Quite a few decades ago a popular fishing magazine ran a whimsical story about an old codger who was famous in his small town for his bass-fishing ‘secret.’ Everyone fished the same lake, but this fellow could haul in the crafty old lunkers that would take nobody else’s bait, and many futile attempts had been made to borrow, buy, or even steal his mysterious secret lure. Someone had even managed to get into his tackle box, but found nothing except the usual assortment of stuff, and the old-fellow’s lunch. One day the story teller, determined to solve the mystery, sneaked out to the lake before dawn with a pair of high-powered binoculars and hid on the shore. Eventually the old fisherman showed up and rowed to a nearby spot. After carefully scouring the surroundings for spying eyes, the old fellow pulled out his lunch and unwrapped a dill-pickle spear. With his pocketknife he carefully shaved it into the rough semblance of a minnow and put it on a hook. Casting the pickle-lure into a weed bed the old fellow proceeded to make it dance and writhe so realistically that soon a monster bass struck with a furious splash. But the hook didn’t set, and the watcher could actually hear the ‘ptui’ of disgust as the fish spit out the pickle. The old guy patiently cast again and again, each time working the lure so expertly that the big old bass simply couldn’t resist and eventually was securely hooked and landed.
After the old fellow had rowed away with his trophy catch, the narrator extracted himself from his hiding place and thoughtfully made his way home. He never revealed to anyone else what he had learned that day: the whole secret to the old man’s success was that there was no secret at all – he was simply an extraordinarily masterful fisherman! One that could even catch a bass on a dill pickle!
Sometimes Christians aspiring to be evangelists feel like they’re “fishing with a pickle” too. Many people who are exposed to the Gospel react with disgust when they realize that accepting Jesus as Lord means giving themselves completely to Him. Like the rich young man who wasn’t prepared to give up his wealth to be a disciple, they may walk away sadly (Mark 10:17-25). Or when they realize that following Jesus will mean turning away from a favorite sin or losing an inflated sense of self, the reaction may be angry rejection. The obstacle of giving up what stands between us and Jesus is so severe that Jesus compared it to getting a camel through the eye of a needle (which is presumably even more difficult than catching a fish on a pickle!)
Of course, the story is completely upside down in what it means to be “caught by Jesus.” Unlike the fish that’s hauled out of his safe habitat to become dinner, when Jesus gets His hook into someone, it’s to pull them out of death into eternal life. But as we all know, it can be very difficult to convince someone that they’ll be better off leaving the murky but familiar waters they’ve been swimming in and be reeled in by the Gospel. So difficult in fact, that it sometimes seems impossible:
“And [the disciples] were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.’” (Mark 10:26-27)
And that’s the ‘secret’ to being a successful “fisher of men” (Matthew 4:19). The secret is the mastery of our Master. You see, we’re not the fisherman in the story – we’re the bait! In the hands of the Holy Spirit our words of trust and our lives of joy become the lure which He uses to cast His love and forgiveness into the world. Now, if we’re at all honest we will acknowledge that, like the pickle in the story, we’re really not all that well suited for use as bait material! But throughout the Bible we see again and again that God chooses flawed people – like us – to do His work. Even when our own efforts to share our faith are not well received, the Master Fisherman is both extraordinarily patient and immensely competent. When we put ourselves in His hands, He will use His own light shining in our lives to irresistibly draw souls safely home to Him.
“But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9)