The Compass of Blessing
Although I rarely watch TV nowadays, I do enjoy watching survival shows. By this I don’t mean “reality TV” like Survivor, but the more entertaining solo survival demonstrations such as Bear Grylls’s Man vs. Wild. (Yes, I know it’s actually done with close support.) The common trend in all episodes of Grylls’s and similar shows is that one has to keep moving in a direction that will eventually result in one’s survival. Usually, Grylls would look for the lowest point in a valley, or a river, which will eventually lead out to sea or to a village (as civilization tends to grow around rivers). It’s also interesting to note that he invariably gets his bearings first; he establishes a general direction he should go, so that he knows where he is most likely going to get to safety.
As I was reading John 21 this morning, this came to mind as I was reading the rather familiar passage that tells the story of Jesus reappearing to his disciples after His resurrection.
One morning, the disciples (no longer cowering behind a locked door after Jesus appeared to them) decided to take their boat out to the water and go fishing. The trip was a failure; nothing went to them all night. Early the next morning, a mysterious man called out to them, asking them if they had caught anything. When they responded by saying “Nothing at all!”, the man tells them to cast the boat over the other side. The net is miraculously full this time, and we are even given the exact number of fish caught.
This echoes an earlier instance in Jesus’ ministry when he first met Peter and Andrew (Luke 5 gives the full story, though all the gospel accounts mention Jesus meeting Peter and Andrew while they are fishing); a failed catch, an encounter with Jesus, and a miraculous catch that immediately tells the two fishermen that the man they just met is far more than he seems to be.
Perhaps because of this memory, John’s own character (whom he never names), immediately realizes that the stranger standing on the beach is actually Jesus and points this out to Peter. Immediately, Peter jumps out of the boat and swims to shore.
A few learnings:
1. The blessings we receive in life, great or small, lead us to Christ. Yes, they are good for us, but because God wants not only what is good but what is best for us, these blessings are meant to point us in the direction that is best for us: His direction. The real blessing is not what we get, but the One who actually gives it.
2. It is entirely possible to miss this direction. Peter, perhaps still full of guilt over his denial of Christ, or focusing on the failed catch (as is likely for us in times of failure), doesn’t realize this at first. Thus, as brethren in Christ, it is our role to point out to each other how blessings are to lead us in God’s direction. John takes up this role and helps his friend realize the giver of the blessing.
3. As soon as we realize the direction in which we’re supposed to go, we take off. Peter didn’t just look in Christ’s direction. He didn’t wait for the boat to get to shore. He jumped out of the boat. In all fairness, Peter was not caught up in the blessing or in his own inadequacy (how he tried to shoo Jesus away in Luke 5: “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!”). He instead focused on his Lord’s goodness and mercy. Without any whining or moping, he went straight to Jesus. O, that we might all pursue Christ with this kind of intensity!
Blessing is like a compass. The compass itself will not save you, but it will point you in the direction that will. It’s possible to miss out on that direction, so we have to look out for each other; survival chances are always better in a group. When we all know the direction in which to go, we don’t mess around. We take off in that direction.