This time last year I was living in a homeless shelter. That wasn’t an easy reality to face back then but I was very grateful. Grateful to have a roof over mine and my children’s heads, food to eat and an opportunity to start over again. I haven’t been the same since. Never had I so badly wanted to dramatically change my life for the better and never had I so strongly believed that I could. When I should have felt hopeless, I actually felt empowered. And because of that experience, it is my endeavor to spend the rest of my life convincing others that find themselves in similar situations that with God as their source, they too have the ability to dramatically change their lives for the better.
What good is a difficult experience if we don’t share our story with others and fulfill our obligation to let them know that they don’t have to succumb to those difficulties?
Having faced much persecution, the Apostle Paul knew a thing or two about hard times but he still found it within himself to exhort his brothers and sisters in Christ to remember their cause:
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”(2 Corinthians 4:7-10)
By referencing the earthen vessels, or clay pots, in other words, Paul is alluding to the fact that our outer beings are fragile but he lets us know that our delicate nature is to God’s glory. In his Exposition of the Bible, John Gill put it this way:
“The reason why it pleased God to put such a rich and valuable treasure into the hands of [such] persons…was, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us: that is, that it might appear that the making of such persons ministers of the word was not of themselves, was not owing to their natural abilities…and acquirements of their own…but to the grace of God, and the effectual working of his power; and that the success which attended their ministrations in the conversion of sinners, and building up of saints, could only be ascribed to the exceeding greatness of divine power; and that the supporting of them in their work, under all the persecutions raised against them, and opposition made unto them, could be attributed to nothing else…”
So while it is true that we are fragile beings, we can see here that there is nothing fragile about the treasure we carry in our bosom. When we utilize both the gospel message of Jesus Christ as well as our own personal testimony in our witness to others, it is then that they are able to see God at work within us. Bible-toting and scripture-quoting does very little for a hurting soul that doesn’t yet have a personal relationship with their Maker. Give them something they can relate to and grab a hold of. Give them your story. This is where our value lies.
What comes to mind when I read the words “struck down but not destroyed” is Isaiah 54:16-17:
“‘See, it is I who created the blacksmith
who fans the coals into flame
and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc;
no weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,’
declares the Lord.”
You’re likely very familiar with the latter part of that scripture but I personally had never heard nor read verse 16 before today. Why is that piece important? Perhaps if I pull out what I’ll soon start referring to as “Old Faithful” – the Message translation – for the abundance of clarity that it so faithfully provides, it will come together for you the way it did for me:
“‘I create the blacksmith
who fires up his forge
and makes a weapon designed to kill.
I also create the destroyer—
but no weapon that can hurt you has ever been forged.
Any accuser who takes you to court
will be dismissed as a liar.
This is what God’s servants can expect.
I’ll see to it that everything works out for the best.’
“No weapon that can hurt you has ever been forged.” Need I say anything more? I once heard someone put it this way: “The Bible didn’t say the weapons wouldn’t be formed, it said they wouldn’t prosper.” So long as we walk this earth, and especially when we live our lives in service to God, we can count on facing hardship. Paul was very straightforward about this in the 11th verse of 2 Corinthians 4 when he said, “For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” He didn’t sugarcoat it. Our adversary, the devil, is going to see to it that we are tested and tried in hopes that our faith might be extinguished but what he doesn’t realize is that our faith is fireproof simply because it was birthed from the fire, not from the instances in which life has been a walk in the park.
At the end of the day, we weren’t created for ourselves, we were created to fulfill God’s purposes and both our shortcomings as well as our triumphs equip and qualify us to do that. When we keep silent about the things God’s grace has allowed us to overcome, our overcoming is for naught. So stop holding out. You’ve endured the unimaginable and there are hopeless individuals out there that need to know how it is that you’re still standing. You are an earthen, damage-prone vessel but a vessel nonetheless. And vessels were never meant to be empty – unless, of course, they have been emptied of the riches contained therein.