“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” This statement is widely attributed to Albert Einstein. Can’t we all relate to it? That feeling of futility, when you continue to work, and yet the results don’t seem to pay off?
In Luke 5 Jesus comes across a group of fisherman as they’re experiencing this frustrating feeling of futility. They had given up fishing and were washing their nets when Jesus climbed into one of the boats and asked them to push out into the water. Jesus taught them for some time, and then asked Simon to drop his net into the water. Simon responds, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” He’s exhausted, and the last thing he wants to do is to repeat the same thing he futily did all night. Then, he says, “But at your word I will let down the nets” (v. 1-5). Simon let down the nets, and they caught so many fish that their nets began breaking. Their friends assisted them, and they filled both boats to the degree that the boats began sinking. Simon Peter fell down and confessed before Jesus, and Jesus stated, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” All of the men then left their boats and all of their goods and began following Jesus (v. 6-11).
At first, the men believed that Jesus was encouraging them to simply do the same thing they had been doing all along; encouraging their futility. When they listened to him and followed his direction, though, Jesus showed that he could provide far more than they knew.
Because it’s election season I have been watching more TV than I usually do. I’ve begun noticing all of the commercials that seem to repeat one another. Yesterday I saw five different weight loss ads, three refinancing ads, and seven online college ads. That’s not to mention the gazillion product-based ads that do their best to show us how much better our lives can be if we have more stuff (one even suggested that floral pants will do the trick). These sorts of ads encourage that sense of futility by sending messages that communicate,
“Try this new weight loss method — they you’ll be happy.”
“This is the best refinancing option — soon you’ll be rich!”
“Buy these bright pants — you’ll then be pretty, and may even meet Elizabeth Banks!”
All of these ads promote futility. What we learn from the story of the fisherman in Luke 5 is that it takes a faithful and loving teacher, and a sensitive and powerful God to truly accomplish what we desire. We can work and buy and continue to fight the same fight over and over again, but without the influence of the One who is above us and with us, we will only inspire futility.
And moreover, while that incredible God gives freely, we are not mere recipients of the gifts of a divine Santa Claus — rather, we are called to participate in the Kingdom of God. When we leave our nets and boats (and weight loss scams, credit card debt, and all that we thought would fulfill us), we not only experience the fruitfulness that God provides, but we also get to share with others. We commit ourselves to walking with God into the world and spreading fruitfulness to all who toil.