Pause for Thought

Raise The Rope

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“Come listen to my tale, Of Jonah and the whale Away down in the middle of the ocean.

Now how did he get there, Whatever did he wear? Away down in the middle of the ocean.

A preacher he should be
At Nineveh, you see. He disobeyed — a very foolish notion!

But God forgave his sin, Salvation entered in, Away down in the middle of the ocean!” (Sunday school Chorus, circa. 1950)

I am, and always have been, intensely curious and a tinkerer. Some of my earliest memories are of dismantling things to see how they work. And, of course, the reverse process of re-assembling them. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes not. I know for sure that my mother took no pleasure in finding errant screws, nuts and bolts that ended up in the carpet!

Still, I think it is very important to try and understand how things work, if possible. I bring that same curiosity to my spiritual life and bible study. I like to ask questions about who? And why? And how? Sometimes I get answers, and some answers have yet to be discovered. For example, how do we know what the conversation was between Jesus and Satan in the wilderness? None of the gospel writers were there. I think there’s an obvious answer, but if you want to email me with your theory, I’d love to hear it!

So, what’s the deal with the Jonah and the whale song? Well, if you read the story of Jonah you will know that a “whale” is never actually mentioned — it’s a “big fish!” But since folks have been talking about Jonah and a “whale” for centuries, the thought of a whale brought to mind one of my “how does that work?” questions.

It’s most likely that you have seen video of a very famous “whale” (actually an orca, which definitely looks big and fishy) named “Shamu” (pronounced SHA-moo) which performed for many years at SeaWorld in San Diego, California. Truth be told, there were actually three of these aquatic behemoths weighing about 1 ton each, but only their handlers could tell them apart. As part of the show the orca would pick up speed and shoot its body thirty feet in the air to nudge a beach ball suspended above it.

I wanted to know how that was done. Did they go out into the Pacific Ocean and call, “here, Shamu, Shamu!” Until an obliging orca leapt thirty feet in the air and obliged by letting itself be captured? Just writing that sentence is so absurd that I had to know there was another way.

Here’s how it is done according to the trainers/handlers at SeaWorld.

You obtain a baby orca and you place it in a pool which has a rope on the bottom. You condition the animal to recognize that when it swims across the rope, there will be a reward (usually, but not always, food) at the other side.

Day after day, this ritual is repeated. Swim across the rope, obtain a reward. Very slowly, an inch or so a week, the rope is raised. At some point the orca has to get out of its natural environment and break the surface to cross the rope. Same deal: across the rope there is reward, under the rope is disappointment.

After a while, the rope is twenty five feet in the air and an orca who had no idea that it was capable of such an astounding feat is performing the impossible with ease.

Here are some words from Paul’s letter to the Roman church:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5 NIV [Emphasis mine]

Every Jesus follower is capable of incredible things, through the Holy Spirit — but like baby Shamu we don’t immediately attain super performance. Like the raising of the rope for the orca, the Holy Spirit raises the goals for us. He does so through the stages of suffering, perseverance, character building and hope, allowing us to achieve results which at a previous stage of development would have seemed unattainable. We are made, fearfully and wonderfully, in the very image of God. We are vessels of incredible potential which can only be realized by building on success and learning from failures. The rewards are tangible and immediate, but we soon get to realize that the Holy Spirit is saying to us, “that was well done, now try this!”

The end result should be that we the attitude that Paul had when he wrote to the church in Philppi:

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:13 KJV

Let’s not be satisfied with less than our full potential! Let the Holy Spirit raise the rope! It may seem scary, but soon you, like Shamu, will be soaring to new heights and hearing the applause of the vast cloud of witnesses by which we are surrounded! Get your superpower on!

Raise the rope!

Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black

Saturday June 4th, 2022
Saturday May 21st, 2022