My husband is a fly-fisherman. The first time after we were married that he went to the Little Red River in Arkansas for a day of fly-fishing, I was excited. I love trout. Imagine my dismay when he came home that evening with no fish. I thought he hadn’t had a good day, but he had a great time. “Where are the fish?” I asked. “I threw them back,” he replied. I didn’t understand. If you weren’t going to eat them, what was the point? When I was growing up, my dad loved fishing and hunting and always brought back his “prizes” for our table. Now it was crappie and bass, not trout. But that was my frame of reference. I learned from Mark that fly-fishing is an art. The satisfaction is in hooking them with your skill and with the flies that you have tied. The rule of etiquette is to “catch and release,” i.e., throw them back.
I have been talking to the Lord about my reluctance to post on my little blog even though I’m always writing what he gives me in my journal. So yesterday when I was out walking Chloe and I heard “catch and release,” I pressed in to listen to the Spirit. I believe that ministry is all about “the one.” When I write and share it, I trust that the Spirit will take it to who he wants to receive it. But that old bugaboo, the flesh, gets in the way; that nagging voice that says, “People don’t want to read this. And even if they do, what must they think of you bearing your soul? Who do you think you are?” Shaming thoughts. And so I often hold onto the words that he gives me. I don’t release them.
I needed to dig a little deeper. I thought of Moses when he was afraid to obey God and go back to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of slavery. He asked God, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.” When Moses threw it on the ground, it became a snake, and when God told him to take it by the tail, it became a staff again. “This,” said the Lord, “is so that they may believe that the Lord … has appeared to you” (Exodus 4:1-4).
Isn’t that all the Lord asks of us, “What have I put in your hand?” The answer is different for each of us, and it can change too. But whatever he puts in our hands (such as a pen in my case, or a desire to serve, or a singing voice, or a prophetic gift, even full-time ministry, etc.), he is the one that gives us the power to use it. Our part is to “catch it,” catch the gift or the talent he is putting in our hands, and he will empower it as we release it back to him.
Next the Lord showed me in his Word what happens when it’s released. In the feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14:13-21), Jesus asked the disciples what they had in their hands. All they had was a little boy’s lunch which consisted of two fish and five loaves of bread. But when that was released to Jesus, he multiplied it to feed everyone who had come to hear him with more left over. When we release, he is the one that multiplies.
What the Lord was telling me is that which we don’t release dies. If he gives me words to share and I don’t obey, the words go nowhere. No new life is produced from them. It’s just like the trout will die if they are brought home and put under the broiler or fried up in a pan. But if I release what I have caught, what he gives me through the empowering of the Spirit, he will bring the multiplication, the fruit. It doesn’t matter if I ever know how or why or to whom. Sometimes it’s even better that I don’t, because true satisfaction is found simply in being faithful to him.
I hope I’ve described these images in a way that brings the same freedom to you that the Lord is giving me. We are simply his vessels, his little clay pots. A gift or talent doesn’t define who we are. It is not our identity. We may search for what that one thing is, that ministry or gift, feeling we aren’t worthy if we’re not doing something significant. But when we do that, are we not trying to take ownership of it?
The truth is we are already worthy because Jesus is worthy. And when he died for us on that cross, we became the righteousness of God in him. Nothing we do or don’t do changes that. So by his grace, when we walk with the Spirit and not by the flesh, we simply take what he puts in our hands and let him move through us as we catch and release. Thank you, Jesus, that it’s all you. Amen.
P.S. Yes, Mark did bring home some trout for me to eat after that, occasionally!