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Give a Man a Fish, Feed Him For a Day. Teach a Man to Fish, Feed Him For a Lifetime.

Updated on September 29, 2009

Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, is credited with making this statement. However, I believe it has great implications for the Christian life. Essentially, this statement is emphasizing the truth that it is more beneficial to have the means than it is to have the end. It's like our high school math teachers who gave us credit for showing our work even if our final answer was wrong. Though we may not have caught any fish, we showed that we knew how to, which is of greater importance.

So what does this have to do with the Christian life? For the Christian, we "feed," not on fish, but on the bread of the Word of God (Mt. 4:4; 1 Pt. 2:2). But since "the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit," it is often like fishing to understand the Word of God (1 Cor. 2:14). Now fishing can sometimes be a long and tedious task. Worse yet, one may fish all day and still not catch anything. But we need to eat! So often, rather than risking our survival on our own fishing ability, we rely on more experienced fishermen to give us fish. We rely on daily devotionals, Bible study guides, group Bible studies, weekly sermons, and other resources to supply us with the fish we need. I will quickly note that there is nothing wrong with any of these resources as there is nothing wrong with giving a man a fish. However, if the man becomes reliant upon another for his fish, not learning to fish for himself, he has put his life in the hands of that man. And what if that man catches some bad fish?

The example of the Bereans can never be over-emphasized. They were not content with the fish given to them by the more experienced fishermen. They "searched the scriptures daily [fishing for themselves] to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).

We may not feel as though we're adequate to fish for ourselves. What if we don't catch any fish (we don't understand)? What if we catch some bad fish (we come to bad conclusions)? These are understandable fears, but Jesus has given us many guarantees against these risks. He promises that the "Spirit of truth" will "guide you into all truth." "He will teach you all things" (Jn. 16:13; 14:26). Because of this "anointing," John goes so far as to say, "you do not need that anyone teach you" (1 Jn. 2:27). We don't need to rely on more experienced fishermen! Though it may be difficult and tedious at first, and though it may be some time before we can regularly catch good fish, the Holy Spirit of God has been promised to help us if we will try to fish for ourselves.

This does not mean we reject the fish from others, but we are able to use their fish as desert for the fish we catch ourselves. Also, since we are more familiar with the fishing process, we are better able to discern the quality of the fish we receive from others.

My prayer is that this little note will encourage you to make it a daily practice to fish through God's Word for yourself, with the Spirit alone as your guide. Don't throw away your devotional or Bible study guide, but let them be in addition to the time you spend with just the Bible, the Spirit and you. Though it may be hard at first, by the promises of the Word of God, and by my own experience, I can assure you beyond doubt that you will be led into a deeper relationship with Jesus and a greater knowledge of the truth in Him. I leave you with this promise:

Yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. Prov. 2:3-5


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