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The Parable of the Fish Prison

Imagine standing on the bough of a large ship in the vast ocean. Looking out on miles and miles of beautiful open sea. And out there, in the water, bobbing around, as far as you can see…are fish tanks…aquariums. Some square, some round, some large, some small. And in them, are fish. Question: Are the fish really in the ocean? No. They look through the glass at the ocean.

They may even want some of the fish who swim by to come get in the tank with them. The other fish look in and see water which is a little murky, some fake plastic plants and a motorized life support system which keeps oxygen in the water. And they need to be fed by someone else. Not appealing.

Have we forgotten what it means to be free in Christ…or we have never known?

Have we forgotten what real open water is like…or we have never known?

Have we become keepers of the aquarium?

Helping fish find open water

We, as fish whom Jesus has loved, are to be open seas fish, as we go, loving others as He did. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19.

He has set us free. Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 tell us we were captives. As the church, we are no longer captive. Yet we have accidently, and purposely, built for ourselves, aquariums (fish prisons). Much of church life, and what we call church in America, is spent in the building or a program we have designed to ‘do church’ and attempt to be ‘fishers of men’. Yet most of the time we do not act free. We know the bible verses. We neither know the freedom nor practice it.

I am speaking to myself here also.

NOTE: I am not against buildings, programs or Sunday morning church gatherings. Not at all! But we have expected the entirety of scripture to happen within these confines. It is not working, and I’m not sure it ever did. Because it is not supposed to.

Three problems with helping fish find open water:

One – We have become content with fish tank water – it’s really not water.

It is recirculated swimming liquid. It tends to be the same every day. Every week. We have become content living in the fish tank, and fishing in the fish tank. I had someone recently come up to me and say, ‘Hey, when are you going to get us some new prospects for our class?’ In other words, when are you going fishing and come back with a little plastic bag with fish in it and pour them into our tank so we can have more in here? Wow.

Two – We are afraid to break the glass.

If we do break it, we think we will let the bad water in, or we will let good fish out. Or even worse, let new fish in who are not like us. How will we keep the purity of the fish and the water consistent if we break the glass? Are we overly concerned about the wrong things? The New Testament Greek word for church is ‘ecclesia’. The ‘called out ones’. Not ‘the huddled fearful ones’. Our leaning on one another and encouraging one another as the church is not in question here. But our fear of living life out there looking for those who need Christ’s love is.

Three – The worst problem of all, we do not see the first two as problems.

The church building is a fine place to meet and worship together, and intentionally spend time in discipling relationships, being real about who Christ has asked us to be. But the building is not the church. I am not suggesting getting rid of your aquarium. Just convert it. Break some of the glass walls and suggest people live more out there, rather than just waiting for next week to be back inside. The time in your building should only be the beginning of your week of going beyond the glass, into the life you lead out there. Make a difference in the lives you connect with out there.

Go, swim free!

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  1. “We’ve strayed from being fishers of men to being keepers of the aquarium.” – Paul Harvey

    ” No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea.” – Jacques Yves Cousteau

    ” I am like the fish in the aquarium, adapting to a life that’s not my natural habitat. I am the people in the other cars, each with his own story, but passing too quickly to be noticed or understood. – David Levithan

    ” Aquarium fishes, even if they only imagine going to a lake, the windows of that aquarium will become thinner than before.” – Mehmet Murat Ildan

    We were made for the sea rather than aquariums.

  2. Awesome message Doug. I am so thankful that you are presenting this in the way that you are. I sincerely hope this blog makes its way out of the tank. I am sharing this on FB plus cutting and pasting it in emails to go to everyone I know. Thanks so much. You are a much loved brother.

    1. Thanks Mike. So glad we get to serve alongside each other. And thanks for sharing this. I hope it helps many see what God has for them. Getting to know Him better is at the center of this.

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