During worship this morning, I had a vision of the sea floor covered with shells as far as the eye could see in all directions. Like visions often are for me when God gives them, what I saw unfolded over time. At first I just saw the shells, all of them dirty, scarred and ugly, many of them rolling around in the current that moved back and forth, bringing clear water in and dirty water out, sand and stones stirring in the water, striking the shells, some gently, some fiercely.
As I looked, I saw that some of the shells were larger than the others, seemingly older and heavier, less affected by the current. Some of the smaller ones, those more subject to the currents, were grouped together, as if for protection. I also knew that the older, heavier shells had once been small and vulnerable.
As I continued to look, I could see that many of the shells contained precious stones. At first, I only saw pearls, but as I looked closer, I saw many others – rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and many I didn’t recognize. The stones varied in size depending on the size and condition of the shells. The most beautiful stones were in the ugliest shells.
As I watched the shells respond to the current, I saw that they protected the precious stones while allowing them to be nourished so they would grow, and I thought of the armor in Ephesians 6.
In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
– Eph. 6:16
The shells filtered the water, letting in what was good for the stones, blocking out what would harm them. In so doing, the shells bore the filth and damage while feeding the growth of the stones. 1 Corinthians 1:27 came to mind:
God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.
– 1 Corinthians 1:27
In the same way, He creates beauty from ugliness.
As I continued to consider the shells, I saw that they are a parable for His people. I Peter 2:4 came to mind, where we are called “living stones”. The water is life in the world, the currents are our experiences, the raw material God uses to build us up in Him. It struck me that the currents run in two directions. The fresh water coming in from the sea toward shore is God refreshing us, lifting us up, and dirty water washing back out to sea, is God testing us and refining us. Out of this rhythmic movement of the currents, we grow.
We are the stones, not the shells. The shells are our faith, the filth and scars and wounds are on the outside being used through our faith to make us, the precious stones, more magnificent than we can imagine. Ugly as the scars and filth may be, they are not who we are.
And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
– 1 Peter 2:4
Finally, I saw a great city built of gold and precious stones, and it occurred to me that we are the precious stones in that great city. The new Jerusalem came to mind, where we will live with God, free of the shells, raised in glory forever.
The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone.
– Revelation 21:19
In the symbolism of the vision, when we are finally perfected, the shells are taken away, and we are glorified.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
– Romans 8:28 ff
Like often happens with me, I think God showed me this for my benefit; it was a message I needed to hear, but I also suspect that it could help others. In Christ, we are not filthy or unworthy or worthless. We are not the sinful things that we have done or that has happened to us. We are not defined by our sufferings. Our sufferings are reworked by Him into something precious and above reproach. We are made worthy in Him, cleansed and made beautiful by His blood.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
– Romans 8:1
- June 1, 2014