grand, but with no viable foundation. Often, I offered up Simon’s words as my own in prayer: “Jesus, we have worked hard all night and caught nothing.” Those were the easiest to get out – the admission of failure, weariness, and frustration. The next words, not so much. The call to obey, to let down the nets yet again – but let me explain:
My husband (Co-Race Director) and I spent the better part of January sponsorship hunting for the newly minted The Glow 5k, the 1st run/walk fundraiser of its kind in our small community. It was an exciting time. The event would raise awareness of our ministry, which assists local mothers in need of pre-natal counseling, nurture a community mindset, promote fitness, and help in the center’s ever-present need for cash. The work the center does is incredibly worthy – no mother or father is turned away, and counselors are often able to build long-term relationships with clients. Our volunteers focus first on providing material and educational help (cooking classes, diapers, formula, etc.), knowing that alleviating practical needs allows clients to begin contemplating moral and spiritual realms.
So, our dream race began to take shape. We had recently acquired a fresh website and, miraculously, a prime race location at The National D-Day Memorial.
What we didn’t have was money.
Hopeful, armed with sponsor letters and thick coats, my husband and I drove the cold streets of our small town only to hear:
“It’s a bad year for us.”
“We have a pregnancy center?”
“Why can’t these women help themselves?”
Essentially, the word on the streets was a resounding, “No.”
Honestly, it was a bit like a scene from “A Christmas Carol,” but in 2013 Central Virginia rather than 1801 Victorian London.
We drove back home thousands short of our goal, dreading the next trip out.
If I could label the experience with one word? Humbling.
Allow me a second. Inglorious.
I knew Christ was present in this particular creative act, but there were times when I felt taken in. Duped. My adolescent teachings were filled with the glory of the Christian – David slaying Goliath, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s heroic resistance during the Third Reich’s terrorization, Elisabeth Elliot’s mission to reach the Auca tribe after they murdered her husband. These gloriously valiant acts imprinted themselves across my mind, and for good reason. These people are stars in the heavens of our faith, for they looked into the oppressive eyes of evil and persevered through Christ. But fundraising? Begging for money? Surely, this wasn’t glory. This task was monotonous, ordinary. Furthermore, the search for funds was beginning to feel quite removed from the center’s main goal: saving babies and empowering women. And, if you’ll forgive me a moment of blushing transparency, I really didn’t want to sink other people’s money into an event that nobody would show up for. Public humiliation is nothing if not a wonderful motivator.
And so, after this particular day, I sought the Lord’s face for reassurance (or, more honestly, permission to quit). What I received was conviction – the story of Simon and his tired compliance to someone greater than he was. His words rose from the pages of scripture and into my uneasy heart: “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Obedience. This is what Jesus Christ wanted. And wants.
So, we aimed our boat toward deeper waters.
Race Day – April 27th, 2013:
A few numbers for you:
· 136 – the number of runners that showed up to run for life. We had (quite daringly, we thought) prayed for 100. We would have been elated with 75.
· 5,000 – the number of dollars that went into the center’s bank account to help the women and babies of our county. We had hoped merely to break even with the money we had raised through sponsors, enough to establish the race for future years, but not enough to “pay the center” much.
· 12+ – the number of volunteers who gave up their Saturday morning to serve others.
· 53 – the number of fresh pizzas and donuts that were donated that morning by local businesses to feed racers and volunteers.
Are there pro-life races with much larger dollar amounts and staggering participation? Yes. But for our tiny community, it was an unbelievable day. For me, it was an exercise in faith.
And there are many stories to tell. Stories of anonymous checks and surprise discounts, of the elderly struggling for 3.1 miles because they believe in life, of the young running to win and discovering a worthier reason to race, of a German officer who heard about The Glow, sent in his race fee, and ran alone through the streets of his neighborhood in Heinsberg – beautiful stories, all.
“When they had [let down the nets], they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. . . When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!’” (Luke 5: 6,8, NIV).
Like the end of Simon’s fishing story, Jesus burst our nets. His glory was on display in our small community and we were in awe of His radiance. We caught nothing ourselves; He did everything for Himself. However, let me be clear: the nets would have been burst even if none of the above numbers had happened. For you see, the glory was in the obedience, not in the success. The glory was in embracing the fact that He is worthy simply because He is I AM, whether He chooses to bless us or not.
For me, that April day was the piped icing on a beautiful cake, the elaborate flourish of an expert calligrapher. But those weeks in January, those days in the mines, were where I beheld my Father’s face and learned the glory of ingloriousness, the beauty of the mundane at my Savior’s knee.