EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LIFE IS IN YOUR FISHBOWL
January 7, 2001
They are popping up everywhere, from the colossal custom made saltwater aquariums with live coral and live sharks to the little, itty-bitty fishbowls with a couple of marbles and a couple of guppies. There is something educational, almost therapeutic, about watching fish swim back and forth, back and forth. We are going to learn a lot about life as we look at fishbowls.
Oftentimes, people ask us this question. They say, “How in the world do you come up with the titles of all these series?” We have a very hardworking and innovative staff. They spend untold hours hammering out ideas on their laptops and flipcharts. The idea for this series came from a very peculiar person. Preston Mitchell and I were sitting in my office late one Wednesday evening trying to hammer out this series. Preston and I were in kind of a creative cramp. We couldn’t find the right angle. It just was not working until his wife, Dedo, walked into my office. Don’t you love that name, Dedo? She makes the All Name Team. As Dedo strolled in, she said in her West Texas accent, “What are you guys doing?”
I said, “Dedo, we are trying to plan this series.”
She said, “What do ya’ll have?”
I said, “Dedo, not very much. Do you have any creative ideas?”
She kind of looked around my office and looked in my little aquarium. She said, “Why don’t you do a series about an aquarium? Compare fish to people and that’s our habitat. Just do that.”
Preston and I glanced at each other and we said, “That’s it. That’s it.”
From there, we got the title “Everything You Need to Know About Life is in Your Fishbowl.” The idea started going and flowing. So if you don’t like this series, don’t blame me. Blame Dedo Mitchell. She thought it up.
To really understand where we are going, we have got to understand two things. First of all, you have got to understand—and you have got to use your imagination—life is a fishbowl. Life is a fishbowl.
Now, if you understand the fact that life is a fishbowl, that means secondly, you have got to understand that you are fish. That’s right. We are a bunch of fish, swimming from place to place, relating to one another, feeding, and we are doing it for the world to see. In a real way, people around our neighborhood, people at the office, people at school, have their faces pressed up against the glass of our lives, and they are watching us live. They are observing us. It’s life in a fishbowl.
If you can answer “yes” to the following questions, this series is for you:
- Do you want to really line your priorities up, to balance your fishbowl like you never thought possible, to put first things first? Do you want to do that? If you say, “yes,” then this series is for you.
- Do you want to rev up your relationships? Maybe to swim away from some relationships and swim toward others? To take those floaters, those dead fish in your relational tank, and flush them. Do you want to do that? This series is for you.
- Maybe you want to influence people. Maybe you say, “I want to make my mark on the world. I want to influence my children or my friends or my family. I want to do something significant. I want to look at those people who are looking at me and go, “I want to help you.” This series is for you.
- If you want to grow deeper in your walk, if you want to understand what divine spiritual food is all about, if you want to swim in this life and forever, this series is for you.
Everything you always wanted to know about life, everything you need to know about our existence is in your fishbowl. Let’s begin in this first session doing some quick tank assessment work. Here’s how you tank it.
First of all, if we are going to do some true tank assessment work, we have got to clean the tank. We’ve got to clean the tank. Talk to anyone who knows anything about aquariums and they will tell you to clean your tank at least twice a month.
“What does it mean to clean the tank, Ed? What are you talking about?” Cleaning the tank means to change the water, vacuum it out, and scrub down the sides. Change the water, vacuum it out, and scrub down the sides. If you don’t do that, if you neglect the cleaning piece of tank management, you will have a bunch of fish swimming in murky water. Some of the fish after a while will end up being floaters. You know what you do with floaters, don’t you? Our life, like an aquarium, needs some cleaning, wouldn’t you say? It needs regular maintenance. Our lives, our tanks, our aquariums, our fishbowls, need to be scrubbed, vacuumed, and cleaned.
Maybe you are swimming right now through the murky waters of materialism, and you don’t even know it. Maybe you have algae of anger or lust or pride stuck to the sides of your tank and you don’t really get it. You think everything is okay. You are kind of happy. But as people look at you, and especially as God looks at you, he goes, “You have got some problems. This stuff in your tank has been messing you up. It’s time to change. It’s time to change.”
There is a guy in the Old Testament named David. David was an amazing man, a highly gifted man. David, though, had some algae in his tank that was tearing him apart. He had lust stuck to the side of his tank. He should have been on the battlefield fighting, but he was at home strolling around his palatial abode. He saw a beautiful woman bathing, which was typical in that day. Woman bathed on rooftops. The man should have been on the battlefield.
David saw her. He lusted after her. He committed adultery. Then, God’s man had this woman’s husband rubbed out. For a while, David just swam in that murky water. He swam around in his own waste, the waste of sin, the waste of pride, the waste of lust, the waste of lying. He thought, “Oh, no one knows. It’s just a private thing. It’s just a personal matter.” The Bible records that a man named Nathan confronted him. Nathan pointed out the stuff on the sides of David’s tank. Let me tell you what David did. David did this. He prayed an aqua-type prayer. In Psalm 51, he said, “Have mercy on me.”
That’s the only thing we can do as sinners. We don’t deserve it. We say, “God, have mercy on me. According to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions, wash away all my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” David was saying, “Clean me up, vacuum me out, scrub the sides of my life, for I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me.”
David came clean. David handed his tank over to God, and God did the changing. God did the vacuuming. God did the scrubbing. Isn’t that a cool deal? We can’t do it ourselves. We can’t clean up ourselves. We can’t vacuum ourselves. Only God can do it.
“Well, I am going to turn over a new leaf. I’m going to change my ways. I’m going to do this, or I’m going to read this self-help book.” It will never happen to you until you say, “God, I have got a dirty tank. I’m swimming in some murky water. I’m swimming in the sin of waste. Here is my tank. Here is my aquarium. Clean it up.”
You know there are companies that just specialize in aquarium maintenance? They are the pros. If you have some of these big saltwater custom made tanks or if you are a freshwater aquarist or whatever, these people will come in and take care of your tank and clean it so it is functioning properly. God is the pro. He is the one to clean it up. Give your tank to him.
Some of us, though, I’ll say it again, are swimming around in circles. We are swimming around in the waste of sin and stuff stuck on the sides without even realizing it. Here is what the book of Proverbs says. Proverbs 30:11, “There are those who are pure in their own eyes, and yet are not cleansed of their filth.”
David probably thought, “Okay, everything is cool. I’ve committed adultery. I’ve had her husband killed. No one knows. I’m am kind of pure in my own eyes.” That is until he was confronted by Nathan. Maybe God is confronting you right now about your sin. Maybe it’s anger. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s an ego thing. Maybe it’s materialism. Maybe God is confronting you. Pray the aqua prayer. Pray Psalm 51. Simply say, “God, clean me, vacuum me, and scrub the sides.” He will do it because he wants the best for your life.
There is something else we need to do after we clean the tank, after we allow God to clean. We need to check our filter. Some of us need to install a filter because we don’t even have one, but that is a whole other deal. I’ll talk about that later. The cleaning of the tank is the confession part. We admit the obvious before God. Once we confess our sins and turn from our sins, once we swim from this place to that place, we’ve got to install something. We don’t just say, “I confess, God. I turn from my sins and now everything’s okay.”
We’ve got to install something in our life. We have got to install a filtering system. If you are into fish tanks or aquariums, you know a filter plays a major role. If you neglect checking the filter and changing it, you can kill fish in your tank. The filter filters all of the water in it. It catches the waste and bacteria, the harmful junk. It purifies and aerates the water. I know because I messed up in my aquarium big time. I don’t know how it happened, but I had a filter failure. I walked into my office and looked, and I had seventeen floaters. I thought, “Oh, no, a filter failure.” I looked for the three others, and they were barely making it. (Ed imitating fish sounds.) “Give me oxygen, Ed. Something is wrong with the water, baby.”
If we neglect our filtering system, we can have floaters. It can kill stuff in our life, and a lot of us are swimming around gasping for breath. “Something is not happening. Something is not right with my life.” It’s the filtering thing. Jesus talked about the filtering system when he went one on one with Satan. Satan gave him the temptation trifecta. Jesus had a filter. He installed a filtering system. He filtered everything, every response, through scripture. Do you have a filter? Have you checked your filter? Is your filter dirty? Does it have bacteria? Does it have waste, or are you saying, “Well, I don’t need a filter. Who needs a filter? I can just swim around in the water, and everything is cool, everything is fine.”
You need one. The book of Philippians is a filter-driven book. “Finally,” it says in Verse 8 of Philippians 4, “finally, brethren,” that means brothers, sisters, “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just,” that basically means the things that are worthy of respect, “whatever things are pure,” that’s moral purity, “whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report,” that’s stuff worth talking about. Do you ever find yourself talking about stuff that is not worth talking about? I do. “If there is any virtue, and if there is anything praiseworthy, think,” here we go, “think on these things.”
In other words, we should think on things that motivate us to do better. What are you dwelling on? What are you thinking about? I need to replace the harmful stuff with helpful stuff. Once I come clean, and confess my sin, once my tank is clean, then I replace that harmful stuff with helpful stuff.
We need to install a filtering system, first of all, over our eyes. Don’t we? We are bombarded, guys, by thousands and thousands of sexual messages a day. Men are more visually driven, when it comes to sex, than women. A lot of us don’t have a filter over our eyes, as far as the Internet, as far as what we see and read and all that stuff. As far as the movies we watch, the videos we rent, there is no filter there. It seems so harmless. It seems like it’s just your deal. You say, “No one is getting hurt. Everything is A-OK.” But one day, you will find yourself gasping for breath, needing oxygen. One day, you could find yourself floating because of it. I’ve seen it destroy marriages. I’ve seen it destroy careers. It’s not worth it. So put that filter over the Internet. Put that filter over the eyes of the movies you see, of the things you put before yourself visually. Have some people to hold you accountable. It’s a real temptation out there.
Now I picked on the guys. Let me pick on the girls. Girls, I’ll say this and I have said it before many, many times, you speak an average of 14,000 more words a day than men do. That’s a scientific fact, Jack. Most of you are not as visually-driven sexually as guys. Some of you need to put a filter over your eyes, but women need more of a filter over their mouths. I am not just totally saying it’s a man thing or a woman thing, but you hear me. What are the words that you say about your spouse? What are the words you say to your children? What are the words you say to your boss, your coworkers about your family? Run it through the filter of faith. Run it through the filter of God’s Word. Run it through the filter of other Christians. That’s what it means to filter your life.
Now a filter does not do this in an aquarium. A filter doesn’t say, “Well, I’m just going to filter part of the water, just a little bit of the water. The rest of the water, I will let go.” We’ve got to filter everything, everything through our eyes, everything through our mouths, through this filter of faith. We need to put a filter on our feet for the places we go. A filter over our ears for the things we hear. Check your filter.
Others need to start by installing a filter. Maybe you are saying, “How does that happen? How do you install a filter?” It happens when you take a step and receive God’s amazing grace. The person of the Holy Spirit, who comes inside of your life, placed there by Christ, is the one who helps you in this process. He is the one that directs you and nudges you and tells you, “Run it through the filter. Run that thought through the filter.” Because wrong thinking leads to wrong feeling, and wrong feeling leads to wrong living. Clean the tank. Check or install a filter.
Let me wrap up this filter thing with 2 Corinthians 10:5. What a power-packed verse. “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Is that a filtering verse or what? What a prayer to pray. “God, from this day forward, as I put this filter over my eyes, and my mouth, my ears and my feet, I want to take captive every thought, because the battle is in the mind, every thought and run it through your filtering system. You can change it regularly.” Talk about it before the Lord.
We can clean the tank, and we can check the filter, but we have got to do something else too. I am talking about the environment. We also need to balance our habitat. What is a habitat? A habitat is simply a place where we live, where we survive and thrive. It could be a habitat for a plant, an animal, or a human being. We all have a habitat. We have a home, an apartment, a place of dwelling. Maybe we have a place where we work out, or a place we play golf, or a place we shop, or places where we frequent. We have this habitat, and people are watching us. They are observing us.
You run into problems and I run into problems when I overcrowd and you overcrowd your tank. You put too much stuff in the tank—too many plants, too many rocks, too many fish. A lot of us have these overly accessorized tanks. We are in our fishbowl, but we are bumping into a rock, we are bumping into a plant, bumping into another fish, and we can’t really survive. We can’t really thrive. We are overly crowded and accessorized.
I refer to it as “the Wayne Newton principle.” Wayne, I like Wayne; he is a talented guy, an incredible performer. But as far as the way Wayne dresses, he is a little bit over the top—too many gold chains, too many rings, too many bright suits, and collars too big. A lot of us have that Wayne Newton thing going on in our aquarium. It’s just too much. How can you accomplish anything? How can you do what God really wants you to do with so much stuff in your tank? You can’t do it.
Richard W. Thompson, noted aquarist—and speaking of people who are into aquariums, I went on a website several days ago that talked about aquarium burnout. I thought it was a joke, but it was written by a Ph.D. This guy said, “You know you have a problem with your aquarium when you start buying aquariums and start putting them in closets with fish, under your beds, in your kitchen.” He talked about warning signs for aquarium burnout, and if you have a problem with your tank mentality. Anyway, I thought it was kind of wild—Richard W. Thompson said, “It is quite possible that the environment that you would like to keep the fish in,” check this out, “differs significantly from the environment the fish should be in.”
In other words, a lot of us think that we can compare this to life. “Oh, I know the best environment for me. I know the best habitat for me.” But that habitat is not the ultimate habitat. To put it right out there where you can feel it, smell it, and understand it, a lot of us need to balance our habitat. A lot of us need to ruthlessly remove some stuff in our habitat, stuff that is choking us out. We are overstocked. We are over-accessorized. We are overcrowded. It’s time to make Christ number one.
He said it in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” We have got to put first things first. Now, what are first things? First things should include our relationship with Christ. That should be the number one thing in our tank. Also, we should have the relationship with our family being the second thing. Then our career and our work. We have God, we have family, and we have career. So at the end of the day and at the end of our lives, we have got to think about those three things, those three elements in our tanks. If we have other stuff there, it could be good stuff, it could be decent stuff, but if it is not great stuff, throw it out. Life is too short to swim around in circles. It all starts with God.
Have you made Christ number one? Have you bowed the knee to him? Have you allowed him to take over your tank and to change your habitat? How about your family? Are you swimming back and forth and bumping into so much stuff that you have neglected your spouse, you have neglected romancing your spouse, loving your spouse, spending quality time with your spouse, having a date night with your spouse, traveling with your spouse? It’s getting quiet in here. Have you neglected your children due to your career? “Oh, I have got to burn it. I’ve got to churn it. I’ve got to make it. I’ve got to stack it all up and I’ll show you my love by giving you all of these toys and trinkets.”
You know what is so funny, talking about careers, is this. The big thing these days as a Generation X’er or a Baby Boomer is, “You know, I want to make as much money as possible while I am young.” You know where I am going, don’t you? Cash out and chill out. Move to the mountains, or the beach. It’s the quality of life thing. Well, that is great. I hope a lot of you cash out. I am all for chilling out, taking time off for vacations, taking time off. If you want to change careers, that’s cool. But you will not find retirement in the Bible. It is not there.
Now, if you can do all that, and if you can be financially secure and just live off the interest in your investments, great. Work strategically for the Lord. When I work, and when you work, it can be an act of worship before God. Also, when we work, we should make resources and money to further the cause of Christ. So if you are kind of retired and you are playing golf or traveling, you better be intentional about it in using those relationships to share Christ with others, to invite them to the local church. Use your time now within the context of the body of Christ. I am talking about priorities, setting things up prior to the decisions.
Some of you don’t need to balance your habitat. You need a whole new habitat. Your habitat is messed up. You need to leave it. It is tripping you up. Right now, some students are involved in habitats that are dangerous. You are swimming around in this habitat, this environment. You think everything is okay. Parents, now is the time to monitor your child’s habitat. Now is the time. If you see some habitat warning signs, help move them from one habitat to another.
I am so thrilled to see so many parents and single parents who take advantage of this ultimate habitat called “the church.” I am so happy to see how you have taken advantage of age-appropriate teaching. Mom and Dad, single parents, and those of you who don’t take advantage of this, it breaks my heart. Yet you are going to involve your children and students in so many other things that you neglect the local church? You neglect this habitat? It doesn’t work. That is not Matthew 6:33 living. That’s not seeking first the kingdom of God. All these great things will not be added to you if you have that mentality. They will be taken away from you.
Many husbands and wives are in wrong habitats. You are in a wrong habitat. You need to change your habitat. Singles, you are searching for life and for your ulti-mate in the wrong habitat. I can tell you, the local church is a great place to search for your mate. What an awesome habitat. But more importantly than that, you can seek God first as you involve yourself in the singles ministry, or the singles small group. Just say, “You know what, I am ready to dive in. I’m ready to go deep. I’m ready. This is my day, right now. This is tank assessment time.”
Some of us have that Wayne Newton principle going on, overly accessorized, overcrowded. Some of us are overstocked. We have got too many fish in our fish tank, swimming back and forth. We have those remoras that are sucking the life out of us relationally speaking. Do you know what I am talking about? Those piranhas nipping at us. It is not happening for us relationally. I am doing an entire message called “Fish Face,” as I talk about relationships. If you just do some elementary visual work, you can easily compare the fish and the habitat to relationships that we deal with. Many of us need to change our relational dynamic.
Once again, as I say many times, the choice is up to you. Hand God your tank and say, “God, I want to pray the aqua prayer.” Just say, “God, help me install by your grace and guidance this filtering system. God, balance me. Show me what is first, second, and help me to do what you want me to do.” That is when we tank it.