I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the thoughts and words of this reading that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
2 Corinthians 4:7-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
Of all the people on the pages of the Bible who knew what it was to face the harshness of life–it was the Apostle Paul. The lines that best describe Paul’s life of adversity came from the 4th Chapter of 2 Corinthians. You notice that our reading for today begins with the word “but,” so clearly something comes before that. Here’s what comes before: “Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Then comes today’s reading: “But we have this treasure in clay jars…” Clay jars are simple, unadorned, and fragile. God’s mercy and God’s light that shines in even the deepest darkness is the treasure that we carry in simple, unadorned, fragile clay jars. This treasure is found in unlikely containers:
Moses: “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? … If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once — if I have found favor in your sight — and do not let me see my misery.” This seriously depressed man feels so flattened by circumstances that he literally prays, “God, if you love me, please kill me.”
Elijah: Here’s a paraphrased cry of the heart from 1 Kings 19: “I have had enough, Lord … I’m the only one left who really cares about you, I’ve done everything that you asked me, and what do I get for my trouble? Right now there’s a posse out hunting for my head.”
Jeremiah: God worked through him in dramatic ways during difficult times. Yet he prayed, “Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, ‘A child is born to you — a son!’ Why didn’t he just kill me in my womb? Why was I ever born to see all this trouble and sorrow?” This is exasperation at a level beyond Prozac. Have you ever seriously concluded that the world would be a better place if you had never entered it? Then you can relate to the prayer life of Jeremiah.
The big names of the Bible frequently relate to God out of emptiness, not out of anything that resembles fullness. Where spiritual courage and trust are demanded, they routinely display weakness. By grace God’s champions were destined to become whole people — but only because they first were broken people. There are more on the list: David, the Disciples of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, to name only a few.
Paul frames our condition in verse 7 of our text: “But we have this treasure in clay jars….” In other words, God has chosen to store the riches of heaven in fragile containers. In the first century the most durable containers were carved out of stone. A rich family might keep their prized possessions in a box made of alabaster. Clay pots, on the other hand, were a dime a dozen. It was unthinkable that a clay jar should be the container of anything worth keeping permanently.
Yet, God places heaven’s greatest treasures and entrusts heaven’s highest missions to jars of clay like you and me. Our adequacy is not the point. Our inadequacy is not the point. God’s adequacy is the point. By God’s grace, we can use our brokenness and pain—our fragile clay jar—to carry the treasures of love, grace, trust, and hope.
In his book The Clown in the Belfry, Frederick Buechner tells of a painful childhood experience he endured. Buechner’s father was a heavy drinker. His mother often turned to Frederick, even as a child, to sympathize with her and help her in her struggles with his father. One night, Buechner’s father had been drinking, and decided he wanted to go for a drive. Buechner’s mother refused to give him the keys. Instead, she took the car keys upstairs and handed them to the child Frederick, telling him to keep these keys away from his father. Frederick clenched one little fist around those keys and thrust his fist under his pillow. Then he pulled the covers over his head. A minute later, his father came into the room, drunk and begging for his keys. Imagine the sadness of this scene: A father sitting on the edge of a bed begging his little son for his car keys. Mrs. Buechner came into the room and ridiculed her husband for humiliating himself in front of his son. But he just kept on begging.
Many years later, Frederick Buechner wrote about this experience in one of his books. In a religious retreat he read this story aloud to a group. After the reading, Howard Butt (the CEO of the HEB grocery chain) approached Buechner. “You have had a good deal of pain in your life,” said Butts, “and you have been a good steward of it.” Those words struck Buechner. Like most of us, he had always connected the word “steward” primarily with money. Could one be a steward of one’s pain? He had never realized that one could manage, share, and develop one’s pain in such a way that it could help others and build his relationship with God. [(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), p.89-91]
Do you know about the Japanese art of Kintsugi? It is the practice of mending a broken object in a way that actually emphasizes the damage by filling the cracks with gold. The belief is that when something has suffered damage, it has a history and it becomes more beautiful.
Singer/songwriter Peter Mayer has a song that beautifully makes the connection of kintsugi with our experience of being clay jars:
I’m like one of those Japanese bowls
That were made long ago
I have some cracks in me
They have been filled with gold
That’s what they used back then
When they had a bowl to mend
It did not hide the cracks
It made them shine instead
So now every old scar shows
From every time I broke
And anyone’s eyes can see
I’m not what I used to be
But in a collector’s mind
All of these jagged lines
Make me more beautiful
And worth a much higher price
I’m like one of those Japanese bowls
I was made long ago
I have some cracks you can see
See how they shine of gold
– by Peter Mayer
Of all the people on the pages of the Bible who knew what it was to face the harshness of life–it was the Apostle Paul. The lines that best describe Paul’s life of adversity came from the 4th Chapter of 2 Corinthians.
There is a lot of theology woven in to hymns. To enhance today’s reading, I recommend listening to “Have Thine Own Way, Lord”. I hope you will take a few moments to let the words of this message and the emotion that always connects us to music connect with your soul. Listen to this hymn on SoundCloud.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster