Sunday, September 18, 2011

At the end of your rope, but not the end of your HOPE


2 Corinthians 4:7-9 If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us. (8) As it is, there's not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we're not much to look at. We've been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we're not demoralized; we're not sure what to do, (9) but we know that God knows what to do; we've been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn't left our side; we've been thrown down, but we haven't broken.


The supremely valuable message of salvation in Jesus Christ has been entrusted by God to frail and fallible human beings. Paul's focus, however, was not on the perishable container but on its priceless contents—God's power dwelling in us. Though we are "fragile, clay jars," God uses us to spread his Good News, and he gives us power to do his work. Knowing that the power is his, not ours, should keep us from pride and motivate us to keep daily contact with God, our power source. Our responsibility is to let people see God through us.

Paul reminds us that though we may think we are at the end of our rope, we are never at the end of our hope.

Our perishable bodies are subject to sin and suffering, but God never abandons us. Because Christ has won the victory over death, we have eternal life. All our risks, humiliations, and trials are opportunities for Christ to demonstrate his power and presence in and through us.

We must ask ourselves, "Could I handle the suffering and opposition that Paul did?" The success syndrome is a great enemy of effective ministry. From an earthly perspective, Paul was not very successful. Like Paul, we must carry out our ministry, looking to God for strength. When opposition, slander, or disappointment threaten to rob you of the victory, remember that no one can destroy what God has accomplished through you.


It is still the custom in some places in the world to hide valuables such as money or jewels in an ordinary clay pot. After all, who would think anything of value would be hidden in an inexpensive clay pot?

Paul was encouraged because life had not thrown more at him than he could handle. When we read our verses today we are likely to catch only the bad things that had happened to him and to notice the words (in the KJV version of these verses) "hard pressed," "perplexed," "persecuted," "struck down," and "always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus" (2 Corinthians 4:10).

If Paul had told us all the bad things that had happened to him as a servant of the Lord, we would have felt that he would be justified in being bitter, leaving the ministry, or having a nervous breakdown. But we need to go back and pick up the other end of the sentence where he talked of being "not crushednot in despairnot forsaken not destroyed," and of the "life of Jesus" being manifest in his body. If we read carefully what he has written, we hear the note of celebration that even though life had knocked him down, it had not knocked him out; he was still functioning.

As God's people, we are a lot tougher than we sometimes think, and it's encouraging for us to realize that we can cope with a great deal with the strength that Christ gives. During many years as a pastor I have seen Christians deal triumphantly with great loss, deep sorrow, tragedy, illness, death, and losses of every sort. I've seen them during times of unbelievable stress with the assurance they would not be abandoned by Christ. And with time and patience and encouragement from Christian friends, I've seen them bounce back with renewed faith and confidence.

Paul was encouraged by God's ability to renew his spirit when circumstances got him down. Though he was confronted by both the aging process and the possibility of death, he could still write, "Though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16).

When after a long winter I begin to see the early flowers that announce the coming of spring, I think how our spirits grow cold and seem as barren as winter and how we need for God to come and "bring back the springtime to our souls." Through all the years those who have come really to know God have been encouraged by the fact that He is constantly restoring and reviving and renewing our spirits.


"Lord, I am so thankful that You have placed such incredible treasure in this 'pot of clay'. The precious message, gospel, goodnews of Jesus Christ and the salvation that He is bringing into my body, soul, and spirit. We have all gone through the barren winters in our lives when we wonder if we will ever make it out victorious. But today You are restoring, reviving and renewing! You are bringing back the 'springtime to our souls' and I thank You for it. You want us all to know that when we are at the end of our rope, we are not at the end of our Hope, because Hope belongs to You! In Jesus name, amen!"