The vastness of the ocean is truly astounding, and it's something that has intrigued man since creation. Through the ages we've tried to tame it, and though we've mastered ocean travel and pioneered underwater exploration to quite impressive degrees, the seas will never be tamed. But even...
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My grandmother was a strong, independent woman with even stronger opinions. She never shied away from a debate or filtered her words to hide her true thoughts or feelings. Her love for her family was even stronger and she showed it through acts of service. Respect for elders was paramount even...
The vastness of the ocean is truly astounding, and it's something that has intrigued man since creation. Through the ages we've tried to tame it, and though we've mastered ocean travel and pioneered underwater exploration to quite impressive degrees, the seas will never be tamed.
But even though we haven’t been able to observe every inch of these great waters, just inches below the surface lies a vast array of easily observable phenomenon that take place every day. The oceans contain countless species, from tiny plankton weighing a fraction of an ounce, to gigantic whales weighing multiple tons. There are all manner of unique and amazing creatures that fascinate us. Given this vastness, and the dangers presented therein, it's a wonder how a single fish can survive a normal lifespan. As with all creatures, there are a variety of defense mechanisms that God gave fish in order for them to survive, and there's one in particular that's both impressive, and highly effective - the school.
Why Do Fish Swim in Schools?
It's well known that a group of fish is called a 'school', but not often do we stop and consider what exactly the fish are doing. If you've ever been to a public aquarium, you've probably seen a display or two that houses a lot of the same type of fish. These fish are almost always swimming together in schools, and in most cases, this is quite the spectacle to observe. But, why do they swim that way?
At a basic level, there are several major benefits to fish swimming together in such a way. First off, just like when geese fly in a 'V' to make it easier on them by reducing wind resistance, fish conserve energy by riding on the slipstreams created by other fish. Another important benefit of the school is that it protects the fish from predators. There have been research studies that have investigated how fish swim in such close coordination in schools, and without getting into the technical details of their findings, fish have something in their genetic makeup that allows them to be electronically ‘connected’ in close proximity. Some varieties fish swim in a more closely coordinated fashion than others, but many fish still swim in a school during some portion of their lives.
What We Can Learn from the Fish
So, what's the point of all of this? Well, there's a lot that we can learn from fish. According to a study published by the journal “Current Biology”, there have been questions raised about the possibility of whether the 'schooling' behavior of fish can be linked to the behaviors of humans and how we tend to group together. While the studies seem to be inconclusive in that regard, it’s obvious that we, like many animals, naturally gravitate towards groups. Unlike fish, however, since we are considered the "apex predator" of the world, we don't normally need to group for survival. Maybe we did a long time ago, or today in more remote parts of the world, but generally we can survive alone if we had to.
So, why then do we group? Without getting into the social semantics of it, the basic understanding is that we group because we desire social interaction to function normally and live more comfortably. We can also accomplish a whole lot more when we work together.
But, how does this relate to faith and living as a Christian? If we keep it simple and think about it as we see with fish and schooling, it actually makes a lot of sense.
First off, one of the primary reasons that fish school is to be safer from predators. We know that the Bible addresses this specifically, as Satan, the Great Deceiver, is always working to isolate us so we are more vulnerable. The only time we see in the Bible that Satan physically came himself and tempted Jesus was when Jesus was alone in the desert fasting.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. (Matthew 4:1-2, ESV)
Not only was Jesus alone, but he was also very hungry. The devil came to him when he was most isolated and most vulnerable. He does the same with us. He knows that when we are alone and cut off, especially from other believers, that we are more easily influenced. Just like predators of the ocean try to do, by splitting the fish up so they can single out some of them, the devil is always circling looking for his opportunity to make us vulnerable and strike. He's always trying to divide us, because he knows we are stronger together. We must take great care to not let that happen...
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2, ESV)
We have to look out for each other and share our burdens. The Bible tells us that we must! The more connected we are, the safer we are, and the more resistant to the enemy's attacks. Anyone who's ever been part of a small group will tell you that through sharing their struggles with close friends, they were better able to weather the storms in their lives. At the Church at Severn Run, we call these Connect Groups. We also have a phrase that goes along with those that says, "Life is Better Connected!" This is something we truly believe because it’s evident that not only are we stronger spiritually, but we can also accomplish a whole lot more together than we ever could on our own.
Working Together to Accomplish More
Which brings us back to the other reason humans group together. Some of the studies show that early people grouped together, not just for protection, but also because they realized that they could accomplish a whole lot more as a group working together towards the same goals. And this is still true today, and in fact one of the pillars of most of our lives. Many of us work for organizations in the pursuit of some sort of overarching business goals.
If we go back to look at the example of fish in schools, we see that same thing play out in the slipstream effect. Fish conserve their energy by swimming together. Naturally, this means that they can swim longer and require less food for energy. And the more energy they conserve, the more likely they are to survive if they get cut off later from the school, such as when predators attack.
I’m sure I don’t need to continue to explain all the correlations between these things and how we as Christians should stick together. The problem with humans is that, even though we often know what we should do, we’re stubborn and like to blaze our own paths. And don’t take this the wrong way, we shouldn’t always just “go with the flow”, but that’s implicating that we’re following all the other ‘fish’ of the world. You have to make sure you’re surrounding yourself with the right people. Fish swim in schools with like fish. If you surround yourself with like people who also want to live following Jesus, then working together and protecting each other in that endeavor will naturally occur. And that is something we definitely NEED to do.
I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. (1 Corinthians 1:10, NLT)
It’s not always going to be easy, and at times you might find yourself alone and cut off from the school. Sometimes we drift off on our own, and sometimes life takes us in different directions. The good thing is, there are always other fish around, and the school you just left is not the only one in the sea. And if all else fails, you may even need to start your own school. But most likely you will be able to find a group, even if it’s small, and jump right in. Others will then be drawn to this group and it will likely grow.
Whether you’re a fish or a Christian, hopefully it’s obvious that there are some major benefits to being connected with like-minded individuals. Betting that you’re the latter, it’s probably safe to say that nature is one reflection of God’s intention in our lives, and fish are just one of many examples of that. There are countless other cases in creation of how working together can provide safety and strength, and we are no different.
Whenever we are alone, we can only rely on our own strengths and weaknesses, which don’t always complement each other, and usually our strength will eventually give out. But together in a group, we can cover each other’s weaknesses and continue to strengthen each other so that we are always better able to face the storms that will inevitably come.
Wherever you are in your journey, and wherever your travels take you, try to always keep connected with other believers, because life really is better connected.
My grandmother was a strong, independent woman with even stronger opinions. She never shied away from a debate or filtered her words to hide her true thoughts or feelings. Her love for her family was even stronger and she showed it through acts of service. Respect for elders was paramount even if undeserved or misguided.
When she and my grandfather visited the Christmas after I became a believer, I tried to share my testimony with her and encourage her to put her faith in Jesus, too. She responded very sternly, “I need Jesus? I certainly never talked to my parents the way you do! Maybe you need an extra dose of Him, but I am just fine.” Her words cut deep but gave me pause as a new believer. My actions needed to reflect my new-found faith.
She would go to church with us when she was in town, also attending events at the Christian school we attended. But, she never wanted to discuss religion or politics with us, always changing the subject or leaving the room.
In 1995, when my grandfather’s Parkinson’s had advanced, she allowed our pastor and his wife to come for a visit and pray with them. But, she was very adamant that no one speak to my grandfather about his relationship with Jesus or eternity. It weighed heavily on my mother’s heart as she wanted assurance that my grandfather would be in heaven, so she spoke to my grandmother about it often and my grandmother felt like she was being pestered about it.
One afternoon, my mother took my grandmother shopping and I stayed with my grandfather. My mother asked me to speak to my grandfather. As soon as they were gone, I asked him if anyone had ever shared the plan of salvation with him and he said, “You love me enough to tell me about Jesus and heaven?” Of course, I did!
In talking with him, I learned that as a young man working for a beer distributor in Baltimore, MD, a Methodist preacher introduced him to Jesus, but he had gotten away from having a close relationship with Him. I knew from our conversation that he was a believer and would spend eternity in heaven. He seemed at peace and told my mother and grandmother as soon as they got home. My grandmother was not happy that her request had been ignored. In fact, she did not speak to me about it until after my grandfather passed away 6 months later.
When my grandfather died, our church gathered around to comfort our family, especially my grandmother. They held the wake in the fellowship hall, catering the food and taking care of everything. With just a few visitors left at the gathering, my grandmother came to me and said, “You know that conversation you had with Pop? I would like to know more about Jesus and heaven, too.”
It was such a sweet blessing to see her relationship with Jesus grow. She started to attend church faithfully, joined a Bible study and gave of her resources to building funds and missions. And even though she was afraid of the water since she never learned to swim, she got baptized in the inground swimming pool in my parents’ backyard. She remained outspoken and opinionated and starting defending her faith, engaging in living debates when our pastor and his wife would visit her during weekly visitation. She even brought her cousin to church and was instrumental in her decision to rededicate her life to the Lord.
In the fall of 2006, when the doctors told her that the cancer had spread too much for treatment, she moved in with my parents. She was 82. I was a stay at home mom at the time and was able to care for her as my parents worked. In those last few weeks that I spent time with her she spoke of being able to see my grandfather soon and other relatives gone before her, especially her sisters. But, she was a bit anxious about the ‘between’ part of dying, the part between the last breath and seeing Jesus’ face. She would ask me to sit with her and hand her hand while I read the verses in Psalms that she had highlighted. They spoke of peace and not being afraid. She said she did not fear death but feared the unknown of how and when.
It was a pleasure to stand with my family as she peacefully took her last breath and slipped into eternity with the assurance of seeing Jesus and my grandfather. Jesus had changed her destiny without taking away her tenacious spirit. She was still independent, strong, opinionated and at times stubborn, but now she left a legacy of faith and trust for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She is a true example that when you find Jesus is not nearly as important as finding him and letting Him change your life.