Yes, You Can Work Yourself to Death / Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Luke 5:1-11

And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your word I will let down the nets.”

A study came out last year that was disturbing but not necessarily surprising. The World Health Organization did a study of people around the world who worked 55 or more hours per week compared to those who worked 35-40 hours per week. The study covered health and workplace data from the 1970s to 2018 and included workers in 154 countries. They concluded that, people working 55 or more hours each week face an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared to people following the standard of working 35 to 40 hours in a week. They also estimated that more than 745,000 people worldwide died in 2016 from the physical stress of working excess hours. Those are some scary numbers. Sounds like to me a good excuse for goofing off a little bit from time to time.

Of course, this study was completed before the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of companies cut their workforce, and the remaining employees worked longer hours to compensate. Also, many people began working from home, which made it harder to leave work at work. The result: working unpaid overtime.

We all know that the U.S. is the nation of “rise and grind.” Hard work is in our DNA. But so is being tired. We complain about how busy and tired we are. We compare our busy schedules and shrug our shoulders. Oh well, that’s just how life is. What can you do about it?

A seasoned doctor was training his latest group of interns on diagnostic techniques. He wrapped up his training by saying, never ask your patients if they feel tired. Why? Someone asked. Because, the doctor said, everybody feels tired. And he may be right about that. Everybody feels tired. That’s normal, right? It’s a hazard of modern life.

I’m not against hard work. I thank God for the opportunity to work, and to use the skills and energy He gave me to make a difference in the world. I’m sure you feel the same way. But most of us also understand that sometimes our work can be unfulfilling. When we give our best efforts to something and we don’t see any results, we lose heart. That tired feeling isn’t just bone deep. It’s spirit deep.

Sometimes the tiredness runs spirit deep. And it steals away our joy, our peace, our hope. That’s not what God intended for our lives. Our God is a creative God, and God made us for peace, hope and joy. So that spirit-deep tiredness poisons the life that God intended for us to have.

That’s why we can relate to Simon Peter and the other disciples in our Bible passage for today. Crowds of people have come to the shore of the Lake of Gennesaret to hear Jesus preach. On the edge of the lake are the fishing boats that have come in after a long night’s work. Professional fishermen in Jesus’ day lowered large nets into the lake. In the dark of night, the fish couldn’t see the nets, so schools of fish were easier to catch at night.

Unfortunately, Simon Peter and his colleagues had an unsuccessful night. Jesus climbed into Simon’s boat and asked him to float out a short distance from shore. After Jesus finished teaching the people on the shore, He told Simon Peter to sail into deeper waters and let down his nets again.

Put yourself in Simon Peter’s shoes. He’s just finished working all night with no results. In addition to being tired and ready to go home, he’s probably frustrated that his hard work didn’t pay off. He was tired and ready to quit. And now Jesus is telling him how to do his job. Simon answers, Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because You say so, I will let down the nets.

And in this story, Jesus gives us a gift. He shows us how to heal a tired spirit. For example, one thing we learn from this story is that doing meaningful work can heal a tired spirit. A great way to stay energized and effective in your work and in your life is to seek to do something that you truly believe in.

Back in 2013, officials from the California Department of Social Services shut down an eldercare facility in San Francisco named Valley Springs Manor. They shut it down because the facility had failed several inspections. The Department of Social Services planned to relocate the 20 residents who were still living there to other, safer facilities.

Sadly, the owners of Valley Springs Manor didn’t wait for the Social Services workers to complete their relocation efforts. They ceased operations immediately and announced that they weren’t paying their employees any more. So, most of the employees walked out, leaving behind 16 elderly, vulnerable residents and just two employees to care for them.

The two employees who refused to leave were the cook and the janitor. Imagine that: an eldercare facility being staffed by only a cook and a janitor. However, these two men couldn’t imagine abandoning the patients. So, without any help or pay, they worked around the clock for two straight days taking care of the residents. They fed them, kept them safe, kept the facility clean, and dispensed medications. Each man would go home for one hour every 24 hours to take a shower, then would return to the Manor.

Two days after the owners and other employees abandoned the facilities, workers from the Department of Social Services showed up to relocate the last 16 residents. They were amazed to discover that the cook and the janitor had been working for 48 hours straight caring for the residents.

When asked why they stayed around, the cook said, if we left, they wouldn’t have nobody. And the janitor said, I just couldn’t see myself going home, even though they wasn’t our family, they were kind of like our family for this short period of time. These men found meaning in stressful, exhausting work by thinking of the residents as family. Doing meaningful work is one of the best ways possible to heal a tired spirit.

Another way to heal a tired spirit is to catch God’s vision for your life. You’ve heard me say several times before, God has a plan for your life. In no way is your life meaningless. You’re here for a reason. To invigorate your life, pray that God will show you that reason. That’s what I mean when I say that we need to catch God’s vision for our life.

People have a tendency to view life through either a microscopic lens or a telescopic lens. If you view life through a microscopic lens, then you’re focusing on your current circumstances, your current challenges, your current stresses. You’re focused on the details of the now. And that can get overwhelming.

But people who view life with a telescopic lens see a bigger picture for their lives. They’re not stressed out or trapped by their current circumstances. They “look forward to what God is creating in the future. Whereas microscopic people focus on problems, telescopic people see the possibilities.”

When Jesus told Simon to row out to deep waters and cast his nets again, Simon said, Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. That’s a microscopic response. But because You say so, I will let down my nets. That’s the moment that Simon opens himself up to Jesus’ leading. And Simon and his colleagues catch so many fish that they have to load them onto two boats.

Simon is so ashamed of his doubts that he falls at Jesus’ knees and said, go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man. But Jesus didn’t do this to shame Simon. He did it to share with Simon a new vision for his life. And of course, those fabulous words that Jesus says to Simon, don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.

Jesus is talking to us as well as Simon Peter. Don’t be afraid, He says to us, from now on you will fish for people. Whatever work you’re doing, whatever hobbies you have, wherever you find yourself, your primary purpose now is to bring people to God. Your primary purpose in your home, in your workplace, in your school, in your hobbies, in your passions, in your relationships is to share the love and truth of Jesus Christ with others. That’s the new vision God has for your life.

It’s like something interesting that I read about our country’s space program recently. It seems that when NASA engineers sent the Perseverance rover on an historic mission to Mars in 2020, they hid a coded message in the rover’s parachute. The parachute had an unusual red and white pattern . . . Alan Chen announced that this strange pattern held a secret message. Then he challenged folks to find and decode the message. It only took six hours for internet sleuths all over the country to find and decode the message on the rover’s parachute. The message was, “Dare mighty things!”

Dare mighty things! That’s what Jesus is saying to Simon. You’re looking at your life through a microscopic lens. You only see if you’ve caught enough fish to feed your family and turn a profit. Catch my vision for your life. I want to work through you to share the presence and power of God. I want you to change lives. And that’s exactly what those weary fishermen did. They changed lives and they changed the world. So, the second thing we learn from today’s Bible passage is catching God’s vision for your life can heal a tired spirit.

And finally, we learn from this passage that, more than anything else, committing your life to Jesus can heal a tired spirit. How does our Bible passage end? After Jesus offered Simon and his friends a new vision for their life, we read, so they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him. They didn’t go home and catch up on that missed sleep. They didn’t even go out and sell that big catch of fish. They just left everything to follow Jesus.

Is it possible that your tired spirit is a result of not committing your whole life to Jesus? Your successes, your failures, your strengths, your weaknesses, your doubts, your security, your future, your identity, are you still wrestling over committing everything to Jesus’ plans and purposes? Because when you commit your entire life to Jesus Christ, you are also trusting Jesus with the results of your life. He is offering to work through you to change lives with His power and His message and His love. You don’t have to do the work alone. That’s a sure antidote for a tired spirit.

When you become tired, discouraged or filled with doubt about whether or not your efforts are making any difference, please remember this: Jesus’ disciples faced harassment, rejection, imprisonment, beatings and death for their work. But they also convinced thousands of people that Jesus is Lord and Savior for all humankind. They planted churches all over the Roman Empire, Africa and Arabia. Today, over 1 billion people from every race and nation call themselves Christians, and there are Christian churches in every corner of the world. And you and I are here today because of the work of Simon Peter, Paul, and the other apostles who committed their work and their lives to the message and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Now it’s our turn. I challenge all of those sitting here and those sitting at home in their soft easy chair, on their couches, in their pajamas, eating breakfast, drinking coffee, watching this live-streamed or maybe the Memorex version, let’s see how He can give you a new sense of vitality and use you to make a difference in this world.