Friday, April 22, 2022

Be A Sea Sponge


Listen to this lesson on my new podcast Gleams of the Morning.

Key Text

“he who says he remains in [Jesus] ought himself also to walk just like he walked.”
‭‭1 John‬ ‭2:6‬ ‭(WEB‬‬) [word added for clarity]

The sea sponge is an odd creature. It is part of a the taxonomic phylum Porifera which means ‘pore bearer’. It’s a practical name. Scientists are not known for their creativity. The sea sponge lives in a coral reef and they are often brightly colored. They attach to rock at the base and grow upwards toward the light like some alien plant. But alas, they are not plants. You’d be forgiven for thinking they are one. But scientists have classified them as an animal because their cells do not have cell walls. All plants have cells walls.

That’s not the only surprising aspect of the sea sponge. While most people think of sponges as living in salt water. There are several varieties that live in fresh water as part of a fresh water reef. There’s a sea sponge species that lives in the ocean near the Antarctic that is estimated to live for several thousand years because it grows very slowly in that cold environment! Some species live near the ocean surface while others live over 5 miles deep.1

The sea sponge has numerous pores throughout its body that maximize the amount of water that can flow through at one time. Sponges do not have a digestive or circulatory system to move nutrients around. So they must push sea water through every porous cavity so the nutrients in the water can be delivered where needed. They are quite simple but amazing creatures. Their role in the wider ecosystem of the coral reefs they live in is only recently being understood.

This is perhaps the most amazing aspect of sponges. They are nature’s recyclers. Some species can filter as much as 10,000 liters of water per pound of body a day! As the water passes through their pores they filter out carbon, nitrogen and other substances from the water. This is important because it helps keep the contents of the water safe for other organisms living in the reef. This filtering action is critical to the survival of the entire reef community. Sponges act as a linchpin of coral reef survival. In other words, without this filtering process, the whole reef may die.2

Sponges are so good at filtering pollutants out the water, that scientists are planting them in polluted waterways near major cities to help clean the water. They can clean a wide array of water pollutants left by humans including sewage runoff, medicines, pesticides, algae blooms or chemicals from spills. And they can accomplish this in a reasonable time frame. They can make our waterways safe again.3

Their cleaning power does not end there. Even after the living animal has died, the spongy matrix it leaves behind makes a marvelous tool for house cleaning. The oceans natural filter is the inspiration behind your synthetic kitchen sponge. The ancient Greeks first realized the amazing ease of cleaning with this yellow porous foam. Sea sponges have been washing our dirty dishes for centuries. Although many people today use plastic imitations, some people still prefer the real thing as they are more biodegradable.

What lesson does this hold for Christians? I believe Christ desires us to be like a sponge. He desires us to have a cleaning effect on the environment around us. Hear me out. Jesus told us we are the light of the world and salt of the earth. But what does that mean in practice? I think it means we are to have a demeanor that others desire to have around.

Anxiety and depression are at all time highs. Loneliness is rampant despite the numerous apps that exist to bring people together. Stress is an everyday occurrence. As Christians we are called to step into the mire of people’s lives and help filter out those negative feelings. You do not need to be their therapist or pastor. You cannot fix all their problems. That’s ok. The simple act of your presence can be more healing than a therapy session. The kindness of a stranger, the understanding of a friend, these acts can change lives. Most of the time, sitting down and spending time with a person in the midst of their sorrow or pain has a much bigger effect than offering solutions. When they understand that you care, when they know you are listening, that will clean away much of their negative feelings.

We need to share the hope we have with others. That doesn’t usually mean giving them a Bible study or even praying with them, although that is good. It means taking your time to listen, to hear their feelings and trials, to empathize. Often it means listening to someone’s simple everyday concerns rather than some major life changing challenge. We are always in a hurry. There will not be a time when it’s always convenient to stop and listen. You must choose to do this. Even if it is only for something that seems silly, it usually has a bigger impact than you will ever realize.

We need to wear the face of Jesus whom everyone felt safe approaching with their problems, even children. I’m not talking about a false piety or a hyper-masculine stoicism. This does not mean we must always put a smile on our face even when we are falling apart inside. Just because your Christian doesn’t mean your life is perfect. So we should not pretend it is. But we do have a hope that lifts spirits in the worst of times. Even though we may not always feel like doing so, Christ calls us to share this hope with those we come across. This hope cleans away the negative feelings that overwhelm people.

Cultivate an air of compassion and approachability about you. This is what we call in church lingo, you’re witness. This is a good topic to discuss with your family or friend group. Discuss questions such as: Do I seem approachable to others?, Do you feel heard when talking to me?, Do I often seem distracted when you talk to me?, What could I change to be more empathetic in conversations? This requires wisdom and maturity. It requires self-reflection and self-honesty.

We can all do better at this with practice. But the key is listening. Taking the time to listen is something you can do now, whether you’re a church pastor or just a teenager. It requires no special skill. Just a few minutes of your time and a willingness to show others compassion is all that is needed.

Here is a question to ponder. How did you feel the last time someone took time to really listen to you?

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: MarcelloRabozzi via