In the middle of my office squalor, I have this large whiteboard with pictures of my family and 2 Corinthians 4 scrawled all over it in big black letters. I think I did that a couple months ago after reading the passage for, what it felt like, the first time and feeling like Paul wrote it for me – for my very own encouragement and comfort. Undoubtedly, it has encouraged thousands of believers before me, but it spoke to me like it was for me. I love that.
There is this phrase in the passage that reads: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-9
I have this imagery in my mind of clay pottery or even a piece of dainty, cream and tiffany blue colored china shattered into 4 or five pieces; sharp and angry sides becoming the reality, where before there was clean, focused attention on the thing itself. When it was intact, you held it up to the sunlight and you saw Granny’s best china that she only took out for Sunday dinner, or perhaps only for the best occasions. Or perhaps you saw the clay pottery and thought of how great and useful it was of the flea market you bought it at and how warm it was that day and how there truly were numerous fleas buzzing around your head. At any rate, you think of the thing itself and the purpose for which it holds or why it is special to you.
The more I read that passage in Corinthians, the more I read it to be speaking of the jar of clay that I am – I, being a rough-in-the-works pottery of Jesus’. It’s weak, this pottery. It’s prone to self-dependence and self-righteousness. It’s prone to point at its clay face and yell and holler to attract attention and hope that people will stop and tell it how beautiful it is. It’s prone to selfish entitlement, and most of all, it’s prone to self-acknowledgement. The idea that it is good in and of itself.
Andy Squyres writes beautiful lyrics, but some of them especially caught my attention the other day:
“Despite my attempts
To avoid this affliction
I’ve failed to resist this earthly thorn
It turns like a screw into all my revelation
Twisting my sinew and bone
So I’ll drag my leg slowly behind me
Through fields that will always be stained
It’s true that I’ve lost ones I love
In the meantime, I will not labor in vain”
[Labor in Vain, Andy Squyres]
It is no fun to have a leg that drags or a thorn that it screwed into your side and up into your ribs; it is no fun to have affliction and heartache and to feel hard pressed and crushed on every side. It is no fun to feel a slap on the face one moment then a punch in the jaw the next. But we are not made better by sitting on fancy china shelves for people to admire us. We are not changing into a likeness that’s not our own by having dainty, careful hands merely polish us and then leaving us otherwise untouched and unaltered.
We bless the leg that drags. We bless the broken china and the jars of clay and the heartache that makes us feel human and feel our need for a holy and loving God. Bless the God that gives us affliction to help us understand that the “all-surpassing power” belongs to God and not to us. Bless the hand that has shaped us as clay and not as gold or silver with which we could admire our reflection in. Bless the flame that kills the dross with its heat and drives us to a purer creation. Bless the hard “crack!” of broken pottery because in it, we’re not seen as ourselves anymore.
Hold it up into the sunlight and you won’t think of it anymore.