We love science at our house. We tend to geek out about things like the stinging technique of the fire ant or the fact that elephants actually shed tears when they are sad. We love shows about black holes in the expanse of the universe and unimaginable mysteries of the deep. So it came as no surprise when the other day my seventh grader crushed a water bottle, put the cap back on, and gave it to my second-grader, challenging her to “uncrush” the bottle. As much as she tried, she could not restore the water bottle to its original shape.
My son then explained in detail the specifics about force. He told her that because there was nothing inside the bottle to equalize the pressure that was being exerted from the outside, it would stay crushed.
All of this science was on my brain when my Bible study brought me to 2 Corinthians 4:7.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
While jars of clay is obviously a good picture for us to go off of, in the original Greek, the term used is earthen vessels. For some reason, this conjures up a little more meaning for me. When I looked up the Greek word for earthen, ŏstrakinŏs, I discovered that it means “earthenware; by implication, frail.”
There you have it. We are earthen vessels and we are frail. Truth be told, we are very frail. We crush and crack so easily don’t we? Most days, it takes far too little to compromise my strength and shatter my resolve. A difficult morning with my children starts a small crack that grows over the course of day, eventually becoming a gaping chasm. A disagreement with my husband creates a miniscule nick that deepens and leaves me feeling empty and injured. An unkind word or misplaced judgment. An unexpected expense or a last-minute addition to an already packed day. All minor things, really, but enough to call into question my structural integrity. Things don’t go as expected or planned and I begin to crack. Sooner than later, I feel utterly crushed by the weight of life’s difficulties that inevitably pile up.
It’s not chance or bad luck that God created us to be frail. He meant for us, when left to our own limited strength, to collapse under the pressure. It is this truth that brings us full circle back to the water bottle experiment. Just like that plastic vessel, when we are empty, we are utterly unable to combat or overcome all the pressures that surround us. With nothing to help us withstand life’s stresses and demands, we simply can’t hold up. The forces without are exponentially stronger than the forces within.
Unless we aren’t empty. Unless we make sure what we’re filled with outweighs and counteracts what’s pushing in on us. The truth is, we were never meant to be empty. “We have this treasure…”
Eugene Peterson’s translation of Romans 15:13 offers a wonderful picture of exactly what that treasure is.
“Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!”
The Message Bible
We are meant to be filled. But not filled with just anything. Filled with joy –the joy that comes from anticipating the fulfillment of Scripture’s promises. Filled with peace –the peace that abides when we take God at his word and trust that He is faithful and good. Filled with the Holy Spirit – God’s very Spirit breathed in us to comfort and equip. This joy, this peace, this gift of the Holy Spirit leads to a founded hope. As Christ believers, when we are filled, the result will be an overflowing source of hope. Hope that our circumstances will not define us. Hope that our trials and difficulties will not doom us. Hope that the mishaps on this earth will not hinder us. Hope that the God of the universe knows our name and calls us child. The best news in all of this is that, over and over, Scripture tells us that our hope is never in vain. Our hope is in a God who always delivers.
“…in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began…”
Titus 1:2 ESV
Life can be so hard, can’t it? We rush around just trying to keep our heads on straight and not lose our keys. The pressures are unceasing and most days we are holding it all together with filaments no stronger than dental floss. Our earthen vessels crack and ding and dent and some days it feels as if one more hit will burst us and everything we’ve been working so hard to harvest will be lost in one fell swoop.
Leading up to this post, I had a doozy of a morning. My oldest son, who has increasing struggles getting out of bed, missed the bus and needed to be driven to school. Meanwhile, my middle child announced at 9:30 last night that he had lost a flash drive that contained an elaborate project that is due today. In an effort to recover it, I planned on getting him to school early to look for it. So at 7:44am, I realized that I had precisely 16 minutes to get my highschooler to his destination, return home, pack a lunch and get the next one to middle school. It couldn’t be done. Unless the sun literally stopped rising and time came to a pause, it wasn’t humanly possible. And a crack began to form.
Returning home after the frenzy, I knew it was time for some patchwork. My jar of clay was in danger of being compromised and unless I acted with haste and intention, the inevitable demands of the day would surely cause collapse. So sitting in my favorite spot in my sunny kitchen, with my canine buddies lazing on the floor, I prayed for an outpouring of God’s spirit into my day. I prayed that, despite the forces without, He would fill me and shore me up within.
We were never created to be empty. We may be jars of clay, but we are His jars of clay and the full measure of His grace, joy and peace are readily available to fill us and encourage us when life presses in. Take heart, dear sisters and brothers, our earthen vessels hold a marvelous treasure that brings abundant hope for a glorious future.