Sunday, August 08, 2004

The worth of jars of clay

I had to write this down now before I forget. Some comments got me thinking about our sense of self-worth... which I have learned lots about this year. I have learned that fulfilment is less about me being or doing anything worthwhile, but it is in the worthiness of God within me that I find my own.

When I was young, I used to think that I should have implied worth. This is the type where our sense of worth comes from what others tell us - in fact, we have implied worth solely because others suggest so. For instance, most television programs and sports games have implied worth - everyone says they are worth watching. The All Blacks have implied worth, because the nation holds up them as our representatives in rugby - a process where a ball is passed and kicked around for little benefit for society. Niether rugby, nor the players themselves would be worth anything unless other people believed them to be worth something.

Basing our sense of self-worth on implied worth works for many people - the attractive, the popular, those in their respected circles of friends - because all their friends tell them verbally and non-verbally that they are worth something to their friends. But what happens when people start telling you the opposite? How do you feel when people start telling you that you don't matter to them, and they do everything they can to let you know that they think you are the most useless, pathetic, and unworthy loser on the face of the planet?

Here's how I felt: I felt I had a choice. Not many people realise they have this choice, but it's there... You can choose to base your self-worth on what others say about you, or on who you are. When people aren't saying the nicest things, the first option leads down the familar road to depression, so it is the second road that I chose.

I based my sense of self-worth on intrinsic worth. This type of worth demands a great deal of effort to maintain. There are two different flavours of intrinsic worth. The first type is based on what you do. You have to earn worth by your good deeds, your kind acts, even your excellent works. I tried this path also, and I did well. I excelled at everything I tried (I didn't try the things I wasn't good at, of course). The A+'s became the foundation of my happiness. It wasn't about competition - I didn't care about the other people, and I always knew there would be someone better than me. I was about achieving to the best of my ability. So long as I did that, I fulfilled my sense of intrinsic self-worth.

But soon I realised life is more than about what we achieve, it is about who we are. After tasting the flavour of achievement-based intrinsic self-worth for many years, I found the taste of state-based intrinsic self-worth. This type is based on our character - the condition of our mind, our heart, our love, our fruit of the spirit. This was surely where to base one's sense of worth, I thought. After a few years, though, I discovered that this type of intrinsic self-worth leaves something to be desired - something missing. It was something I was missing, like when you look for your glasses all over before realising they were on your head all the time. I had a fine sense of intrinsic self-worth, yet I felt I was missing a whole second type of worth that I hadn't yet discovered.

And then I found it. Yes, there is intrinsic worth, but there is also a far greater kind of extrinsic worth. This second type comes not from what we do or what we are, but from something bigger than ourselves. Like a link in a part of a chain, its worth comes not from the fact that it is a link, but that it is a link in the chain. This kind of value is not found in us - but in God.

We are jars of clay. It is not the fact that we are jars that gives us worth, nor is it the fact that we are made of clay. Nor would a given vessel be of any more worth if it were used by someone of great importance - for the vessel is not the important thing, it is rather what it contains! We contain the Holy Spirit. How exceedingly more important is the Spirit of the Living God that we contain than the earthen clay that we are?

I wish to expand this analogy more, to tie in intrinsic worth to this greater category of extrinsic worth. Just as a chain link is important because of its function, so is a clay jar. Everyone is a jar of some description, but there are differences in the clay. Some clay is riddled with sin, that oozes green corrosive, toxic liquid into the vessel. This corrosive liquid not only hurts all those who drink it, but it eats away at the vessel itself. Eventually, the liquid breaks through the wall and forms holes. Now, the toxic product of sin not only hurts those who drink from the vessel, but it also hurts those who happen to be under the leaking cup as it passes by.

But what a beautiful thing that God would fill us with His Spirit? How wonderful and healing is His Living Water? And how dreadfully it is tainted by the toxic byproduct of sin! Sadly, there are many filled vessels which are hardly fit for use, for the Water in them is so tainted by the sinful nature of the clay.

But what if the vessel lets the Water permiate its very substance? What if we let the Spirit into all corners and rooms of our heart to go where He please? Ah, how wonderful the transformation! As the Water and clay mix, it produces something entirely different in the clay - a new thing called righteousness. The transformation is not a sudden one, for it can take time to wash away the resilient dirt of sin, and the reaction is invariably slow. But what a difference can be noticed in a vessel made of clay riddled not with sin, but with righteousness!

Instead of toxic byproduct - righteousness oozes the Gifts of the Spirit. This righteous byproduct also taints the Water we contain - but it adds flavour, like lemon to water. And so not only do the righteous vessels contain the pure Spirit of God, but the Spirit delightfully mixed with the unique Gifts that exude from the heart of the vessel. This flavoured water may leak through the holes from sin - but all it will do is show others the water contained within... for God will continually fill us again when we obey His voice.

So then it is perfectly right to expect vessels to differ - from some the Spirit will taste a little bitter, while from others it will taste sweet, while yet others may make it slightly salty. This is the extent of our intrinsic worth, that some have more pleasing flavours than others. But this intrinsic worth pales in comparison to the extrinsic worth that comes from what we contain. A rusty tin is just as good as a silver cup to a man desperate to quench his thirst, and a rusty tin can still be used to give water to the richest king. It is the water that is the main point - it is the water that gives the cup its purpose, its very reason for existing. Likewise, it is not in the clay that we are made of nor in the taints of our substance that we find our worth, but we find true fulfillment because of the Spirit that we contain.


Philotas said...

Amne to that! :)

God forbid that we should boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!


incognito said...

Amne... interesting - is that like acme? =)

Fraser Dron said...

'Amne' is the product of a long and very silly Instant Message conversation between Sam, Mike and myself the other day.

Ruth said...

Nice Post! So true and so clear

Anonymous said...

Nice post! I think I have to agree with Ruth!!
I also think maybe I should start trying to think that way - ie, valuing my self worth on who I am! What about my thoughts though?? Where do they come into it?? Basing self-worth on what other people say can lead to depression (if it's bad things), but what if my thoughts in my head aren't dissimilar to the bad things that people might say to me??
Basically I think I'm saying: that if I base my sense of self worth on what people think, or base it on who i am - where does that leave what i think??


incognito said...

Hi Hannah, great question! I find the thoughts we have in our own head are often habits. They can be habitually good and encouraging, or habitually destructive. It's really hard to change our thought-habits, but I believe we can with enough self-disciple combined with God's help. I know of several people for whom the only thing that changed their thought habits to good ones was God living in them and actually changing their habits. I've had it happen myself in some areas - as we become more and more open to communicating with God and let Him in more and more, some habits I used to have have just dissappeared.

Personally, I try not to base my self-worth on what I think about myself. Sometimes I think good things about myself, but most of the time I just notice the bad things. Instead, I base my self-worth on what God says about me, because I know what He says is true - and His is the most important opinion. He says that I am worth something - not because of anything I am or anything I've done - but because He loves me, so much that He would send Jesus to die and rise again for me. I am not loved because I am worthy, but worthy because I am loved.

I hope this helps =)