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When Average is Preferred
1 SAMUEL 16:1-13, 2 CORINTHIANS 4:5-12
The people wanted a king. They had done nicely for generations with each of the 12 tribes having its own leader who was called a judge, but the time had come to unite. Their common enemies were getting stronger; the time had come to merge into one nation under the leadership of a king. Samuel, the prophet, who had the respect of the people, proceeded to choose and anoint a king. Samuel's first choice, Saul, was obviously of regal material. Saul's father was Kish, a respected wealthy member of the powerful tribe of Benjamin. Not only did Saul have credentials worthy of royalty, he was handsome and imposing, standing "head and shoulders above everyone else." (1 Samuel 9:2) Saul even looked like a king.
But eventually Saul disappointed both God and his people. He took his own advice instead of God's. He boasted of his actions to Samuel. He could not handle the pressure and stress of being king, and had a nervous breakdown. God became totally disillusioned with Saul's performance and said to Samuel, "I regret that I made Saul king."(1 Samuel 15:11) Sounds as if even God makes occasional mistakes!
God told Samuel to select another king. This time, instead of using worldly standards of wealth, prestige, and looks, God sent Samuel to someone average. Instead of a wealthy Benjaminite, Samuel was sent to disappointing Bethlehem to an ordinary, average family of shepherds. When Samuel met Jesse's sons, the Lord instructed Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature, for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)
It must have been quite a parade. Seven sons, one by one, came to meet Samuel. Seven times the Lord told Samuel, "Not this one." When there were none left, Samuel looked to Jesse and asked, "Are all your sons here?" Reluctantly Jesse admitted there was one more son, but apparently he did not consider him an appropriate addition to this gathering. The remaining son was busily tending to the sheep, keeping ordinary daily business going while his more spectacular brothers participated in the festivities. But, Jesse sent for David, and David, the youngest son, the average one, the least likely candidate, the scrawny adolescent who probably had pimples, was the Lord's choice. The average was preferred and David became the legendary great King David.
900 or so years later, when the church was beginning to spread throughout the Roman Empire, largely because of Paul's leadership, Paul claimed that he too was average. In the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul disclaims any gift of special knowledge or preparation for his work as a missionary for Christ. It is only by God's mercy that Paul found himself chosen for such a task. He wrote, 2 Corinthians 4:5, "For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake."
In verses 7-9, Paul downplays his personal merit or abilities. "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." He likened himself to a clay jar, a simple, utilitarian vessel, which God chose as the receptacle for the treasure of a divinely mandated mission. Any power Paul demonstrated came from God. Only as a result of this power from God did Paul find himself able to withstand afflictions, accept perplexing ambiguities, persevere through persecution, and stand again after being struck down. Paul was an ordinary man, an average person, but extraordinarily empowered by the grace of God.
God uses those who are average. God does not necessarily use the brightest, the best, the richest, the most beautiful or famous. God seems to have a difficult time with the King Sauls of this world, probably because their egos tend to get in the way. They think they are important because of who they are and what they can do. God does not necessarily entrust the treasure of the gospel to gold vases, silver chests, or platinum containers. God entrusts the treasure to clay jars, to average, everyday, ordinary clay jars. God can use those who are average, and empower them. God can use those who are willing to offer themselves, who will give their lives to Jesus Christ, who are open to the power of God through the Holy Spirit. God can use and calls the above average graduates we have honored this morning. And, God can even take "C" students and change the world by turning the "C" students into the three Cs: Committed, Consecrated, and Compassionate.
God can use you, transform you into his personal representative on this earth, and accomplish great things through you, not because you are necessarily, bright, brilliant or beautiful, but when you are willing to belong to Jesus wholeheartedly, without reservation. When God has all of you there is to have, look out world. Your ordinary clay jar is then filled with the extraordinary power of God. Your life, the clay jar, becomes a vessel where the treasure of God is found. Someone said, "It is not people who know the most, who have the most, who've been educated the most, but people who LOVE the most, who will change the world." And, love comes from God, for God is love.
There is no one who is so average, he or she cannot be used by God. Everyone can pray, and what is desperately needed in this world is people who will pray, who will intentionally intercede with God on behalf of human need, who will open themselves to the Holy Spirit through prayer. My hope is that our church will be a church of prayer, a church built on prayer, and everyone can pray. Everyone can pray every day for our church.
No matter what one's condition or lack of expertise, God can empower and use. It's not a matter of who you are and what you have to offer, it's a matter of how much of you does God have. This past week I read the book, Loving God, by Charles Colson, who while in prison on Watergate charges became a Christian, and since then has been used by God in prison ministries. He wrote of meeting Grandmother Howell when she was 91 years old in a poor, impoverished nursing home. When she was placed in the "old folks' home", as she calls it, she was in depression. Her youngest son had just died. Her oldest son was very sick. She felt she had nothing to live for. She prayed, "Lord, what more can I do for You? I want to die. Take me home." "I knew I was dying," she said, "but then God spoke to me as clear as be: WRITE TO PRISONERS."
She obeyed. With poor grammar and poorer spelling, she wrote a letter to the Atlanta Penitentiary, addressed, "Dear Inmate." Since then she has corresponded with hundreds of inmates, up to forty at a time, becoming a one-woman ministry reaching into prisons all over America. Her small room is stacked with letters. One sample letter reads, "Dear Grandmother, ...I was very happy to get your letter...I don't have anyone to care about me but the Lord and you." A 91 year-old, average, uneducated woman is used by God, her clay jar is filled with the treasure of God's love. God has all of her there is to have.
Charles Colson also wrote about Joyce Page who has been spending her lunch hour at the St. Louis County Correctional Institution just about every weekday since 1979. Every day at noon, Joyce leaves her office with a peanut butter sandwich, while other secretaries bustle off in clusters for the cafeteria. She drives to the prison and meets with groups of inmates, from men in isolation and maximum security to a small group of women prisoners. "What we do is up to them," she says. "Sometimes we have a worship service, or a time of testimony and singing, or in-depth Bible study and discussion. It depends on their needs."
For many people, meeting with inmates every day in the middle of a hectic work schedule would be an unthinkable chore. Joyce, in her matter-of-fact way, sees it differently. "For me it's a real answer to prayer," she says. "You see, I don't have time to go after work--I have six kids of my own that I'm raising by myself." The difference between Joyce and most of the world is that God has all of her there is to have. She is an average clay jar, but filled with God's treasure.
Charles Lawyer, a member of our church, gave his life to Christ on a Walk to Emmaus weekend last year. Now God is using Charles in San Quentin. Once a week Charles does prison ministry in San Quentin.
Whatever you think of yourself, God has great plans for you. Even when you think of yourself as average, God can empower and use you. When you get yourself out of the way, when you empty yourself of your ego's agenda, and let God fill you with the Holy Spirit, who knows who and what you will become. Average is preferred when God has all of you there is to have.
Paul wrote, "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."
© 1991 Douglas I. Norris