But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; (2 Corinthians 4:7-8 KJ2000)
We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7 CEV)
Have you ever had times when the Lord has just poured His thoughts into you like a river and then for no reason at all they just stop? I know that I have. The last three weeks has been one of those times.
We just got back from a nine day trip to South Africa. It was a great time of fellowship with Andre and Mia DeVries, yet I came home with a blank mind and feeling no inspiration from the Lord. Back about 1979, I prayed with all sincerity that the Lord would so cleanse me of self that I would become like His Son, only speaking the words that He wanted me to say and only doing the works that He wanted me to do. Those of you who know my testimony know that He answered my prayer by putting me through 14 years of wilderness. I could not perceive His voice or presence in any way during that time. This was not what I thought I would get when I prayed that prayer.
I can look back now and see that He was treating me as if I were in an alcoholic rehab center and my drink or “drug of choice” had been the religion I built up around myself and my relationship with Him. In short, God was drying me out! By 1994 He brought me back online, so to speak, in a wonderfully personal way, with this promise, “You have not been this way before.” He let me know that what I was going to be walking in was not at all like what I had before He cut me off. I could not have conceived of such a walk as I have now in my former high flying days of being “God’s prophet” and “man of the hour” (in my own “humble” opinion).
Yes, this walk since 1994 has proven another word I got from the Lord at the end of that wilderness period, “You will boldly go where no man has gone before.” This was part of the opening monologue on the “Star Trek” TV series. It was the assignment given to the captain and crew of the Starship Enterprise. The funny thing is, unknown to the sister who gave me this word, I spent nine months cruising around the world on the USS Enterprise while in the US Navy.
I should have got the hint from these two words that from then on out it was going to be a lonely walk. My experience with the wilderness is that it never really completely ends. It is a place in which God provides, but He makes Himself known to us in a whole new way and often that includes seemingly being left all alone without a visit from Him for weeks at a time. Alcohol rehab centers put you through an intensive period of being cut off from your former life as a drunk, and then require a few two day follow-ups to keep you on track and it seems that God does the same with those who are being exercised by the work of His wilderness in their lives.
In this place He uses both His light and His darkness to manifest Himself to us! Where we once relied on things that titillated our five senses, now He weans us off those overt methods of communicating with us and forces us to walk by faith alone, thus building up our faith within us even in darkness. David wrote,
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hides not from you; but the night shines as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to you. (Psalms 139:11-12 KJ2000)
On the day that Israel finally left the wilderness and crossed over the Jordon while He held back the river’s flood waters, God gave them a commandment on what it would be like.
Yet there shall be a space between you and it [the Ark of the Covenant], about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that you may know the way by which you must go: for you have not passed this way before. (Joshua 3:4 KJ2000)
“Come not near unto it, that you might know the way you should go.” What a curious phrase this is! There was a time when I relied on being close to God, His nearly audible voice, and my feelings that I interpreted as coming from Him. It was a real rush to be so closely involved with Him, touched by His presence, and communicated with on a daily basis. But He started to wean me off being such a senses-driven person and made me walk much more by faith and not by sight or sound or feelings. I could once get close to Him at will. But now it would be different!
I truly had not been this way before. The ark was now kept at a great distance from me as I walked across the Jordon during its season of flooding! Now I have to write and act by faith that what is on my heart is really from Him and not my imagination. It is unnerving most of the time. I never know how people will react to the things I share, where before in my “Thus saith the Lord” days, I was so sure of myself. And what was the fruit of such confidence? Pride, and pride came before my fall. Now I have no such assurances that what I write or do will ring true with anyone at all.
God seems to put a great premium on walking by faith and serving Him from a place of weakness. Paul wrote about this.
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also has made us able ministers of the new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6 KJ2000)
He went on to expound on how He found Christ as His total sufficiency:
Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size–abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 MSG)
Weakness, need, handicap! This how God equips those He would use, not by puffing them up with degrees in theology and working miraculous signs and wonders through them all the time. Paul had been used to heal many, but he couldn’t heal himself. His sufficiency was not of himself, but of Christ. In his first letter to the Corinthians he wrote:
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. But we speak wisdom among them that are mature: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nothing: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:1-8 KJ2000)
Weakness in and of ourselves! This is the way God prepares His workers to do His kingdom work. How opposite His ways are from our ways! This is the wisdom of God Paul spoke from, not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, an ability to expound with three part sermons, and a generous sprinkling of humor to hold the attention of the faithful. It was through weakness that Christ was crucified and it was in this weakness that He overcame the Wicked One. Weakness in ourselves and His treasure contrasting with our ugly and common clay pots that hold it is the wisdom of God. Coming as a lowly Servant in all weakness was how God chose to defeat the enemy of our souls. This is how we will also stand against him in this final hour of history–not with any sufficiency of ourselves, but having our total sufficiency in Christ and in Him alone!