Recently, I was listening to a short exhortation about our inherent weakness and the importance of prayer. With great passion and tenderness, the preacher appealed to his listeners to see prayer as a lifeline, not a luxury. He pretty much confirmed my suspicion – I don’t pray enough because subconsciously, I think I can I can handle most things on my own.
I mean, I have a super highway slash Autobahn of neurons firing under this unwieldy mass of 4c Afro hair and I’ve racked up some experience of how to fix some stuff (or at least I think).
Like it or not, most of us only ‘pull God out’ for the ‘big stuff’ – the lost job/spouse/health/investment, etc.
My tumble dryer selfishly kicked the bucket in the middle of a pandemic and global stock shortage. Have I prayed about it? Nope. Have I trawled through Currys/AO.com/Argos for a replacement – a thousand times over. Should I pray about it? Why not…
I guess the point of this rambling is to appeal to myself, and to anyone who has been kind enough to spare me a few minutes, that we need to see ourselves as weak men/women who desperately need an everlasting, ever-present and infinitely gracious God.
In these days of incredible enlightenment and well-oiled coaches who with carefully-curated Instagram graphics remind us of how great we are, I worry that we are not being built to withstand the brutal truth – that we are jars of clay. Now, some people squeeze more value out of their jars of clay (check out this dude, Bill Gates) than others, but it doesn’t take away from the truth that we are all weak and transient.
Over the next few paragraphs, I hope to replicate what that preacher did in his 15-minute exhortation: make you feel small in order that you might thirst for a strength that is limitless.
Human beings are the most complicated and most intelligent species on the planet (although, a quick scroll of social media might make you doubt that 🙂 ) but we’re not the biggest or the strongest. The average human brain weighs about 1.4kgs while a mature male sperm whale’s brain can weigh up to 9kgs, but I don’t see any whales launching a rocket to space or colonising other animals.
Point is, the genius of human beings or Christians more specifically is not in how strong we are. In fact, the genius is in how God intentionally designed us to be fragile so that He can display His power through us.
So, your physical weakness or inadequacies as a human being is not really a curse to be overcome but a God-ordained mechanism for reminding you that you need Him. Yes, sickness and all manner of evil entered the world through Adam and Eve’s Original Sin but I put it to you that Adam was a weak creature before and after the fall.
The only difference was that before the fall he was weak and dependent. But somehow, the devil slithered his way into their lives and convinced them that they could be independent of their creator – that they were strong enough to go it on their own. Sound familiar?
When we refuse to pray, spend time in personal devotion we are literally rehearsing the devil’s lie to Adam and Eve, that somehow we can make it through without God. It’s the same ol’ trick in the book folks. This is why a sincere preacher or spiritual leader will remind you time and time again that there are really no ‘Great Men of God’ but weak men who have been mightily helped by God and radically depend on God.
It is possible to be a man after God’s own heart but be glaringly imperfect in places. Ask King David. Those imperfections are cracks through which God’s light (mercy, grace) can sneak through.
I was recently re-reading the story of Gideon’s slimmed-down army which God whittled down from thousands to 300. Alright, I was onboard until Judges chapter 7 where Gideon gave the men empty pitchers and torches inside them as their weapon. I mean, why bother? They might as well save time and jog down to the Midianites’ camp with post-it notes stuck to their foreheads saying ‘kill at will.’
God literally made the battle ‘unwinnable’ for them. But upon closer reading, I began to reflect on the symbolism of Gideon handing the men empty jars and torches. Could it be that these ‘unsuitable’ battle tools were God’s way of making a point to us, that at best we are empty pitchers/jars of clay lighted by God’s Spirit in us?
And it gets better…the empty pitchers and torch lights worked! 300 ‘ill-equipped’ men were able to defeat Midian and their organised army who “lay along the valley like locusts in abundance.”
Our big God LOVES to disguise himself in the weak, ordinary and dismissible.Tweet
Here’s the lesson – our big God LOVES to disguise himself in the weak, ordinary and dismissible.
Our weakness or vulnerability is the perfect set up for Him to show up and do extraordinary things. That’s why 2,000 years ago, the Israelites didn’t see Jesus coming – and we are still making the same mistake today. We dismiss the little boy and his packed lunch for the millionaire who can offer us a three-course meal. We dismiss our next door neighbours but pray to go and die on foreign missionary fields.
I love the way Scott Hubbard puts it, “for all of his bigness, our God has a remarkable love for the small.”
I am an empty jar of clay, lighted by the Spirit of God and wielded by God for His glory and purposes.
So, what will happen if we truly embrace ourselves as jars of clay? I believe three powerful things will happen if we adopt this shift in perspective.
Firstly, it will help us to be more gracious towards others and ourselves, and stop us from making idols of ourselves or others. Now, please hear me well – you ought to honour people but don’t forget to bow before the God who gave them the wisdom, gift, intelligence, strength to accomplish notable things.
“I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”1 Corinthans 1:27
Secondly, it will help us learn not to despise the day of small beginnings by being faithful wherever we find ourselves. I don’t know about you but I’m not always content with ‘small.’ I always want more, but I’m learning that wanting, hoping and praying for more can live side by side with gratitude.
Again, to borrow from Scott Hubbard, “it will mean praying for the big, longing for the big, and working for the big — all while faithfully and contentedly devoting ourselves to the small. Pray for revival, and then prepare breakfast for the kids. Dream of the knowledge of God’s glory flooding the earth (Habakkuk 2:14), and then bring a taste of that glory to the neighbor next door. Preach a grand vision to dozens or hundreds on Sunday, and then sit and listen to the wounded one on Monday.”
Finally, like the roots of oak trees stretch hundreds of miles in desperate search for a water source, embracing our weakness will cause us to cling desperately to God to make it through a day of home schooling or a day of back to back board meetings or waiting anxiously for the doctor’s report. The only way we’ll cultivate a lifestyle of prayer is to fully lean into our inadequacies.
You might have persevered with this blog post out of politeness but somehow you’re not convinced about this whole thing. I get it. Everything around us is screaming at us that we need to project strength and banish any appearance of weakness. And that’s true to an extent – as long as your strength is based on who God is and His boundless love for you.
All I’m asking you to do is to put this post in your back pocket. It will come in handy on that day when we are all forced to stop and throw our hands up in the air and scream ‘help me God, I have no clue!’ And there friends, is just where God wants you.
I’ll leave you with Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9-11 (MSG):
“Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”