“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”—Henry David Thoreau
It has been said that the secret to good fishing lies with two main ingredients. A good angler must know his or her fishing destination well and he or she must have the proper tackle, or equipment. Without these things, the chances of snagging a big one are not so good. I have come to the conclusion that attracting humans to the idea of Christianity is no different. Jesus Christ commanded us to go into the world and make disciples of men. (Matthew 28:19) How are we to do this without a basic knowledge of the man or woman with whom we are attempting to witness? There are three basic elements to the sport of fishing- hooking, reeling, and landing. The same can be said of catching and “saving” the lost. Technique and timing are everything. I am learning that the experience itself can be well worth the effort, regardless of whether I catch anything.
What is the first step to hooking that prize catch? One must be willing to rise before the sun. A big part of fishing is in knowing when the fish are biting. This of course, comes with an extensive knowledge of the surrounding habitat. Different types of fish live in different waters. Just as it would not make sense to look for a trout in the ocean at sundown, it is equally absurd to preach to an atheist on a street corner. The skeptic does not have an appetite or an interest in religious talk from a stranger in a public place. One must gain some knowledge of the individual if there is any hope of success.
One way to do this is by finding out what type of “bait” the intended target consumes. This is where it is helpful to have a well stocked arsenal full of the necessary tackle. In the sport of fishing, there are literally hundreds of types of lures, hooks, rods, and reels. It is important to select the bait carefully before heading out in search of the big one. Jim Gibbinson said, “Fish are wild creatures; they are timid and easily frightened, so try to avoid heavy footfalls or sudden movements. Think of yourself as a hunter and think of the fish as a cautious quarry that needs to be stalked, outwitted, and tempted.”
Tony Whieldon, “The Complete Guide to Fishing Skills”, (1988): 7
The Holy Spirit must be at work on the soul of the unsaved before any attempt can be made on the part of the believer. Life circumstances must lead the lost to the ultimate conclusion that his or her way of doing things is not working. This is the stalking part of the journey. Stalking can go on for any length of time, but in my experience, it usually lasts for quite a long while. A hardened heart must be nurtured and loved before it is open to the possibility of repentance. The believer must be in constant communion with the Spirit so that he or she can be aware of when it is time to proceed to baiting and waiting. Prayer is essential. James 5:16 says that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. When we pray on behalf of an unsaved loved one, the Lord promises that He hears and answers. The key is that we keep praying without ceasing.
“Go into the world and preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.”—Saint Francis of Assisi
So how do we bait our intended prey? As previously mentioned, that all depends on the preference of the individual. People are very much like fish in two distinct ways. They are loud and aggressive or they are shy and skittish around others. Common sense would lead us to a conclusion that a large hook is necessary for a large fish and a small hook for a small fish. Choosing a hook depends largely on the personality and interests of our target. Attracting someone with common interests such as our own is a good start. Books, music, and other forms of entertainment are obvious choices. Another, more subtle approach is simply by the word of our testimony. For the more difficult specimen, sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Nothing speaks louder than actions and the example we set for others. In this case, the old cliché is true; our lives are the only Bible some people will ever read. Therefore, it is imperative that our testimony be unhindered by worldly distractions. We must be careful that we do not fall into sin, lest our actions contradict the Gospel message we are trying to convey. We need to remember our purpose, which is to glorify God in all that we do. If we are attempting to spread the love of Jesus Christ but have harbored any kind of resentment, the world will take notice and respond accordingly.
Once the hook has been baited and the line cast, the real work begins. Patience and perseverance are required and often demanded as we wait. The experienced angler knows that a good strong leader (fishing line) is priority. It should be just loose enough that the fish can hover without snapping the line, yet tight enough to reel in without much difficulty. Some fish, like the sturgeon are extremely intelligent and can actually trick their predator into thinking he got a bite. This prehistoric marvel does this in a couple of different ways. The roof of its mouth is thick and course. It takes the bait in its mouth and gently swishes it around against its pallet and then spits out the hook. Smart fish are also known to escape the line by simply running away. That is why it is so important to make sure there is a healthy distance between the line and the reel. There is nothing worse than hooking a fish, only to have it snap the line. You’ve lost your dinner and the hook you baited him on.
Spiritually speaking, this is the part where we diligently minister to our newly formed babe in Christ. The unsaved has become a new creation when they received our bait. Now that they are on the hook, it is our job to keep them on it. We need to continually reel them in until they are landed in Heaven. How do we reel in our new convert? Many of the same techniques are used when initially baiting and hooking. It all depends on the individual. It is also important to lead our charge into a Bible believing church where scripture is taught and practiced. The mind of the new convert needs to be constantly renewed and restored by the washing of the Word. There must be enough pressure for the person to know they are on the right path, which is toward Heaven but enough slack to allow a certain amount of freedom. If a baby Christian starts to feel threatened, bullied, or bored, we run the risk of losing him altogether.
In the kingdom of Heaven, each of us has special gifts and abilities that were given to us by the Father. Some of us are seed planters or “baiters”. We test the soil or waters and when the timing is right, we drop just the right amount of bait. Then we wait for the Holy Spirit to do the rest. Some of us are water-ers or “reelers”. After our fish is caught, we gently guide him toward the path of righteousness, softly sprinkling the soil with the Truth, or the Word of God. Some of us are just fortunate enough to be harvesters. We have the pleasure of landing our newly formed convert into the boat, which is Heaven.
For the experienced angler, the greatest part of the sport is the challenge itself. They know that there will be days when the only thing caught is a cold from being out in the elements too long. The excitement comes from setting out anyway, braving the muddy waters, rocky terrain, or intense heat regardless of the outcome. Even though they know that they probably will not catch anything that day, they are still excited because they are outside and embracing their calling. For those of us who strive to make more disciples, there is a thrill beyond description when we know we have planted, watered, or harvested a hungry seed. It makes no difference what part we played or how long or short the journey to get there. To see a loved one come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, this might be as close to catching a 20- pounder as we will ever know. The joy cannot be contained and somehow lives on in the retelling for ages to come.
I'm blessed reading this article. I am not into fishing but the illustration for witnessing is superb! Even Jesus used this illustration when he said, "I will make you fishers of men." For me, witnessing takes a lot of practice, at times my own weaknesses prevented me from doing so, fear of rejection is also a hindrance. I learn that praying before witnessing to someone is very important. Let the Holy Spirit lead us to the right time and place, and a loving and compassionate heart for the lost. And yes, if possible, use words. Let our Christian living speaks for itself. Thanks Sis. for the awesome message of your beautifully written article. Love, Gloria