The View From 1776

A Spiritual Stress Test

Exposure to the Gospel should be more than a feel-good Sunday experience.

Sunday’s sermon at the Long Ridge Congregational Church (non-UCC) in North Stamford, Connecticut, was delivered by Rev. Dan McCandless.  The lesson was that each of us must respond to Jesus’s call, whatever it may be. 

We cannot compartmentalize our lives into Sunday worship and the rest of the week.  We must strive to deal with a loving heart every day, with everyone.  Hundreds of passages in the Old and New Testaments stress that message.  For example:

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalms 51:10)

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

Rev. McCandless’s spiritual heart stress-test theme was illustrated in Luke 5:1-11:

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”  For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Rev. McCandless noted that Jesus was, in effect, administering a stress test to Simon Peter’s spiritual heart, much as medical doctors use a physical stress test to assess a patient’s state of physical health.

Jesus first asked Peter to lend his fishing boat, his source of livelihood, to serve as a speaking platform off the water’s edge to facilitate addressing the multitude crowding around Jesus on the shore.  Next, Jesus tested Peter’s faith by directing him to go out into the lake and lower his fishing nets, at midday, the worst time for fishing, after a tired Peter had been unsuccessfully fishing all night.

Peter, floored by the miraculous success of doing as Jesus directed, fell to his knees before Jesus and acknowledged his own lack of worthiness.  Jesus then told him not to be afraid, that he would become a fisher of men. 

Whereupon Peter, passing his spiritual stress test with flying colors, displayed complete faith in Jesus.  Peter, James, and John pulled their boats up on the shore, left everything, and followed Jesus.  They did not know what lay in store for them, but their faith in the Lord let them follow his command and become his disciples.

Summarizing, Rev. McCandless abstracted four tests against which we must assess our own spiritual health.

First, are we willing to be inconvenienced for Jesus? If something is the right thing to do, do it.  Too many of us wait to see if someone else will do what needs doing.

Second, are we teachable?  Can we, as did Peter, put aside our supposed knowledge of skills like fishing and do as Jesus, often counter-intuitively, directs us.

Third, are we humble enough to admit our need of God’s Grace?  Everything in modern society schools us in the prideful, materialistic faith that human reason alone is adequate to control nature and human behavior.  This disease of modernity has to be thrust away if we are to have pure hearts and to see God in our lives.

Fourth, when Jesus calls, are we, like Peter, James, and John, ready to leave worldly things and follow him?  This is the toughest of all tests, of course.  Don’t be afraid, Jesus told them; greater things than we can know beforehand will be given to us. 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)