Honestly, this whole idea of being a worthless clay jar can be somewhat discouraging. After all, a clay jar is fragile and can only withstand so much before it shatters. It can only be dropped or chipped or cracked so much before it comes apart all together and then there’s nothing left. Have you ever been at that point where you feel you just can’t take another hit or you’re going to come apart? I know I have. Okay… I’m there now.
Fortunately, we’re not alone in our discouragement. When Paul started writing the epistle of 2 Corinthians, he talked about receiving comfort of Jesus Christ in his troubles. And these were not just some little or light troubles because in verse 8 Paul says that he was weighed down with a burden that was beyond his ability to bear. As if to clarify how serious these troubles were, Paul says that he “despaired even of life/living.” In other words, Paul’s burdens were so crushing that he felt he was going to die. In v. 9 he said that he felt like he was living out a death sentence – that at any moment it was all going to come to an end. Now I don’t know about you, but that’s actually encouraging to me. That a spiritual “giant” like the Apostle Paul actually went through a time when he felt like his trials were going to kill him. I don’t know if this trial was something physical, emotional, or spiritual, other than that in 7:5 Paul said that there were “conflicts on the outside and fears within.” Paul was at such a loss during this extremely difficult time that he didn’t even know if he was going to make it through. Whew… so it’s not just me.
But what’s helpful to me is what Paul says immediately after this, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God…” Touché. The fact is that if God is going to break me, His clay jar, there’s nothing that I can do to keep myself together. So often, I feel like I have to keep it all together since that’s the respectable thing to do. After all, what would happen if everyone saw me come apart? Well, like we mentioned the last time, a lot of that depends on what’s in my jar. But if I’m filled with the treasure, then when I come apart people are going to see and get even more of the treasure. And that is the goal, right?
I believe that in my situation right now, God is trying to teach me this. He is teaching me to rely on Him and not on myself or worldly wisdom (1:12). He is teaching me that I am not competent to do anything on my own (2:16), but the competency comes because Christ has made me competent (3:5-6). And to teach me all that He has had to crack me and poke holes in me and break me in order to bring me to the point where I am dependent on Him and not on me. I just hope that I’m truly learning the lesson.
But another thing that I find interesting is that Paul says that we rely on God because He delivers us (1:10-11) and also because he raises the dead (1:9, 4:14). That is to say that we can have a double confidence in God. He can keep us, the clay jar, from going through the process of being broken or, if He smashes us, He can also put us back together. But we are powerless to do either and thus we must place all our confidence in Him, knowing that God is good and will use us in the way that He knows is best to further the gospel of His grace.
It is for this reason that Paul says twice in chapter 4 (v. 1, 16), “Therefore we do not lose heart.” Even though we may be cracked and coming apart, we must realize that we are being used by God to further the gospel of His grace and we must be drawing closer to him through the difficulties. And when we look at things through this eternal lens, we see that the burdens which had previously caused us to “despair even of life/living” are now nothing more than “light and momentary.” Hmmm… at this point, a light and momentary load sounds pretty good.