Clip from the film "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" - scene 39
Frodo: "I wish this ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened."
Gandalf: "So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is to do with the time that is given to us."
Once in a while, you see a movie that lifts your perspective to see the grandeur of life. So much of our lives is spent on the everyday that we often miss the big picture. Over the next forty days, we're going to be looking at the purpose for which God has placed you on this earth. We're going to look beyond the dishes in the dishwasher, the overdue items on your task list, the emails you haven't answered yet to the big picture. Why am I here?
Frodo said, "I wish that this ring had never come to me." One of the things I like about Frodo is that there is absolutely nothing special about him. Frodo isn't above average in any way. He's a hobbit, nothing more. Nobody expects great things from hobbits. We're going to look at a story today, found in Matthew 4, which will help us connect with our purpose.
I like this story because it's one I can relate to. There is nothing special about the people involved. They're remarkable for being unremarkable. There are lots of stories of God using rich people like Abraham or well-heeled people like Moses, but this isn't one of them. This is the story of you and me.
Do you ever see these commercials that show before and after pictures? They go and wreck it at the end by saying, "Results not typical. Consult your doctor before starting. Results may vary." I always think to myself, "What's the use of joining if the results aren't typical and I have to consult my doctor in case their program kills me?" I want something in which the results are typical, in which you don't need to be extraordinary. You can promise anything and then say, "By the way, this will only work if you're extraordinarily gifted." The problem is that this leaves the rest of us behind.
Today, we're going to look at what happens when Jesus meets ordinary individuals and calls them to follow him. I wish I could promise you that if you follow this story and apply the lessons learned, that your life will be successful and that all your problems will be solved. I can't promise any of that. But I can promise you this: that those who hear Jesus' call and follow him and discover his purpose, his agenda - those people make a difference. They may not be successful, as the world defines success. Their lives may not be easy. But they make a difference. Our lives are never the same when we respond to Jesus' call.
Let's read the story together:
One day as Jesus was walking along the shore beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers-Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew-fishing with a net, for they were commercial fishermen. Jesus called out to them, "Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people!" And they left their nets at once and went with him.
A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their nets. And he called them to come, too. They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind. (Matthew 4)
God Uses People
Jesus had just spent thirty years preparing for his ministry. He was just starting to launch his public ministry. Like a chess player, nothing that he did was random. His first move was strategic. His first move was surprising. He recruited people. I don't get this. I don't know why. But when God goes to act, he always seems to look for people that he can work through.
Don't forget, this was God walking on earth. This is the one who spoke the universe into existence with a word. He could have done it all himself. Jesus didn't really need to use people. I can't think of a more inefficient way to minister. Jesus could have gone all around and taken care of everything himself. He could have just spoken, and everyone in Israel would have been healed. Every time the Pharisees gave him problems, he could have just spoken and presto, they would have all disappeared.
Instead, Jesus decided to recruit ordinary people to join him on his mission. Let's think about that. Do you remember when he sent them out in groups to heal? How did that go? Not always that well. They couldn't always heal people. Jesus could have done a much better job of it himself. They fought. They said stupid things. They even tried to correct Jesus a number of times. I'm sure there were times Jesus had to shake his head in frustration. He could have picked a much better way to get the job done. He could have done it all himself. But Jesus strategically chose to work through people - ordinary people at that. It's still how he chooses to work today.
One day, I want to ask God about this. I'll never understand why God, who could do it all himself, has chosen to work through people who consistently get it wrong and let him down. The pattern remains the same today. Jesus' first move was to look for people, ordinary people, to follow him.
When you think about purpose, I don't know of anything more encouraging. The God of the universe, who could do it all himself, is looking for people that he can use. God looks for ordinary people to do what he could have done all by himself. God is still looking for people he can use.
God Looks in Unlikely Places
It's not an accident that Jesus was by the Sea of Galilee and that he came across Simon and Andrew. Does anybody know what was significant about the Sea of Galilee? Nothing. It was Hicksville. I always try to think of a place around here to compare it to, but every time I do I get in trouble. Somebody comes up after the service and tells me they were born in the place that I mentioned. So I won't give you any names, but we can all think of an out-of-the-way place, a place where not much of anything happens. Jesus went to an unlikely place to find people that he could use as key players within his kingdom.
As a kid I was filled with a little more angst than was good for me. I grew up in Brampton, which now is practically connected to Toronto. Back then, it was nothing. Back then, Toronto was nothing. It was much smaller than it is today, much more removed from the rest of the world. Everything seemed to be happening in other places. I remember feeling like I lived in an out-of-the-way place, that nothing really happened in these parts. Strange thoughts for a kid to have, but I remember feeling that way.
Some of us might feel that way today. It's not so much where we live, but it's how obscure we feel. We're in a job or a situation in which we're pretty limited. We're overlooked, obscure. You can't get much more obscure than a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. That's precisely where God loves to look when he's looking for people that he can use.
I have all these images of heaven which I'm sure are completely wrong. One of the images that I have is something like a film festival, when all the stars walk the red carpet, with all these paparazzi taking their pictures. I think this is a completely wrong image, but can't you just picture us yelling out, "Look, there's Billy Graham! There's Saint Augustine! Look, here comes Mother Theresa!"
If heaven has anything like a red carpet, I doubt it's going to be those people who are walking the red carpet. Nothing against them at all, but I'll bet you it will be people that you and I haven't even heard of, who knew nothing but obscurity and hardship in their lives, who are granted honor and recognition and reward.
We like prominence and fame. God loves to work though ordinary people, often in obscurity and hardship. They will receive that recognition, but then they will give it all to God and say that he alone is worthy of the honor. God always seems to look in the most unlikely places for people that he can use.
God Takes the Initiative
You'll notice that Jesus approached Simon and Andrew and said, "Follow me." It wasn't unusual for a rabbi to have followers in that day. But here's how it normally worked: a rabbi would be approached by people who wanted to follow him. The rabbi didn't look for followers. The followers looked for a rabbi. You see this in Jesus' ministry. Other times, he was approached by people who wanted to follow him. He usually tried to discourage them by telling them how much it would cost them. Rabbis didn't usually take the initiative. The followers took the initiative.
But here, Jesus approaches these two fishermen and tells them, "Follow me." He doesn't wait for them to ask to follow him. He pursues them. This is exactly what Jesus still does today. He doesn't wait for us to decide to follow him. He calls us long before we even think of following him. We hear the call, and often times we're scared to respond for any number of reasons. Jesus doesn't wait for us to take the initiative. He takes the initiative and invites us to follow him.
Isn't it true that this has happened in your life? There have been those moments when it's been unmistakable. You've heard the call of Jesus in your life. You may not have had words to describe it, and you may not have told anyone about it. You've felt that tug, a sense of his presence, maybe of his calling. You may or may not have responded well, but it was there. He's already taken the initiative in your life.
Over the next forty days, it's my prayer that this will happen again. God is still taking the initiative in calling us to respond to him, to follow him, to do something with our lives beyond living for the day to day.
God Elevates our Professions
I love what Jesus does here. Verse 18 says that Andrew and Simon were "fishing with a net, for they were commercial fishermen." This was incredibly hard work. They had already been up all night fishing, and the parallel passage in Luke tells us that they hadn't had a successful night. They still had the hard work of repairing and drying all the nets.
Jesus came along and said, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." I don't know what Jesus meant for sure. He could have been saying that their new work would be just as hard - lots of work for few results. He could have been focusing on the nature of the work, that they would be capturing people, not to kill them as they had fish, but to bring them into the kingdom. But he didn't really ask them to leave their profession. They would still remain fishermen of a different kind. They still occasionally went back to fishing to earn a living. Jesus didn't terminate their profession. He elevated it. There's a world of difference.
Do you know what happens in our churches? Because pastors are often the ones up front speaking, we hear a lot about people who are in vocational ministry. We talk about "the call" as if God calls pastors and missionaries, but the rest of you are out of luck. We occasionally hear pastors issue an alter call, saying, "If you would like God to really use you in your life, would you come to the front and become a pastor, or maybe second best, a missionary." Because pastors are the ones teaching, you sometimes get the idea that God uses pastors and sometimes missionaries, but the rest of you are out of luck. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, pastors really are at a disadvantage. I can't be used as effectively in many situations as some of you. When you go to a dentist, don't you expect to hear that you should floss? When you go to the doctor, you know before you get there that they'll tell you to quit smoking or to lose ten pounds. When you go to get your car's oil changed, you know in advance that they'll try to tell you that all these other things need fixing. It's the same with a pastor. You expect to hear some things from us. It's our job. It makes it easy to tune us out. We're the religious professionals.
I believe that most of the people God is using most powerfully today aren't pastors or missionaries. The call isn't reserved for those who make their living as pastors and missionaries. God doesn't want you to quit your profession. For most of us, he wants to elevate our professions. He turns fishermen into a different kind of fishermen. He turns doctors into a different kind of doctor, teachers into a different kind of teacher, accountants into Christ-following accountants. God probably doesn't want you to change your profession. God can use you right where you are, with what you're doing. He can elevate your profession. It's what God has been doing for thousands of years.
It's Not About Me
This is the most challenging part about today. God is looking for people. He's looking in the most unlikely places. He takes the initiative and elevates our professions. But here's the key for many of us. Verse 20 says, "At once they left their nets and followed him."
Do you know what this means? Their nets were their livelihood. Their nets were their lives, their security, all that they knew. Jesus called them to walk away from their source of security, their lifestyle. He was calling them away from their agenda to follow his agenda instead.
This is where it's different. As we talk about your purpose, we won't be talking about ascending the hierarchy of needs to self-actualization. This won't be a Christian version of Anthony Robbins or Deepak Chopra. When God issues his call, you discover that your life's purpose is not at all about you and your agenda, your fame, your success. It's about his kingdom, his agenda, his glory, and his renown.
In God's kingdom, there are no famous people. There are people who are famous, but they say, "I wish I wasn't famous. I didn't look for this. I want God to get all the glory in my life." They didn't look for fame. They want to give up all their fame to Jesus.
In God's kingdom, there are no rich people. There are people who have lots of money, but they say, "This isn't mine, and I don't want to keep it for myself. I want everything that I have to be used by God. I only have it so I can give it away to accomplish his purposes and to seek his glory."
In God's kingdom, there are no successful people. There are only people who say, "I want to use every talent, every ability that God has given me to seek his glory."
It's not about us. When we live for our purposes, and our agenda, we live shriveled lives a few feet wide by a few feet tall. When we live for God's purpose and his glory, when we die to ourselves, we trade up to a purpose that sweeps all of eternity. We join the stream of God's activity. We seek his glory. It's not about us. It's all about him.
I want to close today by asking you to respond. You have been given this life by God. All we get to do is to choose what to do with the time that we have. As we start these forty days, we have the opportunity to respond to the call that God continues to issue to us today.
There are some of you who are here who needed to hear that God can use you. He uses ordinary people in obscure locations to do his greatest work. There are some of you who are so discouraged about yourself, your abilities, track record, your situation, that you needed to hear today that you are exactly the sort of person that God loves to use. With heads bowed, if this is you, would you please stand and say, "Thanks, God, for the reminder that you use people like me." I invite you to stand.
There are some of you today who needed to hear the challenge to drop your nets. You needed the reminder that your life is not about you, your welfare, your glory. You need to stand today and say, "God, I give it all back to you. My life is not about me. It's not about my glory, my success, my security, my fame. It's about you. Today, I stand and give it all back to you."
Then, lastly, I invite you to stand if you would like to hear God's purpose for your life once again. We're going to read a book on your life's purpose, and this book is a New York Times bestseller. But really, that doesn't matter. We don't need another book, another sermon series. All the books in the world can't change our hearts, change our souls. But if we meet with God, hear his voice, and respond to his call, then our souls will be changed. I invite you to stand and to pray, "God, would you meet me and speak once again so I hear your purpose for my life, and give it all over to you."
Thank you, Father, that you use ordinary people in obscure locations. Thank you that you take the initiative and you elevate our positions. Thank you that you call us to trade up from our agendas to your agenda, your glory. We want to live your purpose. We want to drop our nets. Meet with us, and speak to us, we pray. Amen.