From Guts to Glory

How long can you hold your breath? When I was a swimmer, I could swim 75 meters underwater without taking a breath – about 3 minutes. Of course, I had to try holding it just now and I only held it for 1 minute (and I got a little panicky and lightheaded to do that!). Go ahead. You know you want to time yourself. I’ll wait. 😊

I met a man who was a pearl diver. He said he would spend 15 hours per day for 7 days to dive 15-25 feet below the surface of the ocean to harvest oysters. He did this without scuba equipment and a rudimentary mask. He said on average he is below the service 5 – 6 minutes per dive. In 15 hours, IF he only dives 4 times in one hour, that is 5 hours underwater in one day! I asked him what he liked best about pearls. He said, “They are so mysterious. Their beauty has a depth and dimension that is difficult to recreate. And they come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors.”

In Roman times, pearls were considered a sign of power and prestige. Julius Caesar actually made a law that only members of the ruling class could wear or own pearls. Even recently, Braves fans will forever be convinced that in 2021 a string of pearls was critical to their World Series Championship.

Jesus mentions pearls in a poignant passage in the gospel of Matthew. “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (13: 45-46) Even the description that Jesus gives to the apostle John in Revelation 21: 21 talks of the prominence of pearls in heaven: “The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl.” 

Why would Jesus liken the kingdom of heaven to pearls? Perhaps because of the amazing characteristics of pearls that we can relate to God’s magnificent creation, His love and provision for us, and His ability to make beauty out of pain and mess.

Let’s look at some of the characteristics of a pearl and compare to those of humans:

  • The pearl is the only natural gem that is at its peak value at the moment it is found. It doesn’t need man’s help. The quality of other gemstones is graded according to characteristics that are largely determined by the way it is beautified by human hands. For gems, we clean, then through radiography and finesse, the most significant portion of pure stone is selected. At that point, the outer, natural, less appealing part of the stone is cut away or polished off. After polishing, impurities that cannot be removed are strategically set so that the worst flaws are hidden.
  • We humans often allow our quality to be determined by others’ ideas about what is desirable about us and what should be cut away or hidden.
  • Pearls are the only gem that loses value if humans interfere with it. They are their most beautiful without manipulation. Most of the time, pearls that are deemed “unusual” or not in the shape we expect, have the most value.
  • The natural beauty of what God created in humans is unsurpassable in its own right.
  • Pearls are born out of an injury to a living organism in a slimy, watered-down environment. An irritant is introduced and the Lord equipped this marine animal with the tools necessary to smooth over this hurt with something beautiful. The more significant the injury, the more layers of nacre, God’s salve, is laid over it, and the more valuable the pearl is.
  • God has equipped humans with this same ability! We don’t have to live in the devastation of the hurt of emotional or physical wounds that we have received. Rather, with His help, the sharp edges of the injury can be smoothed out and something beautiful made from it. The more time and layers we allow God to add, the more radiant we become.
  • For pearls’ full beauty to be realized, the oyster has to die.
  • Jesus died for us to let us know just how valuable we are. In the middle of our mess and our hurts, He makes something beautiful. He pulls us out, sets us apart, and shows off His glory through us.

If you think of our society, most of the truly influential people emerge from past things that have injured them or held them back. Instead of becoming a victim of that trauma, they become triumphant because of the adversity. They learn and apply perseverance, and thus they overcome. They are like the priceless pearl developing from an irritant.

If we look at an oyster on the ocean floor, it isn’t much to look at. It has barnacles, sea moss, and dirt and no beautiful shape or color. On top of that, it has internal wounds. Yet God gives it this unique ability to overcome all of this in order to produce something incredible. He tells us at creation that we are so much more special to Him than the rest of His creation because we are made in His image and He desires a relationship with us. To fully experience the glory our Creator has in store for us, we have only to embrace Him and recognize the gem He made us to be.

* Image from Australian National Maritime Museum


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