“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

I used to work for a company that made sponges from foamed polyurethane plastic. In the days before plastic came on the scene, sponges were made from … well … sponges.

A natural sponge is a simple sea animal that filters water through its porous body to take in oxygen and nutrients and expel wastes. Most of them have hard calcified bodies but a few have soft bodies.  For thousands of years, fishermen have been retrieving these soft guys and selling them for use as cleaning tools, padding, drinking instruments and pretty much anything we use sponges for today.

Fritz Nauer, the man who founded the company I worked for, began his business in the early part of the 20th century by collecting sea sponges from fishermen, cleaning, grading and reselling them.

I learned something very important from him about sea sponges. The easiest sponges to harvest were from the bays and waters where the land protected the sea from rough weather and wind that caused waves and turbulence. Rough seas made it more difficult for the fishermen to retrieve sponges so sponges from calm water areas were plentiful and cheap because they were easy for the fishermen to get to and sponges from open water and turbulent areas were not as plentiful and they were more expensive.

But young Fritz noticed something about the cheap, plentiful sponges harvested from smooth water – they didn’t hold up as well as the ‘rough-water’ sponges. It seems the sponges growing in rough water, because of the currents and turbulence, had built up thicker and stronger cell walls to adapt to their conditions. Those raised in smooth water didn’t need to; they survived their easy environment just fine without the added internal strength and toughness.

The rough water sponges were more expensive, but they were a superior product, so Fritz focused his business on these tough, long lasting, sponges and developed a reputation as the highest quality sponge supplier in Europe – the rest is sponge history.


We’ve been through some pretty rough waters lately. The US economy is in free fall, and since the US is the world’s biggest customer, most other world economies are as bad off or worse. Political times are interesting to say the least. We’ve got a new President who has promised change … well, we got change. Even with a new ‘world-friendly’ President our enemies are still bound and determined to bring us to our knees and our friends are waiting to see if we’ll become more like them so we really can be friends. But I’m not so sure becoming more like them is going to do us any good or make us better friends.

Any way you shake it, where we are today is a more turbulent place than where we’ve been in a while. And from the looks of it, the seas are going to be rough for a while yet. But that’s the good news. Rough water makes the best sponges and we’re living in rough water. Yippee!

We’ve lived in a pretty fat world for a long time. Most folks have adopted the idea that success is all about getting fatter. But you and I know different. Success is about finishing the race, and fat people make poor racers. I know the water is rough right now. Ease is easier and pain hurts, whether it’s good for us in the long term or not. But here is where we are, so we’re going to use here to its fullest potential.

“Count it pure joy.” Trial creates perseverance; perseverance creates maturity, completeness and fulfillment … and that’s what success is all about, isn’t it?


For the next several weeks we’re going to talk about thriving in tough times. I was going to call this series ‘Surviving the Times,’ but that’s a cop out. “Surviving” implies coming out of this weak, under-nourished and scrawny – having ‘survived’ the times. We’re going to “Thrive”; using this time to practice the true principles of success and come out the other end stronger, tougher and more ‘complete’ than we ever could have been without the blessing of living through rough waters. We’ll make Fritz Nauer proud.

If you think Purpose Weekly tends to be a little too ‘spiritual’ or ‘cerebral’ and not ‘practical,’ the weeks ahead are for you. It’s all meat and potatoes – a “How-To Guide” for success in tough times. You know how people say about rich folks, “you can’t take it with you”? This kind of success you can. Here are some of the principles we’re going to cover in the weeks ahead:

  1. Adopting a truly Christian worldview.
  2. Putting spiritual priorities ahead of physical priorities.
  3. Attending to physical priorities.
  4. Living a stewardship lifestyle
  5. Pursuing your God ordained purpose.
  6. Getting out of debt.
  7. Tempering your faith in world systems.
  8. Living in community
  9. Preparing for tough times
  10. Purpose behind tough times – there’s a line at the door and you’ve got the key.
  11. Remembering your citizenship

Don’t miss the weeks ahead, they may be the best we’ve seen yet.

Until next week, enjoy the waves.

Steve Spillman