John 21:1–14 


Peter didn’t know what else to do. The past few weeks had been indescribably intense with the nightmare of Jesus’s crucifixion and the ineffable wonder of his resurrection. 

Now he was sitting with Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two others. They were just waiting. It was disorienting. Jesus wasn’t there and he hadn’t told them what to do next. 

Peter used to know just what to do: prepare the nets and boat, go fishing, take what he caught and sell it in the market. Fishing was hard and sometimes dangerous work. But Peter knew what was expected of him. The memory of the familiar was comforting. 

So as long as he didn’t know what else to do, he figured he might as well do something productive. The others replied, “We will go with you.” Peter wasn’t the only restless one. 

All night they fished. Cast and pull. Nothing. Cast and pull. Nothing. Try the other side of the boat. Nothing. Move the boat. Nothing. A little deeper. Nothing. A little shallower. Nothing. Where are the fish? Nothing. Whose idea was this? There may have been a sharp word or two. 

Just as day was breaking, they heard a voice from the shore. “Children, do you have any fish?” James’s exasperated response was, “No!” “Cast your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” 

Ordinarily this would have been irritating. They didn’t recognize the speaker, but his instructions were familiar. This had happened before (Luke 5:1–11). Peter and John glanced at one another and then tossed the net. The sudden weight almost pulled them overboard. It couldn’t be! It was! Fish! And they were huge! They couldn’t even get the net into the boat. 

John’s eyes were as big as the fish when he looked at Peter and said, “It is the Lord!” Peter handed the net to Nathanael, threw on his outer garment, and dove into the sea, leaving the others to drag the bulging net. 

When they got to shore, they found Jesus preparing break- fast for them. He already had fish! Graciously, and perhaps with an affectionate tease, he said, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” Then he served them breakfast. 

And then Jesus gave Peter the next instructions. 

This is vintage Jesus, always graciously leading and serving his bewildered disciples. And since we twenty-first-century disciples are just as easily bewildered, it’s good for us to remember some helpful principles from this story.

First, waiting on Jesus is a common experience for disciples. Sometimes we wait for direction. Sometimes we’re stuck in a very hard place and wait for release. Sometimes we wait to understand his purposes. Sometimes we wait for his provision. Jesus’s timing and purposes are not always clear to us, though they are always best for us. So he wants our faith resting on the rock of his Word and not on the sand of our circumstance. 

Second, when we’re not sure what to do next, as Elisabeth Elliot says, “do the next thing.” No doubt the disciples had prayed for guidance during those days but no clear instructions had come yet. Fishing just seemed like a good idea. As it turned out, it was exactly what the Lord wanted them to do. Jesus was leading them, just differently. As they did the next thing, Jesus met them and directed them. 

Third, Jesus is in complete control. Peter and his friends were experienced fishermen. They did their best, yet caught nothing. But that morning they discovered (again) that Jesus was sovereign over their decisions, the boat, the sea, the fish, and time. 

Fourth, Jesus is always serving us, even when we can’t see it. He serves us in every conceivable way: from paying for our sins (Heb. 2:17), to calling us as disciples ( John 15:16), to ordering the fish we catch (Matt. 4:19), to serving us breakfast on the beach (Phil. 4:19), and bringing us to our eternal home (2 Tim. 4:18). Jesus loves to work for those who wait for him (Isa. 64:4). 

In following Jesus there are seasons of bewildering intensity and seasons of bewildering waiting. He does not want us to panic during either. He is in control of both. When you don’t understand his ways, trust his Word. 

And when you’re not sure what to do next, do the next thing. 

Jon Bloom serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by Sight, Things Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.

Content taken from Not by Sight by Jon Bloom, ©2013. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.