But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)
By midwinter, the empty canning jars on my basement shelves are beginning to overtake the number of full jars. Clear glass glints beside the jewel-toned beets, briny pickles, and thick spaghetti sauce. By practicing the dying art of canning, I pay attention to these containers, knowing that a family can put away as many as sixty quarts of green beans in the space of those seasons between gardens. Truly, the container is secondary to the contents.
The realities of life in an aging body keep me conscious of another container. Paul the Apostle would have called it a clay pot.
That image suits me well.
Sturdy. At least, I’ve always thought so.
But, feeling the brittleness of my mortal clay, it’s clear to me that I’m prone to breaking, and the sharp edges leave me bent some mornings and moving about with caution.
On one level or another, everyone fights the battle of fragility at some point in life.
So lest I fall into the mistaken notion that New Testament saints were bullet proof, I return to the words of Paul who strains his apostolic thesaurus to come up with metaphors adequate to the description of his own deep need:
“We are hard pressed.”
Did his time move relentlessly forward as the work piled higher?
Did mounting expenses dwarf his income and suck the air out of his dreams?
“We are perplexed.”
Endless word of widespread persecution and death may have mirrored our present-day newsfeed, blaring a stream of events so unbelievable that emotions struggle to keep pace.
How does one meet all the needs, answer all the objections, filter all the choices?
The perplexity and the pressure are overwhelming to me, but Paul seemed actually to be strengthened by it:
“We are not crushed.”
Across the centuries, I strain my ears for the Uncrushable Wisdom, listening for a raspy voice, ruined from the blatant misuse of vocal cords in outdoor speaking engagements and thick with gravel from having traveled around in a tired body. In exchange for Paul’s emptiness, God offered treasure: “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God,” (II Co. 4:6 ESV). He became so full that the sheer force of Jesus’ life offset the pressure and permeated all the empty spaces.
I’d love to make that man a sandwich and sit down with him for just a few minutes – or even to stand at the kitchen counter. I want to ask him how it all worked for him.
Here’s what I think Paul would say:
“All you have to be is desperate.”
My emptiness is an invitation for God to pour His fullness into me—whatever my assignment for 2020. By filling and indwelling believers, Jesus makes sure that the world will continue to see God in the flesh. As God’s expression of what He is like, we become broken bread and poured out wine.
There is no greater fullness.
Trusting in the “surpassing power,”
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