Thursday, 22 August 2013

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I did a short talk at my church this week - it was the first time I've been asked to speak and although it was only a 15 minute talk I was incredibly nervous and planned to the nth degree. The talk was part of a series of talks called 'Frontline at the Movies' which looked at films and drew out a life message from them. I chose 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen' and talked about 'Faith for the Unseen and Impossible'. I've had quite alot of feedback on my talk throughout the week so decided to edit my notes into blog form and post them here.

I loved Salmon Fishing in the Yemen when I first saw it. It's a very easy to watch film that probably best falls into the category of Rom Com - definitely a feel good film. Yet in-spite of its simplicity, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen really spoke to me.

The premise of the film is that a Yemeni Sheikh has a grand plan to introduce Salmon Fishing in the Yemen which, according to Dr Alfred Jones from the government dept of fisheries and agriculture, is a 'fundamentally unfeasible' task. The Sheikh, however, refuses to be defeated. He genuinely believes that it is possible.

There is a particular scene in the film by which I was very affected. The Sheikh, Dr Jones and the film's heroine are enjoying a dinner party together in which the topic of fishing - and introducing salmon fishing into the Yemen - is raised. The Sheikh explains that it would be a miracle for this to happen and the following exchange takes place:

Sheikh: It would be a miracle of God if it were to happen.

Dr. Jones: I’m more of a facts and figures man.

Sheikh: You aren’t a religious man, Dr. Jones?

Dr. Jones: No I’m not.

Sheikh: But you’re a fisherman Dr. Jones.

Dr. Jones: I’m sorry I don’t follow.

Sheikh: How many hours do you fish before you catch something?

Dr. Jones: Hundreds sometimes.

Sheikh: Is that a good use of your time as a facts and figures man. But you persist, with such poor odds of success. Why? Because you’re a man of faith, Dr. Alfred. In the end, you are rewarded for your faith and constancy.

Dr. Jones: With due respect, fishing and religion are hardly the same thing your excellency.

Sheikh: With equal respect, I have to disagree.

I don't know much about fishing - most of my attempts as a child resulted in my brother impaling my finger on fish hooks - but I do know that there is neither a guarantee that there are fish in the water nor that they will bite and be caught. But people still go fishing regardless of this believing that they will catch a fish. They spend hours doing it - sitting at the side of a river or lake waiting and hoping to catch a fish. I loved this analogy of fishing as trust in the unseen. I loved the concept of persevering - keeping going and being '.......rewarded for your faith and constancy.'

Not knowing much about fishing I decided to speak to people who did. A friend in America told me:
'You fish for [salmon] when they are mating. They don't want to eat, they just want to mate. So, you have to tick them off enough to want to bite the bait, it has to be the right bait, and the line can't be too thick as it will scare the fish. So you have to use this teeny tiny line that is almost guaranteed to break when the fish takes off and hides behind a log. The odds are truly against the angler, however, when you hook one of these 20+ pounders...the fight is amazing!! The wait makes it even better!'

Amazing! What a seemingly possible situation and what patience it requires. I couldn't imagine spending hours upon hours of my life sitting at the side of a river in waiting for something that isn't guaranteed to happen. Yet people do.

Dr Jones tells the Sheikh that he can spend "hundreds" of hours trying to catch a fish. Hundreds of hours - sat at the side of the water. The key thing is that he knows what he is waiting for - what he is hoping for; it is an active process. He has the correct equipment to catch a fish. He is not hunting for a deer expecting to catch a fish; he is confident of what he is waiting for.

The Hebrew translation for the word 'wait' - chakah - talks about waiting being just this - an active process - waiting in anticipation for something to happen; looking towards something, earnestly expecting'.

Of course if you are waiting, you are hoping for something to happen - or not to happen. There is a sense of expectation.

I asked a couple of non Christian friends what 'hope' meant to them and it was difficult for them to define. One person told me that 'hope' can mean vastly different things in different circumstances; "I hope I get that job"....."I hope the kids are ok..." "I hope the cancer hasn't returned..." To me these were incredibly different uses of the same word.

The use of Hope in the Bible is very different to this, however. It is an indication of something that is certain - a strong, confident expectation rather than something wishy washy that can't be defined.

When I learnt this, it brought a whole new meaning to 2 of my favourite scriptures:

These scriptures suddenly become more real - more validated. We are waiting for and hoping for something that is CONCRETE and CERTAIN. In a God who will work for us. Fishermen have a strong and confident expectation in their ability to catch a fish - or they wouldn't be fishing, surely. They wouldn't waste hours of their lives investing in something that they are sure of. In the same way, If we have a strong and confident expectation in God I believe that we can have faith in impossible situations.

The Sheikh refuses to let circumstances get in the way. He looks past the desert land, the climate, the distance the fish must travel etc to see what can be achieved with faith. He looks past the physical realm into the spiritual to see what is possible through God. He is unfazed by the hours upon hours that he may have to wait to catch a fish and states that, "you persist, with such poor odds of success. Why? Because you’re a man of faith, Dr. Alfred. In the end, you are rewarded for your faith and constancy."

This reminded me of a story Jesus told:

5 Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6 ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7 And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8 But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.[a]

9 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “You fathers—if your children ask[b] for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? 12 Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! 13 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

I loved this; I loved the idea of having 'shameless persistence'. Of 'being rewarded for faith and constancy'. Of not giving up on what God can achieve.

I don't want to ruin the end of the film but just to add that (and I can vouch for this) sometimes, in spite of our faith, things don't come to fruition in the way me may want or expect - perseverance may be needed to get the water to remain in the river so that the salmon can be fished for or God may have something better in mind. There are even heroes in the Bible of whom it says " (Hebrews 11:39 NLT) [39] All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.[40] For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.

Faith is prepared to accept that there may be no reward for the faithful in this world; and that if this be the case, then the reward will come in full in the heavenly country. (Steven Coxhead)

I saw a Tim Keller quote on Twitter recently which totally changed my perspective on having faith for the unseen.

“We can be sure our prayers are answered precisely in the way we would want them to be answered if we knew everything God knows.”

One day we will be able to stand and look back on our lives with the knowledge that everything fitted together - worked together - for our good. One day all of this will make sense.

There are moments in life that seem 'fundamentally unfeasible' and although we don't know what God's plans for our lives are nor do we always agree with His timing, as it says in Hebrews 11, ..... it is impossible to please God without faith and Jesus himself said "Anything is possible if a person believes." Mark 9:23

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