With Perseverance

I. Introduction

In our recent study of the Book of Galatians, Galatians taught us a lot about what it takes to become a believer, and all the misconceptions that people may have about what it takes to get into heaven.  It’s not following certain rules, it’s not performing certain rituals, it’s not anything we do.  All God asks of us is to believe in Christ Jesus, and even that ability to believe comes from God.  Remember, it is faith alone, through Christ alone, by Grace alone.  Nothing else.
We’re starting the book of James today and much of James talks about what is expected of us as Christians.  In fact, it is so much about works that you may begin to wonder what our study of Galatians was all about.  Are we contradicting ourselves, first by saying “faith alone” and then talking about works?
So before we actually start the book of James, let’s see if we can understand some of the differences between these books.  Galatians, addressed to the church of ….
… that’s right, Galatia.  Man, we are one smart group today.  In Galatians, Paul was talking primarily to the Judaizers, those teaching a “Jesus plus Moses” philosophy.  In other words, the Galatians were teaching that Jesus had done 95% of the work and we have to chip in the other 5%.  We are saved, but we still have to be circumcised, follow Jewish festivals, follow all the Jewish rules, etc.  These requirements were obstacles to new believers, and Paul was saying that circumcision, festivals and rules had nothing to do with obtaining salvation.  Jesus did it all, 100%.  Faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.
The book of James is written to different audience – believers that are already saved.  James 1:2 begins,
Consider it all joy, my brethren
Who are the brethren?  Right, believers in the church, brothers and sisters in Christ.  And James is talking to believers about the spiritual walk, how to understand trials and tribulations, how to grow closer to God.

II. Salvation vs Sanctification

So I want to bring this chart back up, I showed it briefly a few weeks back:
Phase Justification
(a one time event)
Sanctification
(or progressive sanctification, spiritual walk, a process)
Glorification
(immediately after death or rapture)
Tense Past
(I have been saved)
Present
(I am being saved)
Not sinless, but sinning less.
Future
(I will be saved)
Saved from sin’s: Penalty Power Presence
Scripture Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5 Philip 2:12 Rom 5:10
When we say, “faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone,” we are talking about what it means to be saved.  It is a one time event at the moment we trust in Christ, with ongoing effect.  But once we are a Christian, we become aware of God’s purpose for us, and aligning ourselves to that purpose is our spiritual walk.  We grow in Christ.  And this process continues until we die or are raptured.  I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.  All three tenses are true.  And James is focusing in today’s lesson on our progressive sanctification and understanding the events in our lives.
The book of James contains 50 different commands for Christians, “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not.”  Are these things we must do to be saved?  It depends on which definition of “saved” we are talking about.  It has nothing to do with going to heaven and spending eternity with Jesus, but it has everything to do with understanding the loving God that created us and how we as believers are to live our lives.
So with all that behind us, let’s begin.

III. Purpose of Testing

So far we nearly finished studying 6 words in James, so let’s look at them again,
Consider it all joy, my brethren
Of the 50 commands to Christians in the book of James, we’ve already discovered the first one.  The word “consider” is an imperative, something we are commanded to do.  Let’s read the entirety of our verses for today, and then go back and study them individually.  James 1:2-15,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.  For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Whew.  Ok, this looks easy.  James is teaching us about the purpose of trials in the life of a Christian.

A. Joyful Attitude

First of all, we are to have a joyful attitude.  Verse 2,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials
Various trials are hard to define.  Is James talking about running out of money?  Getting sick?  Dealing with people that mistreat you?  And the answer to all of that is yes.  Specifically, the Greek word for “trials” is peirasmós,
πειρασμός peirasmós, pi-ras-mos’; a putting to proof (by experiment (of good), experience (of evil), solicitation, discipline or provocation); by implication, adversity:—temptation, × try.
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Basically, anything with the potential to be drawn toward sin and away from God.  While I was contemplating this and thinking of an example, I could hear my wife in the next room bawling her eyes out.  She was ok, but she was watching a NOVA special on organ transplants, and an especially touching event where a mother had to let her son, traumatized by a brain injury, be released for organ transplant.  The mother, obviously a Christian believer, was holding her son’s hand as they were wheeling him away so that his organs could be harvested to save somebody else’s life, and she was crying out, “I’ll see you soon!”
I can’t even imagine what this mother was going through.  And is this verse from James telling her to be happy about it?
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials
How does one “consider it all joy?”  First by understanding that “all joy” is not the same thing as happiness.  James isn’t a masochist.  James is telling us to continually seek the mind of God and how God will be able to use the trial for His purpose.  If we understand God is all good and in charge of all things, then all trials accomplish His purpose.  And if we know that the trials are accomplishing the will of God, then we can have an attitude of joy even in the midst of pain or suffering.  Chuck Swindoll put it this way –
“We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”
― Charles R. Swindoll
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We are to live our lives for the things that matter most.  If we get to thinking that our suffering is more than others endure, or more than seems fair, we can remember our savior on the cross.  Did Christ suffer pain?  Yet Hebrews 12:2 says,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
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If Jesus can have joy during His crucifixion, perhaps we can find joy in our trials.

B. Endurance

How do we find this joy?  By seeking God’s purpose.  Let’s continue with verse 3,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
We are to know that God has a purpose to our trials.  God always tests our faith.  It doesn’t way “if” we encounter trials, but “when.”  Christians are not sheltered and pampered.  Some trials come because we are human – sickness, accidents, disappointments.  Some trials come because we live in a fallen world – earthquakes, hurricanes, floods.  And some just because we are Christians.
These trials work for us, not against us.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:17,
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
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We tend to think trials are inflicted upon us, but this scripture says even the worst trials we endure are fulfilling a purpose that brings glory to God.  Satan tempts us to bring out our worst, but God tests our faith to bring out our best.  James says it produces endurance in us.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Endurance leads to perfection?  We’re to be perfect?
Trials help us mature.  It’s easier to trust in God when things are going great, but I’m not sure that’s really trust.  It’s when times are tough that we learn if our faith is genuine.  Paul says the same thing in Romans 5:3-4,
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Perseverance.  Endurance.  Patience.  Waiting on God.  Patience is a foundation of our spiritual journey.  Patience is the key to receiving God’s blessings.  God told Abraham to be patient and God would give him a child.  At some point, Abraham and Sarah decided God needed help, so Abraham produced a son with Hagar.  It brought great difficulties in Abraham’s life, difficulties that have endured through the ages and affect us today.  Eventually, Abraham and Sarah had a son of their own.  How much more blessed their life would have been if they had been patient, endured, persevered.
Impatient children never learn, never mature.  They want it now.  And patience can only be learned by waiting.
Patience has been a hard lesson for me to learn, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of my pride.  I thought I was patient.  Meeting somebody at a restaurant and they’re an hour late?  I can do that.  Waiting for my birthday to arrive and it is months away?  I can do that.  Waiting on the Lord to answer prayers for my wife’s health or for salvation to come to some members of my family?  What is taking Him so long?
But patience isn’t a specific length of time.  Patience is waiting.  Why hasn’t the rapture come yet?  2 Peter 3:8-9 says it’s because the Lord is patient –
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
The Lord is patient for as long as it takes.  I have prayers in my life I’ve been praying for decades.  Unanswered prayers teach me what real patience is.  So I keep praying, and I’m learning patience, perseverance, endurance.  And there’s a purpose to learning this, James 1:4,
And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
To make me perfect.  I certainly don’t feel perfect.  But “perfect” here doesn’t mean without any flaws.  The Greek phrase “perfect and complete” means one who fulfills the purpose for which God created him or her and are fully attaining their higher calling.  In other words, we are content to be in Christ, we are fulfilling Christ’s will for our lives, and we need nothing else.

C. Wisdom

Am I perfect and complete?  I don’t think so.  I’m at the point in my life, though, where I see more and more how my own will for me sometimes stands in opposition to God.  God wants me to have joy, patience, endurance, produce fruit in accordance with His will.  But I want a boat.
See, my will for myself continually misdirects me from what God wants for me.  I want a boat, I want to win an argument, I want to watch television, I want a raise, I want I want I want.  If I am to be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing, then I want what God wants.  How do I figure out what that is?
James 1: 5-7,
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
I can trust in this promise.  Believers in Christ, if they ask for wisdom, they will receive wisdom.
I don’t think God is satisfied with the unfinished Christian.  He has a purpose for us that starts with our character which is perfected through our joy in our trials, endurance through our patience, and wisdom through prayer and study of His Word.
Unanswered prayers teach us so much besides patience and endurance.  God desires for us to trust in Him alone.  What do we do when a prayer is unanswered?  Are we patient and do we endure as God asks us to do?
I’ve experienced this in my life first-hand.  When I was going through a particularly rough patch in my life, I felt like maybe God didn’t hear me.  I listened, I waited, and there was no answer.  And I decided on my own that I didn’t need to wait on God, I could fix the problem on my own.  I could choose a course of action that I felt was best for me.
And I remembered how Abraham and Sarah didn’t wait on the Lord.  They, too, felt the Lord had forgotten His promise.
James says that if we aren’t patient and trust in the Lord’s promises, we get only the reward of our own effort.  Trusting in the Lord gave me a foundation of solid stone.  Trusting in myself gave me a foundation of shifting sand.
I still wrestle with this, trying to do things on my own instead of relying on God.  And I learned that when I do things on my own, I fail.  But when I rely on God, He never fails.  I learn through these trials to endure, be patient, ask for wisdom, and listen for His still small voice.  And every time I listed to Him instead of me, I know that He is perfecting me for His glory.
Why does God want all of this for us?  God wants to build our Christian character so that He can use us according to His purpose.  God works in us before He works through us.  And at the end of the trials, what then?  Let’s look at James 1:12.

IV. Crown of Life

James 1:12,
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
I mentioned a few months back about the 5 crowns available to believers, and I hope you will indulge a few minutes of exploring in more detail these crowns.
The Crown of Life is mentioned here as a reward to those who endure trials and are perfected by God.  This same crown is also mentioned in Revelation 2:10 when Jesus talks to the church at Smyrna–
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
There are 5 crowns available to believers, each one as a reward for different aspects of the Christian character –
Scripture’s Five Crowns
Crown Scripture Purpose
Life James 1:12; Rev. 2:10 Enduring trials
Incorruptible 1 Cor. 9:24-27 Gaining mastery over the flesh
Rejoicing 1 Thess. 2:19-20 Winning Souls
Glory 1 Pet. 5:2-4 Shepherding God’s people
Righteousness 2 Tim. 4:8 Longing for His appearing

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  • The Crown of Life.  Joy in our trials, knowing that God has a plan.  Spiritual growth through our adversity.
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  • The incorruptible Crown.  We have eternal life that can never be destroyed, we have life forever in Christ Jesus.  Believers that endure to the end and pursue God-given ministry and triumph over sin are given an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:25-27).
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  • The Crown of Rejoicing and Exultation.   These crowns come from others we minister to in this life; those believers believer become “our glory and joy” before the Lord.  We rejoice in heaven upon seeing and talking with our loved ones who we shared our spiritual growth.  (1 Thess. 2:18-20)
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  • The Crown of Glory.  Jesus promises that those who leave everything to follow Him receive a hundredfold reward in addition to eternal life.  As Christ is our Great Shepherd, those who shepherd His flock while waiting for His return are given the Crown of Glory.  (1 Peter 5:2-4, Mark 10:29-31)
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  • The Crown of Righteousness. The reward for living righteously and giving Christ the glory when facing temptation or hardship. (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
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In heaven, what will we do with the crowns God has given us? We will cast them before Jesus’ feet (Revelation 4:10), laying them down as a tribute to the One who saved us, gifted us, equipped us, and lived in us. Everything good and right comes to us through the Lord, so He deserves our crowns.

V. Conclusion

So
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
Life is hard.  It’s full of trials and difficulties.  There’s pain and persecution and loss and suffering.  But God has a purpose for each of us, and it starts with our sanctification, our spiritual walk.  We can consider it all joy knowing that God is in control and He has a plan.  Romans 8:28,
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
We can’t understand everything that God is doing, but He promises to provide wisdom if we trust in Him and pray to understand.  In other words, when life is too hard to stand, then kneel.
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To God be the glory.  Amen.
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In the Hands of the Potter

             I.      Introduction

We are continuing our study of Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth, and today’s scripture is 2 Corinthians 4.  It’s a simple topic.  It’s instructions on how to live our lives as Christians.  When I studied for this lesson, I began by thinking how entirely unworthy I am to give a lesson on how to live a life as a Christian.  Some of my sins I’ve shared with all of you, others are between me and God.  All of which makes me entirely unfit to give advice to other Christians.

My prayer to God when preparing for this lesson was, “please God, find something within me that you can use.  I surrender to you because I know I cannot do it on my own.”  And that might have been the whole lesson for today, “Find something within me that you can use.”

What was the purpose of the trials in my life, or the life of any Christian?  Isn’t the life of the Christian filled with love and happiness and the abundant life?  If God is good to His children, then why do we lose our jobs, lose our health, lose a loved one?  What is God doing with us, and how are we supposed to respond?

Since our scripture today begins with verse 1,

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.

I decided not to lose heart.  Continue with the ministry God has given me.   I know it’s a stretch, but that’s how I understood this verse.  I run into trouble when I study when I think the lesson has anything to do with me.  Sure, I bring in experiences and abilities that God has given me, but it’s not about my experiences or abilities, any more than if Chris taught this lesson it would be about Chris.  Or if Theresa taught, the lesson is about Theresa.  We’re in bible study, not Michael study.  Verse 5-6 of our lesson,

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

Slide4This is the purpose of our existence in this world.  Let the world see Christ within us.  Let me get out of the way and let the love of Christ be known.  Or as John the Baptist put it in the book of John, verse 3:30 –

“He must become greater; I must become less.”

Slide5So who am I to teach about Jesus?  Nobody.  Jesus is everything.  But God created me to have worth to Him and bring glory to God, and I’m thankful He has given me work to do.  Not that the work saves me or makes me a better Christian, but shines the light of Christ so that others may be drawn to Jesus.

          II.      Genesis 2:7: The Breath of Life

God created each and every one of us for a purpose, given each one of us spiritual gifts to use, and we are all here this morning because each of us has heard that voice and we are coming here to know God better.  God has been making people for His purpose since the beginning of time, starting in Genesis 2:7,

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul.

Slide6God created man from dust of the ground.  Like the way a potter will begin making a vessel by beginning with dirt and water mixed together to form clay. 

After the potter has the clay he needs, the clay is ready to give instructions to the potter.  Or is that just me, trying to tell the potter what he is trying to make? 

Many of our struggles in life are the result of trying to tell the potter what to do.  I want God to make me something I’m not instead of me accepting who God made and using the tools He gave me.  I want God to listen to me, I know how to run my own life.  I know what’s best for me.  Don’t I?

Do you know how God answers me when I argue with Him over what’s best for me?  Jeremiah 18:5-6,

Then the word of the Lord came to me.  He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”

The almighty Lord is omniscient, omnipresent, and all powerful.  His will be done.  But he has the patience and the love to let us struggle until we realize it on our own.  And my struggle continues until I surrender, as it says in Isaiah 64:8 –

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.

We are the clay, you are the potter;

we are all the work of your hand.

When we examine ourselves and our own personal struggles, who are we trying to be?  The potter, or the clay?  Is Gold molding me, or am I trying to mold Him?

       III.      Jars of Clay

I read an article by a professional ceramic artist with a bachelor’s degree in Studio Art on the making of a ceramic vessel to understand the metaphor of being a “jar of clay,” and it was illuminating.  I want to share with you the process –

A.    Wedging

Slide9A ceramic artist, a potter, starts with a large block of clay and to cut a piece the right size and begin “wedging” it.  The unformed, unworked block of clay is full of lumps and air pockets and one cannot simple spin it into a beautiful work of art.  Wedging involves kneading the clay like dough, softening the lumps and letting the air bubbles work themselves out of the clay.  Before the clay can be placed on that spinning wheel, this wedging takes time, otherwise the clay is structurally unsound and full of imperfections.

You probably see where I’m going with this.  New Christians, selected by God, are first wedged by God.  On our own, our characters are shaped by our upbringing, our good and bad decisions and experiences.  God selects us as lumps of clay, just as we are, decisions and experiences and abilities and all, to be used for His purpose, but before He can begin to use us, he wedges us, kneading out the major imperfections and pockets of resistance.

It’s not punishment.  It’s not punishment any more than wedging the clay is somehow punishing the clay.  It’s just that we are being prepared for His use.  Remember when John the Baptist baptized Jesus?  Here is Matthew 3:16 – 17 –

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Do you think God the Father loved Jesus?  Read that last sentence again.  God loved Jesus and was well pleased with Him.  But you know what the very next verse says?  Matthew 4:1 –

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Every Christian is wedged and prepared for God’s purposes. 

B.    Centering

After the clay is wedged, plop, it’s thrown into the center of the potter’s wheel and the potter spins it in a process known as “centering.”  The potter adds water to the clay so that it glides easily through his fingers.  The spinning force tries to throw the clay off the spinning wheel, and the potter pushes the clay firmly back toward the center.  It’s important to get the clay perfect centered; this sets the foundation for all the remaining work on the clay.  If the clay isn’t centered, the vessel will be lopsided, or worse, topple completely.

Slide12Just like the clay, if we want to be used by God, we will allow Him to push us, center us in His will as we learn about God and build a foundation of knowledge.  When we are off-center, we can feel it, we feel lopsided and out of kilter, like things are going out of control.  That’s when we learn to be still and know that He is God.

C.     Creating the Form

Once centered, the potter decides the basic form.  For a vase, the potter pushes and pulls in just the right way to open the vessel up.  Both hands are constantly on the vessel, and opening up the center and pulling the walls up by constantly adding water. 

Slide13Like a vase, God begins to pull and push us with His tender hands constantly on us, shaping us to be the beautiful work He created.  He opens us up, fills us with the Holy Spirit, and pulls up the walls so our shape reaches up toward our maker.

Does the vase argue?  Of course it does.  “I don’t want to be a vase.  I want to be a bicycle.  No wait, I want to be a unicorn.  I want to be unique so people will notice me.  I want a big house and a loving family and lots of money and a great job that pays me too much and has 50 weeks of vacation every year.  And a boat.  I want to be a boat.”

Slide14God says, I designed you to be a vase.  Perhaps ordinary looking by human standards, but beautiful in my eyes.  I want you to hold flowers and bring smiles and love and joy to others around you.  And you won’t be able to show off my handiwork in you if you’re … a boat.”

Of course we argue.  He’s molding us, we’re fighting back.  He wants us to surrender our pride and give Him glory for being the Lord.  And if we continue resisting?  God gives us what we ask.  The potter steps back and lets us attempt it without Him.

We try to make a boat or a unicorn or a bicycle out of our clay using our own will and ability.  We are completely unqualified to be anything other than the vase God has designed us to be, but we try on our own.  Sometimes we ask for help from others – hey Tony, how can I become a unicorn?

One of two things happen.  We can look at the mess we created and say, “Lord, I’ve messed up.  I want what you want.  Use me for your glory.”  And God begins to shape us, again, into the vase he designed us to be.  Or we can turn our back on God, and say God doesn’t exist, or God doesn’t love me, or I don’t ever see God at work in my life.

C.S. Lewis put it this way in his book, The Great Divorce, when he describes Heaven and Hell.  C.S. Lewis says,

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

Slide15Those that seek God’s will return to the pottery wheel and again ask the potter to continue the work He began in them.

Here’s a short video called 4 Steps of the Potter to help visualize the making of a unique piece of pottery:

D.    Drying

But wait, there’s still more.

Slide17Once the form has been created, the potter sets it aside to dry.  During this period, some fine details are added, like adding a handle.  And the potter is patient and follows His perfect timing.  If the potter waits too long, it is impossible to add details such as the handle.  And if the potter is impatient and moves to the baking stage, then moisture will expand and crumble the vessel.  Sometimes the vessel will explode, and any other created vessels nearby will also be damaged.

God’s timing is always perfect.  Sometimes He says, “No.”  Other times He says, “Yes.”  And sometimes, “Not yet.”  God knows when we are ready for Him to continue His work in us.

E.     Baking

The potter then takes the dried vessel and puts it in an oven to bake.  The clay is soft when it is put in the oven but tough and hard when it’s taken out.  They say that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  Sometimes the trials of life seem to bring intense heat upon us, but there is a purpose to these trials.  We are stronger than before we experienced the heat.

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F.     Glazing

But though the baking process has made the vessel stronger, it is still not finished.  There is a glaze or paint to be applied with care and the true purpose of the vessel starts to become apparent.  Without the glaze, the vessel won’t hold water, it’ll seep through the porous sides and bottom.  To reach it’s potential, it’s time to put it through fire. 

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G.    Firing

Wait, didn’t we already go through the heat?  Weren’t we already baked and dried to make us stronger? 

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Our growth, our sanctification, our spiritual walk becomes stronger through the trials of life.  If we attempt to get through it on our own, we don’t fulfill our potential and God’s plan.  If we rely on God, if we put our faith and trust in Him, we are stronger still. 

This is a lifelong process.   Each time the heat is turned up, we learn, we grow, we depend on God and we bring glory to Him for what He is doing.  And I know in my own life, each time I’ve been through a time where I felt overwhelmed and in over my head and I’ve trusted in God to get me through it, I’ve grown closer to God.  My foundation is more firm, my faith is more firm, I see God’s work in my life like I never saw before the trial.  I am so much closer to the God who loves me.

And knowing all that… can I then pray for God to put me through another trial?  To apply the intense heat yet again and put me through the fire?  I know it’s for my benefit and it’ll grow my faith even more than the last time.  Can I pray for more trials to come to me?

James 1:2-4 puts it this way,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

God has a plan for each and everyone of us.  Sometimes it’s hard to see that purpose, we are so focused on being a unicorn that we don’t even notice God’s work in us.  But when we center ourselves and go through fire for God’s purposes, we begin to fulfill the plans He has for us. 

          IV.      Death in Us to Show Life to Others

Let’s go back to our scripture for today.  We earlier read 2 Corinthians 4:5-6,

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

This is the vessel God has created, to show Jesus Christ within us, for us to get out of the way of the message and stop trying to do things on our own power and our own will.  2 Corinthians 4 goes on in verse 7-9 –

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

Slide23God kneads us like bread, centers us, shapes us, bakes us, glazes us, and puts us through fire, and the crazy thing is that it’s not even for our own benefit.  It is to show that joy in the Lord and the gift of salvation is greater than anything the world can throw at us.  And our joy through the fire is to demonstrate the love of Christ to others so that they, too, may taste the joy of salvation.  Our trials, our spiritual walk, our lives in this world has a purpose.  It is to show Christ within us to a lost and dying world, that they may know joy and peace and life eternal.

Our vessels are made of clay.  From dust they were created and to dust they shall return.  But our treasure within this jar of clay is the life of Jesus within us.  Death will come to each one of us; we all have an expiration date.  Our purpose to is to show that though death may overtake our earthly bodies, eternal life is available to all who accept the gift that Christ so freely offered to us while we were still sinners.

            V.      Conclusion

There is nothing more important than sharing the Word of God.  Everything God puts us through in this life is to make us stronger and draw us closer to Him so that when the lost look at us, they see Christ at work in our lives.  Here’s a short video of our study scripture 2 Corinthians 4 verses 1 through 15 taken from The Contemporary English version.  God has shaped us for His good pleasure to demonstrate His love to others:

Ephesians 2:10,

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

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To God be the glory.  Amen.