Treasure in a Clay Jar

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. 
2 Corinthians 4:7 (NRSV)

Not long ago, a friend of mine was having a very difficult day. She was experiencing health concerns and had just received upsetting news on another personal matter as well. Although she didn't discuss her situation in depth, I could tell that she was struggling. Soon after realizing this, I felt a subtle prompting to reach out and endeavor to offer comfort. I believe this was the Spirit's prompting. 

The only problem was that this type of encounter, although quite simple, generally makes me nervous and uncomfortable. I confess. I'm not a very demonstrative person. I don't discuss or express feelings aloud very easily, I don't offer many embraces, and I sometimes struggle with finding the right words to say even in normal situations--and even more so when a challenging life event happens. I've been this way for a long time and, through prayer and practice, God has cultivated me into a much more overtly caring person than I once was, but many outward expressions of feelings still do not come naturally to me. That being said, I have boundless admiration for people that excel at comforting and elevating others with warmth and a word fitly spoken. They perform a wonderful service with their abilities. 

As far as my spiritual work goes, I'm a firm believer in division of labor. There's something elegant and comforting to me in the notion of work divided among people in such a way as to allow everyone to specialize in a given task. For example, when someone I know is grieving, I prefer to serve them in indirect ways: organizing matters they don't have the energy to face, sending them carefully thought-out notes, and offering up private prayers on their behalf. These actions employ my specific gifts and skills. As for giving direct comfort with sympathetic conversation or a warm embrace: I leave that to those sister and brothers that God has blessed with the propensity for these things. I know there is a space and necessity for both types of people in the faith community. The Bible says, "we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us" (Romans 12:6) and, "there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:4). Clearly, we are each meant to use our diverse gifts in service to God and one another. 

But in the immediacy of the situation with my hurting friend that day, there was no time or opportunity to offer sympathy or serve in a manner that made me comfortable or that employed my gifts. So, I prayed for guidance and then instigated a direct conversation to offer help and understanding. Although my efforts were far from graceful or eloquent, I believe my friend sensed and received the love that was behind them. And I soon realized that this was the only thing that mattered. 

This situation gave me two important things to consider. The first was that, no matter how I feel at a given moment, and no matter what I think of my personal identity or individual gifts, the incontrovertible fact is that love is how all of us express identity as a believer. John 13:35 recounts how Christ told His disciples that the world would recognize them by their love for one another. The primary distinguishing characteristic of a follower of Christ is love. As long as I am seeking to show love in whatever situation God has placed me, I am being true to the identity He has given me.

The second thing I had to consider was that, when God calls me to love others in a manner that is uncomfortable or strange to me, it ensures that my efforts are about Him and not about myself. In 2 Corinthians 4:7, it says, "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." The fact is, in creation and life, in the sacrifice on the cross, and in the transformative power of the Spirit, God has poured out an extravagant and astonishing flood of love on us. He has chosen to pour it into flawed and fragile vessels. He even pours it in a vessel like me, that longs to overflow with His grace, but cannot always do it gracefully. Amazingly, He incorporates my flaws and frailties into His plan. 

If I thrived in situations like the one I described, if I always knew the right thing to say and how to say it, I would run the risk of trusting in my own abilities and wisdom. Instead, I must place the situation and people in the hands of the One whose love alone is vast and deep enough to heal, comfort, and restore. My role decreases and God's increases so that everyone concerned finds this needed love and He receives the ultimate glory. This realization makes it a joy to be a "clay jar" in whatever circumstances He calls me to pour out His love.