Last Sunday I posed a question to our Sunday School class about the apostle Paul. If you remember from your Bible, Paul was a one-time persecutor of the church who was radically saved as he was on the road to Damascus to put more Christians in jail. He met Jesus that day and went from being one of the greatest persecutors of the church to being one of her greatest preachers.
Paul would write over 25% of the new testament, go into foreign lands to preach the gospel, start churches and reach countless souls for Jesus. He himself would end up being persecuted for Jesus and give his life for the gospel in the hands of a Roman executioner.
I wanted to lay out the groundwork so you could understand the question I asked and the response I received. Here was the question – what word or words would you use to describe the apostle Paul? Most of our class know the things I have just shared with you, so you can imagine what the answers were: brave, courageous, bold, faithful, strong and even powerful. I agree with all these answers. I believe the New Testament will certainly bare out that these words could easily describe Paul.
But then, I took a different approach and said, “when I read these words, tell me who said these things.” So, I read from 2 Corinthians:
Chapter 1:8 For we don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction that took place in Asia: we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength —so that we even despaired of life.
Chapter 4:8-9 We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed.
Chapter 7:5 In fact, when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest. Instead, we were troubled in every way: conflicts on the outside, fears inside
At first it was very quiet in our class but then someone spoke up and said, those words are the apostle Paul as well, and they were right.
The Bible is very clear, Paul as a child of God, was indeed a bold messenger of the Gospel of Christ and so loved our Lord that he was willing to lay down his life for Him. Paul was saved, loved Jesus, but it did not change the fact that he was also human and as such, he faced discouragement, and some would even say displayed signs of depression.
The truth is all through history, there have been men and women who on one hand display the greatest picture of courage and strength but on the other hand, went through seasons of great despair and depression.
For instance, I am reading a book about some of our greatest presidents. Two of these men, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, also had seasons where they like Paul despaired their own life. Yet, they would go on to be used to lead this great nation during some of our greatest trials.
Not just Presidents, but other Christian leaders, Charles Spurgeon to give one example, were used mightily by God but also wrestled with depression.
As Christians we can turn to the Bible and within the pages of God’s word there are also examples of people used by God but alsot went through times of discouragement and depression.
In her article from Crosswalk.com about this very subject, Debbie Mc Daniel says, “Though the Bible doesn’t use the word “depression” except in a few translations and verses, it’s often referenced by other similar words, such as “downcast,” “brokenhearted,” “troubled,” “miserable,” “despairing,” and “mourning,” among others. Throughout the Word, there are a number of stories about godly, influential men and women of faith, who struggled and battled through dark times of hopelessness and depression.”
In other words, the Bible may not always use the word depression, but it never hides the fact that warriors for God sometimes faced dark days. For instance:
- Elijah, Jonah, and Moses all at one point in their life asked God to take their lives, they could not go on.
- Job, in all he faced, wondered out loud why he had even been born and why he didn’t die on the day he came out of the womb of his mother
- Jerimiah was known as the weeping prophet and his book of Lamentations speak to the despair and depression he faced.
- How about David? Yes, giant killer, warrior and great king, David. Read his Psalms. There are moments of great victory, but then the very next verse he talks of being forsaken by God and feeling empty and dry like a desert!
Which leads me back to Paul. When he says in 2 Corinthians 1:8 that he was overwhelmed and despaired life, it carries the meaning of utter hopelessness and the inability to see a way out of the darkness. It is a strong word that speaks of the despair and dare I say depression that Paul was feeling at that moment. It was as real to him as it is to us.
But what was also real to Paul and can become real to us, is to know and realize that God is a great God of comfort and He can bring us not just through the valley but give us the power to climb to the top of the mountain.
Paul tells us it does not matter how weak we feel or how overwhelmed we might be, God can and will still use us in our weakness. We do not have to live the rest of our life in the moment of despair.
As a matter of fact, Paul expalins to us that it is not about us anyway. That it is Jesus in us and that with Him in us, we are just vessels and the power is not us, but Jesus in us.
He would use a great object lesson to bring this message home in chapter 4 of this letter when he wrote, “Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us.” Paul says, that we are nothing more than clay pots that hold a great treasure, the message and ministry of Christ within us and because of that, the power is not us, but God!!
Please do not get the idea when Paul uses “clay pot” that he is describing a nice, decorative clay pot that you spend a lot of money on to display on your mantle. Sorry to burst your bubble but the clay pot Paul was thinking off would resemble an unattractive pot used for normal household chores.
The word itself not only speaks of clay, that which is made from the earth, but the word also suggests, frailty. The truth is, we are just fragile, weak, maybe even cracked clay pots.
I know right now you are thinking, man, what an encourager Michael is. But hold on, this truth of us being ordinary clay pots IS a tremendous encouragement. Why? God uses cracked pots!!
It does not matter if you are just having a down day, a discouraging moment or season or you battle depression on a regular basis; no matter where you are and what season you are in – in our weakness, God’s light shines brighter and brighter, all because of His power and not us.
That is why Paul could boldly proclaim, (I like how the New Century Version put this) “7 We have this treasure from God, but we are like clay jars that hold the treasure. This shows that the great power is from God, not from us. 8 We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We do not know what to do, but we do not give up the hope of living. 9 We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed.”
I pray this speaks to someone today – we may face depression and despair, but it is not the end – We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed.”
We can be used by God to do mighty things in His power. Please, I pray that God almighty would seal this truth to your heart. I pray we all can see the power of God that is in us because of Jesus and we can overcome being overwhelmed! I am serious when I say I am having a “spell” in my soul even as I write this!
If you are feeling weak, depressed, despairing even life and overwhelmed – Good News, you are the best candidate for our great God to use you in a mighty way!! It is not the people that have it all together that God uses – He uses cracked pots!
Just like Paul and all these others I have mentioned, your depression or discouragement does not get to have the last word in your story. God is writing a new chapter, one where He uses you, in your weakness to display His glory and power.
One where God takes your story and uses it to impact others for His great namesake. One where you make a difference in the power of Christ and you will stand victorious in His power. God is not done, as a matter of fact, He is just getting started!!
Paul ends this chapter with a great word we need to hear loud and clear today, “16 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction d is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.”
I love how the Message paraphrase puts these verses. Read this and allow God the Holy Spirit to comfort and encourage your heart, “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times; the lavish celebration prepared for us.”
On the outside, it often looks like things are falling apart in my life and maybe in yours too. But, wait for it……., we cannot give up, because God is making new life on the inside and His “unfolding” grace comes every day!! God renews us – brings us fresh life, new strength, a holy strength that comes from His power.
It is my greatest desire that we can see that these truths are not just for an apostle or great missionary preacher like Paul, God moved Paul to put them down in His word for all of us. You and I, as fragile clay pots, have the greatest treasure in the world inside of us. His sweet name is Jesus. And by His power and His grace, we can have new life and face each day with unfolding grace!