Today, I am an addiction counselor/ professional, chaplain and have even written a book “Hiding in the Shadows”, but my life hasn’t always been walked on this path. Raised in church and Christian schools I knew God, I should say I had a knowledge of God, but I chose a far different path for my life. The reason I became an addiction counselor is because I have been in that lifestyle, and now how real it can become. How hard the cycle is to break. I cost me everything I had. I didn’t lose it, I gave it away, by the choices I made. But today, it has all been restored. God took away everything to show me that anything I do, anything I have, anything I accomplish, is because of Him and only through Him.
I’ve grown stronger in my weakness because my prayers have never been so honest. My need has never been so great. My dependence has never been so fervent. I realized that God is Jehovah Jireh, my provider … not me. It doesn’t matter if my income is a disability check or a payment for work completed. It all comes from Him. Sometimes God provides the ability to give; sometimes He requires the humility to receive.
The Treasure We Carry
It’s humbling that God can best use us when others view us through our weaknesses. Second Corinthians 4:7 reminds us, “Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us.” As Rick Warren’s popular book, The Purpose Driven Life, begins, “It’s not about us.” Each of us has an important contribution to make to the kingdom of Christ, and to fulfill it, we must recognize that we carry a treasure — the life of Christ — in our lives. It’s cliché but true; we’re the only Bible some people ever read. What version are you conveying?
Grammy-award-winning band Jars of Clay was so inspired by the imagery of 2 Corinthians 4:7 that they derived their name from it. Jars member Steve Mason explains, “As Christians, the biggest thing we can do to renew ourselves to the gospel is to understand how great a need we have for God through the person of Jesus. That’s what the image of the jar of clay means — being in a continual posture of recognizing the great need we have and who’s meant to fill that need, who fills the jar of clay.”
In biblical times, “It was customary to conceal treasure in clay jars, which had little value or beauty and did not attract attention to themselves and their precious contents,” notes the NIV Study Bible in reference to 2 Corinthians 4:7. The decanter was just a decoy. In the same way, we are challenged to constantly consider that what we contain is much more valuable than the container that carries it.
Living in Cracked Pots
The world tells us we must be attractive, intelligent, and wealthy to be worthy of the admiration of others. God’s Word tells us that it is in our frailties, our most humble and shameful moments, that He is closest to us. In fact, it’s only in our most vulnerable moments that He is best able to fine-tune us into exactly what He created us to be.
Rob Bell, pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., uses contemporary culture to convey powerful truths in his NOOMAs (MTV-meets-Sunday School mini-video messages). In the episode “Rain,” Bell is hiking around a lake with his infant son, Trace. At the mid-point, it starts to rain. Trace, in a hiking backpack, is soaked because he pulled down his hood. When Bell hears his son’s screams, he stops, stoops down, and gently tucks Trace close to his heart. As they make their way back, this father whispers words of comfort to his son. Bell reflects on that precious memory by noting that if it had not rained, he wouldn’t have had that intimate moment with his son. In the same way, when life is going well, we don’t need God with the urgent desperation that we experience when we are hit with stunning news:
“We’re downsizing and … ”
“There was an accident. I’m sorry to say …”
“I don’t love you anymore. I want a divorce.”
The apostle Paul was no stranger to difficult circumstances. In 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, he airs a laundry list of afflictions: imprisonment, floggings, exposure to death, beatings, stonings, and a shipwreck. Paul certainly did not desire these difficulties; in fact, he writes that three times he asked God to remove a “thorn in the flesh.” God’s reply to Paul is His response to us today, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
As Christians, one of the most difficult desires to submit to God is the idea that we can demand Him to model us in the image we have in mind: married by 25, kids by 30, vice president by 35 … healthy parents, nice house, size-six self (or spouse), and money to buy what we want, when we want it. The danger in this desire is that it presumes that we know better than God the purposes He planned for us.
Romans 9:20-21 says, “But who are you — anyone who talks back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Or has the potter no right over His clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor?”
The reality is that without the test, there’s no testimony. Without the struggle, there’s no growth. Without failure, there’s no fruition. Second Corinthians 4:8-9, which follows the reference to jars of clay, reveals our hope: “We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed.” There’s nothing wrong with being weak. Weak does not mean passive, helpless, or ineffective. Weakness has more to do with an accurate perspective of the source of our strength. In admitting our weaknesses, we affirm God’s strength.
With this perspective, we realize that we can be hurt but not helpless. We can be broke but not broken. We can be limited but not lacking. We can be single but not solitary. Mason explains that our frailties should not make us fearful, rather they are arrows, pointing us to our need for God. “When things weigh us down, or you see yourself in a shameful light and you feel like you don’t deserve God’s love because of things in the past, understand that grace covers all. Be encouraged in that process. We will fail, but that’s ultimately why we need the gospel.”
When we recognize the value and vulnerability of our vessels, we’ll begin to care for them as God desires. And we’ll become beautiful clay pots tested by fire, filled with living water, and displayed for others to see — cracks and all.