Being a sponge

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While I freely admit I am truly, truly excited that we seem to be nearing the end of the lockdown life we’ve been living in our world the past couple months (at least here in Texas), if I’m truly honest, there have been very interesting and edifying elements of it.  Don’t get me wrong … in NO WAY do I long to return to the life of shelter in place and I truly look forward to connecting with – and yes, shaking hands with – friends, family, new acquaintances, people at church … heck, the stranger in the market.

But the blessing perhaps in disguise has been going through experiences that we’ve never been through before.  Having very familiar comforts and experiences and fulfillments evaporate what seemed literally overnight.  In many respects, it was overnight.  The whiplash caused by the unforeseen change was extreme and yet I daresay that, at least for me, it helped significantly enhance not my love for certain things, but the recognition of my love for them.  For instance, having dinner every night together with my wife and kids the past six-plus weeks … I was reminded how much I cherish that time.  Spending some uninterrupted time with my wife just talking … how incredibly blessed I’ve been to have that with her on a more regular basis.  Seeing friends and family in a more focused, intent way, even though by video chat.  For those things, I am indeed thankful.

In another way, I’m thankful.  The shelter in place orders and resultant closure of our businesses and places we like to frequent (stores, restaurants, coffee places, and even once in a while, concerts, sporting events, and the like) have poked and prodded me in ways that were unfamiliar (of course) and instructive.  Instructive in the sense that I got to see my response to these new circumstances, and on certain occasions my response hasn’t always been great.  Sometimes I’ve chosen frustration over faith, anger over acceptance, powerlessness over prayer, and selfishness over surrender.

In many ways, my responses throughout these times – and of course in countless normal situations – reminds me of being a sponge.  Yep, a sponge.  Why?  Well if you think of a sponge, when it’s squeezed and especially squeezed hard, what comes out of it is that which it soaked up previously.  If what comes out of it is dirty and smelly and gross, it’s only because that is what it soaked up before.  If plain, fresh water, or cleanser or soap come from it when it’s squeezed, it’s because that’s what it’s soaked up.

And so it has been for me through this time.  I’ve exhibited behaviors that show that in the past I’ve soaked up stinky stuff and I’ve – humbly submitted – shown ways that provide evidence that somewhere along the way some decent stuff got soaked up.  There are a few passages of the Bible that come to mind as I tinker a little with this realization …

Philippians 4:11-13

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.  I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you.  You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

Psalms 119:9-16

How can a young person stay pure?  By obeying your word.  I have tried hard to find you—don’t let me wander from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.  I praise you, O Lord; teach me your decrees.  I have recited aloud all the regulations you have given us.  I have rejoiced in your laws as much as in riches.  I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways.  I will delight in your decrees and not forget your word.

God’s Word teaches us very unambiguously that we have the ability to soak up some pure, life-enhancing POWER!  How, by trusting in Christ, by studying His word, and by relying on Him to help us sock away His wisdom.  The God who created us (not to mention the universe and everything in it) longs to equip us to soak up all that we need to be able, as Paul said, to “be content with whatever I have,” or perhaps whatever we go through.  God uses His word in our lives to, “prepare and equip his people to do every good work,” or maybe to rejoice even in the most difficult of times.  As the psalmist writes, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”  In other words, if I soak up Your revelation to me from Your Bible, when I’m squeezed like the sponge that I am, good stuff will come out.

There’s a clear demarcation though, just as with a sponge only soaking up stinky stuff.  If I soak up self-centered “wisdom” or societally-based “help,” in the times of stress and strain and challenge, all I will have is the mildew odor of empty promises and impotent aid.  I will have the dirty water of disenfranchisement rather than the disinfectant of God’s loving dominion.  I will react exactly how I’ve prepared to react based on what I soak up along the way.  When I am selfish and angry, it’s because what I’ve soaked up cultivates that.

And remember, what comes out of a sponge is what is soaked up BEFORE it’s squeezed.  I have to imagine (though I’ve never asked one) that when a sponge is squeezed it isn’t aware in advance that it will be.  So, as we prepare for unexpected squeezing, we need to be working now to soak up good stuff, healthy stuff.  What we read, what we listen to, how we live, how we recreate, even how we eat, all have an impact … all get soaked up into our spongey selves.

Perhaps we have seen the ramifications of soaking up bad stuff in the news or online in these times.  Fear, resentment, blame, disdain, defeatedness … all have run rampant in these past couple months.  Let’s face it … the past couple months have only exacerbated these.  Unfortunately, I think we only need to look at our federal government at times to see this.  Maybe this is why in these times churches are overflowing – virtually-speaking of course – as people seek what they can soak up to help them cope in more edifying ways.  The bottom line … it’s Jesus and His Word and the grace and hope it promises.  These are what we must be soaking up all the time.

Let’s all us sponges commit now to soak up what is good and cleansing and helpful and praiseworthy and loving and other-centered so that WHEN (not if) the next squeezing comes along, we’ll increasingly have good stuff come out of us.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR