Six years ago, Robert Lane took the stage in “The Coop,” a large cabin-like facility where the staff of Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters gathered to hear preaching, prayer, and spiritual and practical instruction for ministering to young teens.
My memories from the time are a bit foggy, but if I’m not mistaken, Lane had recently returned from ministering to an indigenous tribe in or near the Amazon. I was filled with wonder as he described some of the stories from his time there. But something happened while listening to him that I did not expect…
Before taking a job at Snowbird for that summer, I had begun my studies at Fruitland Baptist Bible College. I had a desire to be a preacher of God’s Word. I wanted to pastor. I was young and wide-eyed, ready to take on the world of ministry. All of that came crashing down that fateful evening as I listened to Lane.
“…if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to 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 manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” ~2 Corinthians 4:3-12
This is the Scripture Lane exposed to us in The Coop. He described to us how he had wrestled so deeply with this text when he had served with Snowbird one summer years ago. Of all the concepts to consider and pour one’s mind over, Lane was obsessed with understanding what Paul meant when he said, “we have this treasure in jars of clay.” Who on earth hides treasure in something so fragile? In a world of safety deposit and lock boxes, I understand why this small statement is so troubling. Anyone who owns anything of value inately knows that there is someone in the world willing to risk their freedom to obtain that thing of value. So we lock it away. We hide things under our beds, in our closets, and in our banks. We set passwords (some better than others) to protect our investments. We lock our doors and windows and purchase firearms to protect and defend what is ours. Yet Paul and his companions hid their treasure in a clay jar. With a single strike, all that treasure could be spilled on the floor, becoming instantly vulnerable. There were no defenses against any threat.
The key lies in the following verses where Paul briefly describes their experiences as missionaries. They were afflicted in every way, perplexed by their suffering. They were the jars of clay! Paul and his fellow missionaries were always carrying in their bodies the death of Jesus. These Apostles and disciples in the earliest years of Christianity were literally, and metaphorically, always being given over to death for the sake of Jesus.
Lane’s exposition of this text humbled me, and opened my eyes to my identity as a follow of Christ. Christians are jars of clay. Our bodies are fragile, and our souls can be severed from our bodies so easily. Why subject ourselves to such things? There is nothing appealing about this, yet there is not a Scripture supporting any claims that we shouldn’t embrace such a life of frailty. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my [Jesus’] account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” “But Jesus,” I think, “I don’t want to have to go to heaven so soon!”
There, at a first glance, appears to be no escape for the Christian. Not only must we embrace our identity as jars of clay, we must also rejoice that we would be chosen to be such frail things!
As I continued listening to Lane, the enormous weight of the call of Jesus on my life, and the lives of every Christian, began to fall of my head. All my visions, no, delusions, of grandeur began to disappear. I had been envisioning a life of honor and respect, where with a word I would compel hearts to fall deeply in love with Jesus. My theological prowess would slay unbelieving hearts and the doubts of skeptics. All of that, in a moment, crushed by the Word of God.
I began to weep…but the war between the will of my flesh and the will of my Spirit was not over…