“The Secret to Wholeness Can Be Found in the Jar”
After reading this Passage of scripture, as usual I had to do some research on this passage so of course I had to look up the meaning of “jars of clay.” One of the definitions said that the jars of clay would have brought to mind a common household jar—probably inexpensive and fairly easy to break. It would probably have cracks and chips from being well used. Look to your neighbor and tell them my jar has cracks in it. Turn to your other neighbor and tell them, “Girl, mine too! There is so much to get from this verse, but the idea that struck me was once that jar of clay is broken, it allows the inside to be seen and the contents to flow outward. Just as light can shine through or water can spill out of the cracks of a broken pot, God will show through our brokenness….through our cracks! God intends to bless the world by “hiding” the gospel in “jars of clay” that don’t seem very impressive by worldly standards. Paul uses the phrase “jars of clay” in reference to Genesis 2:7 which says “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” We are all earthen vessels (made of clay).
Of course, there are all kinds and grades of clay. Some of us are rather fine china -- we crack easily – yet we still have a very fine texture, though, it is nothing more than clay. Others of us are more like sun-dried mud, and we crumble at the first site of a storm that comes our way! But at any rate the matter is gathered up in this one phrase -- earthen vessels. We are all made of common clay and that is why we all face the same problems. Regardless of how the clay jar looks on the outside, the most important thing to remember about the jar of clay is that it be cleaned, emptied, and made available for service. We are the jars of clay that God wants to use and that He will use. We are earthen vessels so that we might depend on God’s power and not our own. We must focus on the treasure inside the jar and not on the ‘jar’ itself!
Many years ago long before his fall from Fame to Shame, Bill Cosby did a routine about little old ladies standing around looking cool. He says that if you mess with one of these harmless-looking, gray-haired little old ladies, don’t imagine that you can take them on and win. Mr. Cosby goes on to say, you ought to never mess with a little old lady standing around looking cool. They may look small and sweet and weak. But just when you least expect it, that little old lady standing around looking cool will say something to stop you in your tracks and cut you down to size! Mr. Cosby went on to say that even grumpy old Goliaths have been reduced to tears by little old ladies standing around looking cool. In fact, says Mr. Cosby, that’s how you get to be a little old lady, by standing around looking cool!
Standing around looking cool is relevant to what Paul has gone through in his life meaning that if you can keep yourself together no matter what is going on around you; if you can remember the priceless treasure that’s in your clay jar, you can make it! You can be strong! You can prevail!
Why doesn’t God put His valuables in the most valuable looking containers you ask? God wants the world to see what He can do through weak jars of clay so that others will come to believe in Him. That’s why he puts the treasure of the gospel in these fragile “jars of clay”. You may think they you are not valuable enough for God to be able to use because you think you may have too many ‘cracks’ or too many chips in your jar in other words…too many past or present problems and failures. Listen, the true value is NOT us ourselves but the value or treasure is Him who is in us. The weaker we are, the more He can do through us! God’s formula for getting Himself out of us and into the world is often using the difficult moments of life. You know….those strong storms that come in our lives and seemingly never leave!
Honestly, I don’t think we as Christians have any more difficulties than non-Christians but probably even more! As Christians we suffer through sickness, as Christians we experience financial difficulties from time to time, we as Christians struggle at work with that crazy boss, we struggle with challenging family matters, with those children who think that the world owes them something! My point is this…..even through all of our struggles; God will use our life challenges as evidence to the world of His presence in our lives.
What is the most inexpensive container you have ever put something of value in? Was it money in a sock, or under the mattress or in a cigar box? God chose to place the very presence of His Holy Spirit in fragile and weak human vessels. Too many of us get so distracted by who we are rather than Who He is in us! Then we try to do things by our own power rather than allowing the power of the Holy Spirit inside of us to work on our behalf. Shame on us if we value ourselves highly and get caught up in our titles and prestige, and full of pride thinking we are all that when the truth is we are none of that! The Word of the Lord says…I will break down your stubborn pride. Leviticus 26:19.
Why do you think so many of our Bible heroes had such serious flaws. Because that’s all God had to work with! And today, we are still all He has to work with! Let me give you some samples of some defective clay pots before us…….
Abraham was guilty of dishonesty and yet he became the man of faith and the friend of God.
Moses, another clay pot, whom studdered in speech and had a quick temper, yet he was the man chosen to make a nation and to commune with God, to receive the Law.
David, another clay pot, was guilty of adultery and murder but he repented and became a man after God's own heart.
Elijah ran from Jezebel and sat under a juniper tree, angry at God, but he had just stood on Mount Carmel and defied Ahab and all the prophets of Baal and now he sinks to this low level. But even Elijah heard the still small voice of God at Horeb and was used mightily.
Isaiah; who in the presence of God admitted that he was a man with unclean lips and yet it was he that God called and used mightily.
Peter the leader and the spokesman of the Twelve, Peter who failed so many times and finally when everything was really on the line denied his Lord with cursing and oaths and was later restored by the compassion of Jesus to the most effective and powerful ministry to that point, 3,000 people repenting at his one sermon on the day of Pentecost.
John the Apostle; who expected to be praised by Jesus for refusing to allow a man not of their company to cast out demons, John who with James wanted to call down fire from heaven and burn up a whole Samaritan village, John who along with his brother and his mother came and asked Jesus to put them on the right and the left hand in the Kingdom...a very blatant act of pride... It was John who became the beloved disciple, the Apostle of love, the eagle who soared to great heights and of all the Apostles perhaps the one who pierced most deeply into the mystery of Christ as the Son of God.
All defective jars of clay! Remember that All the perfect people are already in heaven. But until our time of transition to Glory, God will continue to use who He has! And that would be us who are quite often stubborn, and pig-headed, BUT, He will do some marvelous things through us! Amen! When God chooses to use us, who are damaged, defective and weak, God alone gets the glory when WE, those same messed up folk who are ‘toe up from the flo up”, have been wounded by the world and have been broken by trial after trial to accomplish the impossible by His power! Somebody shout hallelujah!
Listen to this….People fill themselves with false treasures so then when the clay jar gets broken it reveals the FALSE treasures that WE have stored inside of us! The tainted contents inside the clay jar are then exposed and we realize what WE have stored inside our ‘jar’ like anger, resentment, confusion, fear, sadness, loneliness and it is ALL useless! But God! What God has stored inside all of us (these fragile and unworthy jars of clay) is EVERYTHING we will ever need to make us WHOLE! If you profess to be God’s daughter, then you HAVE THIS PRECIOUS TREASURE STORED INSIDE OF YOU and IT ’S POWER IS THE SECRET THAT IS ABLE TO TAKE CARE OF ALL THAT AILS YOU!
You see, the presence of God who resides in us is far more valuable than we are! We are valuable because of WHO lives in us! God’s power is different from the kind of power the world thinks of. God’s power does not CRUSH or DE-VALUE His people as the world does. God’s power instead unites people, God’s power tears down walls, God’s power restores marriages, God’s power rebuilds families, heal broken hearts, forgive the deepest sins, impart hope in what looks like a hopeless situation! Not only that, God can give you light in spite of the cracks and chips in your jar! Light to bring you out of darkness! Now that’s good news for somebody!
Principles to release the secret in the clay jar during trials and tribulations:
1. Instead of running for cover during the storms, we must learn to dance in the rain. (When storms come, we must understand that God has His hand on us and that we will not be moved. He never promised us a perfect life. Jesus told us, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted 2 Timothy 3:12. Learn to refer to your stored treasure in your earthly clay pot! Even though it’s raining trials and tribulations in your life right now, just start dancing just like David! Get undignified with it! Just dance before the Lord like you have lost your mind!
2. Having enough faith in the treasure (God’s Spirit) stored in your clay pot to face life’s challenges head on without fear. (You have been a witness to God’s power to see you through the storms before. Trust and believe that He will do it again. Now is not the time to stick your head in the sand hoping that the situation will diminish by itself! Be bold knowing that the Holy Spirit is with us guiding us, leading us! Be that “tree planted by the water in Jeremiah 17:8 It says” They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.””…Remember…God did not give us the “spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind!”2 Timothy 1:7)
3. Stop focusing on how the situation looks and fixate your eyes on the unseen. (Don’t you dare stop praising and worshipping God during your storms! Put your faith to work! I know things look really bad right now! I know that it seems impossible to overcome the situation right now! But listen, I stopped by today to tell you that our God is a God who can do the impossible! Remember as Paul was suffering with the infliction of a thorn in his side. God said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…. 12:9". Just trust and believe.) Paul said his troubles affected his body. In the end, they would cause death. But as his body got weaker, his *spiritual life got stronger. He could see with his eyes the weakness of his body. But he knew that his *spiritual life was growing. His troubles would help him to reach an *eternal *glory. That would be much greater than his troubles could ever be. The troubles showed that nothing in this world would last. He turned his attention to the *unseen things that would last for all time. He prepared for them. Go ahead and get your praise on anyhow even though you cannot see a way around, nor a way over and not even a way through because you are too focused on the situation. Take your focus off the situation and put your focus on God!
4. Understand that during the storm, know to expect a few scrapes and bruises. (Many of us are going through difficult times and struggling with major issues like our health, our finances, family matters, addictions or abusive relationships. But the good news is that there is hope so do not lose heart. It will not be easy getting through the devastating life storms, but I can assure you that God will not waste your pain and suffering. He allows things to happen to test your faith. The way we respond to the storms in our life determines if we will stand or fall. When God brings you out of something, He wants you to give Him the Glory, Honor and Praise so that the world can witness His power and might that brought you out and not you!! Not only that, God wants you to share your testimony and how God brought you through so that others may come to know Him! Will you curse Him or will you trust?).
Christ died for our sins upon the cross. As we believe in Him and follow His teachings, He can help us deal with our brokenness in order for us to be made whole again. In fact, in order for us to be restored to wholeness, we must realize that we have to be healed by a power greater than ourselves. Thus, we must remember the treasure that is inside of our jar! Tell your neighbor “the secret is inside my clay jar”. Tell your other neighbor “Yea, mine too!”
So many people have received this false ideology that once you surrender your life to the Lord everything is smooth sailing from there on out, and you are given a prestigious membership in a red carpet club through life, so that mysterious bridges will appear over valleys, the winds are tempered for you, and there are no pressures, no difficulties, no problems.
Let’s go back to the text. Let me remind you again what Paul said. He said…”We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 RSV) A very descriptive account of all that he had faced in His life and all that we can expect in our lives as Christians. All the problems and all the pressures that Paul describes are all still here. This is life in the raw. Let’s take a closer look at Paul’s points.
Afflictions: These are the normal life pressures which everybody faces, Christian and non-Christian alike. Times when we feel like the life is literally being squeezed out of us. The analogy of this kind of pressure can be compared to that of an olive being squeezed with an olive press. Have you ever felt like that in your life? The pressures of life may squeeze us but the Power of God stored in our “jar” we are not crushed; we are not in despair, nor have we been forsaken or abandoned and God’s power will not allow us to be destroyed or knocked out. Our afflictions DID NOT KILL US! That’s a reason to shout right there! God is far more interested in our character than our comfort! Let me say that again, God is far more interested in our character than our comfort! Our relationship with God and our character are the ONLY 2 things we will take with take with us into eternity! The Good News is this: We can see help in God, and we have carte blanche access to God! It’s all in our jar of clay!
Perplexities: Referring to all the pressing calls for decisions, when we don't know what to decide. We are at a loss, at our wits end, we can't see the end, and we are not comfortable not knowing how everything will turn out. Being afflicted with fears, anxieties, worries, and uncertainties, are all grouped into one word as Paul says "perplexities." Romans 12:12 says….”Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Even in our greatest perplexities, knowing that God is able to support us, and to deliver us!
Persecutions: These are the misunderstandings we all run up against, the ostracisms, the cold shoulders that we get from others at times, the malicious actions and attitudes, deliberate slights “throwing shade”, attacks to our character, our reputation, being pursued by hatred and violence everywhere, we are sometimes forsaken by those who calls us a “friend” as well as being persecuted by our enemies! But God…will NEVER leave us nor forsake us! Deut. 31:6 says…” Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Somebody needed to be reminded of God’s promise today!
And lastly Paul speaks of being………….
Struck Down: You know, those life blows which came at us from the middle of NOWHERE -- accidents, fatal illnesses, job losses, earthquake, riot, devastating storms, and just plain insanity -- these unexpected episodes can shatter a family or an individual, and can leave us with fear and uncertainty. All these things are part of normal Christian experience. There is no change in the problems, just the pressures. There is no suffering, no affliction, which God will allow to ultimately defeat and destroy us! It’s not that we won’t fall from time to time, but when we do, God will raise us up again! Isaiah 41:10….” Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Paul’s reaction to the 4 points are encouraging to us as he says "Afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed." There is this magnificent power stored within our ‘jar’, different than anything else that we have experienced, which keeps pushing back with equal pressure against whatever comes from without, so that we are not destroyed, not crushed or despairing. That is the way Christian life is intended to be. We are called to this kind of victorious experience.
The point that Paul is making here, is this: we are able to meet the pressures with an answering inner pressure (through our stored treasure), not only in the big things but in the little things as well. We are preserved by the One who created us! We are kept by the One who lives in us! Whatever our condition may be currently or whatever our condition was in the past, we ought to be shouting, thanking God and grateful for the “BUT GOD” experience in our lives! God works through the Scriptures to teach us the attitude we should have, and the circumstances in our lives which allows us to experience it, so that the light hidden within the clay jar, the treasure hidden within the clay jar, can break out, and men and women may see it, and be blessed and strengthened. This is how we are assured that the secret is in our jar…that resurrection power stored in our jars is a testament that ALL POWER is from the Lord!
But for the Believers, Paul says, there is no ultimate destruction. The reality of all of this is that we live in a fallen and sinful world. It is a world that breeds affliction, perplexity, persecution, and catastrophe. We cannot escape the universal suffering in this world. No matter how closely we may walk with the Lord we can experience any of these difficulties. But out of that, God wants to demonstrate a different reaction and a different attitude than a nonbeliever going through the same experience.
In the midst of the difficulties there is an inner peace within us that surpasses all understanding, a feeling of confidence in knowing there is HOPE! In us there is endurance, patience, joy, thankfulness, and an attitude of gratitude. When there is every reason in the world to be impatient, but God gives us endurance. That is what God wants to do for us. It can't be explained in terms of our own natural resources…. physically, emotionally, nor relationally. The only explanation can be that, God is at work. It's got to be evident that the power belongs to God and not to us. The apostle Paul accepted his difficulties in life and the fact that he was weak showed that He was fragile, and an ordinary clay pot. Paul learned through a lifetime (and it does take a lifetime, we don't learn this overnight) that what really filled him up was what really mattered, "the surpassing greatness of the power of God."
In closing Paul says “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Problems, when responded to correctly, are character builders. Paul emphasized that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).
It is not the burdens of life that weigh us down; it is how we handle them. Remember God is always at work in your life - even when you do not recognize it or understand it. We get so caught up in worries, stress and daily struggles and we begin to lose hope and our faith begins to waver because we are looking for alternative sources for help us rather than seeking the powerful treasure stored in these old cracked, chipped, fragile jars of clay! Remember the Lord is in the storm with you! Keep your eyes on Him during the storm instead of the situation! Don’t grow weary! Don’t give in! Don’t give out! You can make it! Let the gospel shine through the cracks and crevasses of your brokenness! We have the Comforter with us, our Redeemer, the Holy Spirit, the Good Shepherd, Our Savior that lives within us, we have more than a promise, we have the deposit for our eternal destiny through Jesus Christ our Lord. How do I know He lives because, He lives in me! The treasure inside our vessel gives us the victory because of what Jesus did for us!
At the end of the day, wholeness is what we want. We want to be whole in body, soul, and spirit, but we cannot be made whole on our own. The secret to wholeness is our stored treasure in our jars, the resurrection of Christ that lives within us and has been there all along. Will you relinquish complete control to Him today?
Our Father, we need periodic reminders of what we are in ourselves -- empty pots made to contain God, made to hold the Almighty, we are useless and meaningless and empty without him. Lord, we pray that we may learn to accept the experiences which come our way with gladness, with cheerfulness and understanding so that we will look to you Oh Lord to rely upon your grace. And even more, that we may learn to accept these snubs to our ego, these humiliating experiences which crush us, but which also produce the life of Jesus within us. Help us to do this in honesty and genuineness today. We ask in Christ's name, Amen.