To have reveal His power and glory through us as weak earthen vessels is an incredible privilege. Frustration robs us of the joy this brings. We must keep our eyes on the power rather than our own inadequacies.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)
Frustration can be a common in earthen human vessels. It’s actually best buds with doubt, so if we indulge the former, we inevitably find the latter taking up residence too. The problem with frustration is that it’s really sneaky. It likes to masquerade as a kind of righteously indignant faith. The skewed logic is that we’re frustrated because we believe but don’t see the expected results. This shifts focus to the problem, and also reminds us all too clearly that in reality, there is absolutely nothing we can do to change things in and of ourselves. That’s the moment when doubt sidles in and makes itself right at home. Suddenly, we’re caught in a kind of spiritual Wimbledon, a hapless ball thwacked relentlessly between two gleeful enemies. Once we realise, though, that frustration is essentially the product of pride, it’s a lot easier to slam the door on it.
We have always been earthen vessels.
When God made mankind, He shaped him out of clay. Without the in-breathed Spirit of God, man is simply a lump of dust glued together by a bit of moisture. No life, no power, no ability, and no capability. It reminds me of God asking Ezekiel whether the dry bones could live. In the natural, it’s an impossibility. Only God has the power to change that. Human pride has, from the beginning of time, tried to convince us that we’re so much more than earthen vessels. These days, harnessing and releasing what could be called ‘the power of me’ is a mega-industry. We laud our superiority despite the fact that no scientist has ever – or will ever – actually create the spark that defines life. Mankind has lost the sobering truth that without God we are and always will be inanimate lumps of clay.
The Spirit reminded me here that mankind was the only creature ‘made by hand’ as it were. God spoke life to the rest of creation, but He shaped man and breathed His Spirit into Him. We’re very quick to remind ourselves that this is the reason why man is set apart from the rest of creation. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy to think of Father-God getting down and dirty in the making of us. But there is another side to this truth we easily miss. This hands-on intimacy confirms two things. First, God’s absolute ownership through the right of the Potter over the clay. Second, we are utterly dependent on God for our entire existence, both animate and inanimate. He made us and He made us alive. His breath in us is for His purposes. We are simply earthen vessels for the life of God Himself.
The earthen vessel does not define the power within.
Our human frustration stems from the realisation of our own inability or inadequacy. Within each of us is an innate drive to be in control. We want to feel like we’re pulling our weight at the very least, that we’re making a positive contribution. Better still, we like to think we’re somehow instrumental in the end result. This, pure and simple, is pride. But it’s also wired in as a kind of survival mechanism. When the going gets tough, we need to feel like we’re in control and can fix it. The earthen vessel develops illusions of grandeur, and the nett result is frustration because we simply don’t have it in us. Surrender feels like giving up rather than giving over. We feel as though we have let God, ourselves, and others down. Frustration is when self is forced to admit our power is utterly inadequate.
It’s only when the proverbial hits the fan that we’re forced to confront the besetting sin of pride which lingers in all of us. Up until then, it’s relatively easy to convince ourselves that we’re happy – even relieved – to simply be earthen vessels and let God get on with it. But underlying all of this, self weaves a little illusion that as God’s vessel, we’re somehow special. There’s something in us that helps along the power within us. It’s not conscious presumption, and we’d be horrified to know that it was lurking there below the surface. But that’s pride. That’s self and human nature. It’s our tendency to indulge the need to make a contribution to the bigger picture. It’s also entire human. Despite this, the earthen vessel can never affect or define the power within. It is a vessel, pure and simple.
God’s power works through earthen vessels.
This is a truth that will forever leave me breathless. When I consider the vast, immeasurable, limitless power of the great I AM, it seems inconceivable that He should choose to work His power in and through earthen vessels. All of us are dinged and chipped, scraped and scratched, and yet we’re His vessels of choice. This truth is a treasure indeed. I don’t doubt that if I were lined up on a shelf, there would be plenty of other vessels chosen before me. The fact is that my life and the choices I’ve made have left this particular little lamp severely bent out of shape. Yet God leaves none of us on the shelf. He shaped each of us to manifest His power for a particular purpose. Frustration reminds us of all the things that are wrong. God reminds us that our weaknesses are the reason He uses us.
The real truth is that if we were all new and shiny and perfectly proportioned, we’d be too focused on our own potential and purpose to think about the power within. We’d swan along with a ‘look at me’ attitude that overshadowed the glory and power of God. Frustration is a point of choice. We either indulge it, or we use it to direct our focus to the real power. God want’s earthen vessels – those which acknowledge that they are clay in the Potter’s hands – not trinkets which demand constant polishing. He looks for those who acknowledge their scars and weaknesses and make themselves available despite knowing they have nothing to offer but obedience and yieldedness. These are the vessels who rejoice to know that God’s perfect power will be revealed in every situation. Their faith knows that where God is given a lamp, He will light a flame.
God’s will and desire and earthen vessels.
When we allow frustration in, we lose sight of a fundamental truth. God’s will and desire is that His power and glory be revealed in every situation. The reality is that this will seldom be according to our expectations. Self loves to imagine and plan all kinds of ways in which God could manifest. We often even go so far as to transform these to ‘should,’ even before asking Him what He has in mind. We’re able to think, to reason, and to identify what we believe to be the most expedient and powerful solution. But God’s ways are not our ways. He sees the bigger picture while we see in the limited glow of our battered earthen vessel. We see what we would like Him to achieve, but He sees what needs to be achieved. When our human expectations are disappointed, we react with frustration.
None of this alters the unassailable truth that God wills and desires that His power and glory be revealed in every situation. Today’s verse reminds us that His power is excellent. It is perfect and holy and supernatural. His power is more than sufficient for every need. It can raise from the dead and restore maimed or missing limbs. That is the excellent power He wills and desires to release through earthen vessels. But the vessel is subject to the power within. If it means waiting on the shelf, then we must learn to rejoice in it. Waiting does not mean that God will not act. If it means doing or saying what we didn’t expect or plan for, we must do it with joyful obedience. A lamp can only burn according to the power within. When we focus on the perfect power, we see it released for His purposes.
To live as earthen vessels.
This may sound easy but it seldom is, particularly when we find ourselves on the shelf – in that place of waiting. Activity is a human lifeline. It makes us feel worthwhile, that we’re being proactive. Wait, for most of us, is a four-letter word. But this is the time to focus on the power, to get ‘filled up’ and primed so when God moves, we’re ready. Nothing conquers frustration as quickly or as effectively as focusing on the power of God. It creates a supernatural expectation, a faith that though we are simple earthen vessels, we are privileged to contain the power the world desperately needs. While we must always acknowledge our very real limitations, this is only a foil against which we see the immeasurable, perfect power of a God who wills and desires to reveal Himself at the perfect time.
Lord God, creator of all, thank You for the incredible privilege of living our lives as earthen vessels for Your perfect power. Forgive us, Lord, for the times where we allow pride, frustration, and doubts to disrupt Your purpose in us. Grant us the grace to be honest, to acknowledge and repent of our presumption, and to look to Your will and purpose in all things. Thank You for the assurance, Lord, that You both desire and will to reveal Your power and glory in all situations. Help us to wait and to act, rejoicing in the knowledge that our limitations can never limit what You choose to do.