In Pennsylvania the hobby (or, more appropriately, lifestyle) of fishing is booming, too - with or without a Bass Pro Shop. The state recorded selling over 850,000 fishing licenses in the year 2012. Men (and some women, I'm sure) spend vast amounts of time and money in the pursuit of their desired fish. The number of licenses, bait, tackle and equipment sold are proof: lots of people love to fish.
But not me.
I cannot be counted in a single dollar of the revenue for Bass Pro Shop. I do not account for one of those 850,000 licenses sold in 2012 in Pennsylvania. I have never bought bait or tied it to a line. The closest I've come to fishing is holding a pole while standing on the dock of the Peninsula one summer afternoon when I was about ten years old. The experience lasted roughly ten minutes and then I was perfectly content to end my fishing career. The sport, pastime, hobby - whatever term you prefer - has never appealed to me. Holding a pole for hours on end and waiting for a fish to bite a slimy worm simply isn't my idea of a good time. The nature that surrounds the fishermen is beautiful, don't get me wrong, but I'd much rather enjoy it in a different way. I'd much rather run next to the water, swim in the ocean or walk on the beach. But sit with a pole and a worm? No thank you.
What appeals to me even less is ice fishing. If you are not from the north then you might not be familiar with this activity. If you are from the north, and especially from Erie, then you might immediately have a mental image in your mind.
Ice fishing is the least appealing of all fishing, in my opinion. Ice fishermen come down to the bay with their trucks loaded to the gills with heaps of equipment and layers of clothing. They appear out of their trucks looking like Eskimos. They walk like ducks with three layers of pants, massive boots, furry hats and coats that would barely fit through a doorway. They unload all of their equipment and transfer it to a small sleigh - much smaller than Santa's - and pull it out onto the frozen ice of the bay.
It is there that the fishermen set up small tents. From a distance it looks like a miniature city. Once the tents go up the men disappear inside and the scene is nothing more than a frozen, slippery surface dotted with little black shelters. There is rarely ever a soul in sight.
I can't help but wonder, what is the appeal of this sport? The air is frigid. The winds pelt the sides of the tents, causing their flimsy sides to sway. It looks like a frozen desert.
And yet, inside those dinky little tents, the men are enjoying the wonder of nature and the thrill of the catch. I can't see the excitement happening beneath the cover of the tent. I can't see the joy on the men's faces when they catch a massive steelhead or count their impressive haul of fish at the end of the day. From where I stand, on the security of solid ground, outside of their tents, all I see is a lot of nothingness. From a distance it appears that absolutely nothing is happening. There are no people to observe. There is no chatter or sounds of human life at all. There is no score board that displays the number of fish caught on that particular bay, on that particular day. There are no flashy signs and no awards displayed. To the outsider this scene looks lifeless and dull.
It is only from the inside of the tent that the work of the ice fishermen becomes visible. If we could go inside the tent we would see a big cooler, filled to the brim with that day's catches. We would see the boxes of bait and tackle. We would understand the need for all of the equipment that came off of the trucks. We would finally get to see that beneath the protection of their tents, the fishermen had carefully and diligently carved out a small little world all of their own in which they could fulfill their purpose: catching fish.
Maybe ice fishing doesn't sound like your idea of a fun-filled afternoon. I can't blame you. But you don't need to hit the ice loaded down with a truck full of equipment to learn a lesson from the ice fishermen. What they have to teach can be learned by simply observing from afar, from the safety of solid ground.
Beneath the protection of an unassuming tent, great work can be accomplished.
Your life might look much like that fisherman's tent: dull, boring, cold and lifeless. There might be little excitement visible in your day to day routine. An outsider might not see much going on whatsoever. What they can't see, and might fail to understand, is that God likes to work on the inside of the tent. God comes right into where we live, the innermost part of our being, and does His work. The job He is doing doesn't necessarily come with flash. Just like the fisherman, the excitement is happening behind the curtain, not visible to the passerbys of the world.
When God is busy doing His work on the inside it is tempting to assume that nothing is happening, that life is at a stand still. The trap is to look at life and say, "I don't see anything, so nothing is there!" And yet Hebrews 11:1 rebukes this kind of thinking: "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."
You may look at your life and see a bay filled with ice fishermen's tents. Where is the action? Where is the excitement? Where is the thrill? Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. Beneath the surface, away from the onlooking eyes, is where God is doing His most amazing work. God is working out our lives, growing our faith, showing us love and strengthening our spirits INSIDE the tent.
At the end of the day the fishermen must emerge from the protection of their shelters to venture back across the bay to their trucks; back home to their freezers where they will store their prized fish from that day's catch. It is when they emerge that all of their hard work is finally visible. When we see them struggle to pick up those hefty coolers, loaded down with pounds of heavy fish, we understand what was happening behind the protection of their tent's walls. They were bringing in a huge haul! And all along it looked like nothing was happening. How wrong we were.
Beloved, you too will someday emerge from your tent. The work that was happening behind the scenes will become evident. The glory of God will be on full display as the transformation of your spirit is made visible. Right now the work is still being done. The fish are still being caught. The molding of the potter's hands is still underway in your life. But take heart, because a great work is being done in you by the grace of God, with His loving hand. He is doing something miraculous in you behind the scenes, inside your own personal tent.