“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. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10, NRSV)
Life is both beautiful and fragile. We may find ourselves going from a moment of joy to an episode of pain and grief, all in the blink of an eye. Paul indicates as much when he says we have a treasure in clay jars. The treasure is God’s ability to work through us despite our heartaches, failures, and weaknesses. The clay jar is our bodies in which our human condition actively responds to the challenges in life. Our spirit and bodies are not capable of enduring life’s calamities apart from God’s intervention; yet, with God’s victory over death through Jesus Christ, even the dark times of seeming defeat can demonstrate God’s power to save.
Paul’s words are poetic: “Afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” When it seems like life gets the best of us, God steps in and makes something out of nothing. For Paul, we must recognize the power to endure is not internally generated. That fact doesn’t mean our strength and perseverance are insignificant. It merely states that our grit isn’t enough to face the things life throws at us.
There is a cashier at one of the places I shop who knows I’m a preacher, and she always has a religious question to ask me, or she’ll want to share a mini testimony about where God’s been at work in her life. The other day she told me about someone who was going through a difficult time and asked me to pray for this person. She asked for special prayer because this person is not a person of faith, and she has no idea how someone could face the kind of challenge he was facing without faith. On my way out to my car, I offered a simple prayer for this struggling person. But then, I offered a prayer for myself, thanking God for his constant presence with me. Whatever circumstance I face, I don’t have to face it alone because God is with me.
The other side to my gratitude for God’s abiding presence is to be sure that when I make it through a difficult time, that I give God the praise. I am but a fragile vessel that must rely on God’s power to keep the things of life from pressuring me beyond my breaking point. This awareness keeps me not only grateful but humble as well. Thanks be to God for his sustaining grace!